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Gender Roles & Expectations in Ueda Akinari’s “Bewitched”

Once again, I decided to try something new with my writing. Writing is a type of art; the only way to learn is to experiment!

This story can be found in Volume D of "The Norton Anthology of World Literature" (second edition).

This story can be found in Volume D of "The Norton Anthology of World Literature" (second edition).

A Story With a Lesson

Ueda Akinari’s “Bewitched” is the story of a young Japanese man that is deceived by a demon disguised as a beautiful young woman. By thoroughly reading and analyzing the tale, we can observe much about the roles, expectations, and relationships between men and women within the Japanese culture. The story can also be used to teach Japanese children the rewards and punishments for obeying or violating these social norms. If a child were to begin behaving in an undesirable way, the parents could remind them of the story and warn them that, unless they wish to suffer a similar fate, they should conform to their societal standards.

This story has been used as a cautionary tale for children who don't listen to their parents.

This story has been used as a cautionary tale for children who don't listen to their parents.

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The Men

The men in the Japanese culture were expected to be honest, “rugged” or manly, hard workers, and to support their families. There was little emphasis on education except to learn a trade. For example, Taro was taught the fisherman trade by his father, Oya no Takesuke in the Miwagasaki village. Taro is continually praised by his father (and the rest of his family) for being a good son. He sets a good example by rising early each morning to supervise the men that work for the family business. Taro’s younger brother, Toyo-o, on the other hand, was everything that his society believed a man should not be. His biggest offense was his lack of interest in the family business. He preferred to spend his time studying with his tutor, Abe no Yumimaro, a priest of the Kumano Shrine. Toyo-o had been taught book knowledge, how to write the Chinese characters for example, which was considered useless knowledge in his village. He also enjoyed the “cultural pursuits” and city life activities of Kyoto, the nation’s capital. Oya no Takesuke also considered Toyo-o “shiftless and irresponsible,” as well as bad at managing money. Toyo-o was repeatedly described as a handsome youth. It was implied that this was considered a feminine quality in a man and was looked down upon. In fact, Toyo-o’s good looks attracted the demon, Manago, who was in reality an enormous snake with supernatural powers. It was also implied that his feminine qualities, like his looks and lack of authoritarian behavior, were what made him so easily susceptible to Manago’s supernatural spells.

Toyo-o has three major confrontations with Manago and each time it took “manly” behavior to get rid of her. For example, Toyo-o first met Manago in a fisherman’s hut in the village of Miwagasaki, where they had both taken shelter from a sudden storm. Several days later she was frightened away by the samurai, the Japanese equivalent to police, who demonstrate the masculine qualities that were valued by their culture. She was approached by Kose no Kumagashi, a large and daring samurai, in her house before she disappeared in a clap of thunder. Toyo-o next encountered Manago in Tsubaichi while staying with his sister. This time Manago succeeded in convincing Toyo-o to marry her. However, she was again frightened away, this time by Tagima no Kibito, a priest at the Yamato Shrine. He came upon the family while they were picnicking and recognized Manago and her maid, Maroya, for what they really were. The two women were forced to leap into a waterfall in order to escape. Their departure was again marked by supernatural activity when a black cloud and rain appeared at the spot where they disappeared. It was after this confrontation that Tagima no Kibito advised Toyo-o to adopt “a more manly” and “more determined spirit… in order to repulse” her. Toyo-o’s third and final major confrontation with Manago occurred in Shiba. He had married Tomiko, the daughter of Shoji, before discovering that Manago had possessed her body. In order to be rid of her for good, he was forced to stop running away, which had been his method of dealing with her thus far, and become brave. He is forced to confront her, trick her, and then cover her head with a surplice (a priest’s robe) and press down hard with all of his strength until she stopped moving. In doing so, he demonstrated the masculine qualities that his society desired from him and was finally able to permanently rid himself of the demon, Manago.

The Japanese culture, like so many others, was patriarchal and the women were not as highly valued as the men. The most apparent example of this is in the naming of characters in the story. Nearly all of the male characters, no matter how minor their roles, are given names. When it comes to the women characters, however, only three were considered important enough to name. They were the demon Manago, her maid Maroya, and Toyo-o’s wife, Tomiko. Toyo-o’s mother, sister, and sister-in-law all have significant roles in the story but are not given names. Another strong example of the perceived lack of value of women can be found at the end of the story. After Toyo-o defeated Manago, Tomiko was released from the demon’s possession. However, “as a consequence of her horrible experience, [she] became seriously ill and died. Toyo-o, on the other hand, suffered no ill effects but lived a long healthy life…” Tomiko’s only crime was her relationship with Toyo-o and for it she was punished. Although Manago bewitched Toyo-o, he wasn’t completely without fault. After his first encounter with her, he became aware that she was supernatural. However, when he encountered her the second time, he still chose to accept her excuses and have a relationship with her. If any of the characters in the story were deserving of punishment, it should have been Toyo-o.

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