Rebecca Copeland

Rebecca Copeland

Academic Writing

Rebecca Copeland’s research and teaching are informed by questions of both gender and genre.  She focuses almost exclusively on modern Japanese women writers, examining the way their gender has defined and often confined their literary production.  Women writers in the 19th century were expected to conform to socially accepted notions of femininity.  Women in the early 20th century often wrote with a self-conscious awareness of their gender, performing to almost hyperbolic extremes ideas of femininity.  Their works are draped in kimono and covered in make-up.  Later 20th-century women writers were known to parody these notions—creating monstrous aberrations of womanhood.   In many regards, gender informed genre.  And there were certain genres that were deemed unsuitable for a woman.  One was the hardboiled mystery, which is another of Copeland’s interests.

Her most recent research project returns her to the writer Uno Chiyo, who was the subject of her dissertation and first book. She is contributing to a collection of essays on Japanese women writers and divorce.  Uno Chiyo was well versed in the topic.  Married three times and in an out of countless other relationships, she was to have quipped: “No one is a lucky as a woman writer. No sooner does she break up with a man than she can write about it all without the slightest sense of shame.”  What fascinates Copeland about Uno, is that she ran a newspaper advice column for a time, counseling women whose marriages were on the rocks.  She also wrote a number of cookbooks and had a second career as a kimono designer.  Rather like Martha Stewart, Uno could be described as “a bad girl of good housekeeping.”  And that aspect of her career will be the focus of Copeland’s next academic project.,

Select Publications

Diva Nation: Female Icons from Japanese Cultural History

Diva Nation: Female Icons from Japanese Cultural History (2018), co-edited with Dr. Laura Miller, explores the constructed nature of female iconicity in Japan. From ancient goddesses and queens to modern singers and writers, this edited volume critically reconsiders the female icon, tracing how she has been offered up for emulation, debate or censure. The research in this book culminates from curiosity over the insistent presence of Japanese female figures who have refused to sit quietly on the sidelines of history. The contributors move beyond archival portraits to consider historically and culturally informed diva imagery and diva lore. The diva is ripe for expansion, fantasy, eroticization, and playful reinvention, while simultaneously presenting a challenge to patriarchal culture. Diva Nation asks how the diva disrupts or bolsters ideas about nationhood, morality, and aesthetics. 

Praise for Diva Nation

“At turns witty and wise, frothy and fascinating, there’s something for anyone interested in gender studies, Japanese culture or the shadowy layers of its subculture.”—The Japan Times

“This collection is an important contribution to a better understanding of the diva in the post-feminist era. The main objective of the book is not to celebrate women or womanhood or to disclose notable women that have nevertheless been overlooked by patriarchal historiography, but to build a new interpretive framework.”—Leonardo

“In light of the recent global attention to movements such as #MeToo, fuelled by women fighting against routine and status quo sexism, the publication of Diva Nation seems timely . . . This collection will be valuable not only to those interested in Japanese studies, but also for those with an interest in gender studies, queer studies and any field engaging with minority cultural or subcultural groups.”—New Voices in Japanese Studies

Diva Nation stands out as a scholarly text that is commendably approachable in terms of the analysis. It is moreover an engaging book thanks to the material and the writing, and its merging of anthropology, history, literature, cultural studies, and gender studies makes it a valuable addition to many libraries and many syllabi.”—Pacific Affairs

Modern Murasaki: Writing by Women of Meiji Japan (co-edited with Dr. Melek Ortabasi, Columbia University Press, 2006)

The first anthology of its kind, The Modern Murasaki brings the vibrancy and rich imagination of women’s writing from the Meiji period to English-language readers. Along with traditional prose, the editors have chosen and carefully translated short stories, plays, poetry, speeches, essays, and personal journal entries. Selected readings include writings by the public speaker Kishida Toshiko, the dramatist Hasegawa Shigure, the short-fiction writer Shimizu Shikin, the political writer Tamura Toshiko, and the novelists Miyake Kaho, Higuchi Ichiyo, Tazawa Inabune, Kitada Usurai, Nogami Yaeko, and Mizuno Senko. The volume also includes a thorough introduction to each reading, an extensive index listing historical, social, and literary concepts, and a comprehensive guide to further research.

The fierce tenor and bold content of these texts refute the popular belief that women of this era were passive and silent. A vital addition to courses in women’s studies and Japanese literature and history, The Modern Murasaki is a singular resource for students and scholars.

Praise for Modern Murasaki

“[T]he translations as well as the historical and biographical research presented in this anthology will, I believe, prove an invaluable source of inspiration and help.”
—Reiko Abe Auestad, Monumenta Nipponica

Woman Critiqued: Translated Essays on Japanese Women’s Writing (University of Hawai’i Press, 2006)

Over the past thirty years translations of Japanese women’s writing and biographies of women writers have enriched and expanded our understanding of modern Japanese literature. But how have women writers been received and read in Japan? To appreciate the subterfuges, strategies, and choices that the modern Japanese woman writer has faced, readers must consider the criticisms leveled against her, the expectations and admonitions that have been whispered in her ear, and pay attention to the way she herself has responded. What did it mean to be a woman writer in twentieth-century Japan? How was she defined and how did this definition limit her artistic sphere?

Woman Critiqued builds on existing scholarship by offering English-language readers access to some of the more salient critiques that have been directed at women writers, on the one hand, and reactions to these by women writers, on the other. The grouping of the essays into chapters organized by theme clarifies how the discussion in Japan has been framed by certain assumptions and how women have repeatedly tried to intervene by playing with, undercutting, or attempting to exceed these assumptions. Chapter introductions contextualize the translated essays historically and draw out aspects that warrant particular scrutiny or explication.

Praise for Woman Critiqued

Woman Critiqued will make us wonder why we thought we could grasp modern Japanese literature without concerted attention to what men and women had to say about women’s literary production. This remarkable collection is full of surprises, even where predictable arguments are being made. Careful translations of writings by the familiar and the obscure, together with thought-provoking introductions and supporting apparatus, make this an indispensable text for the study of modern Japanese culture and society.” —Norma M. Field, University of Chicago

“[T]his book will become part of the reading assignments for many academic courses focused on women who write, and my heartfelt thanks goes out to the contributors for making available an affordable volume for the classroom.” —S. Yumiko Hulvey, Pacific Affairs

Woman Critiqued is an ambitious work that delves into an important part of Japanese literature that has until now been untouched. It brings together critical texts that mediate between the popular and the elite over a span of more than a hundred years and makes them available to an English-language readership in precise translations. The history of Japanese literary criticism that it constructs shows just how deeply rooted is the essentialism with which women writers have long struggled. ‘Just once I would like to read a work by a woman writer without being reminded of her sex’ (p. vii), Copeland writes, encapsulating a sentiment expressed to her by both senior scholars and students. This book addresses why such a desire is so difficult to satisfy.” —Miho Matsugu, Journal of Asian Studies

Woman Critiqued represents a further important step toward making Japanese criticism accessible to Western readers. The collected essays translated here stand out in two important regards: they are organized around a central theme, that of women and literature, and they avoid overemphasis on specific critics currently in vogue, offering instead a wide selection of important texts reaching back to the beginning of the twentieth century.” —Judit Árokay, Monumenta Nipponica


The Father-Daughter Plot: Japanese Literary Women and the Law of the Father (co-edited with Dr. Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen; University of Hawai’i Press, 2001)

This provocative collection of essays is a comprehensive study of the “father-daughter dynamic” in Japanese female literary experience. Its contributors examine the ways in which women have been placed politically, ideologically, and symbolically as “daughters” in a culture that venerates “the father.” They weigh the impact that this daughterly position has had on both the performance and production of women’s writing from the classical period to the present.

Conjoining the classical and the modern with a unified theme reveals an important continuum in female authorship-a historical approach often ignored by scholars. The essays devoted to the literature of the classical period discuss canonical texts in a new light, offering important feminist readings that challenge existing scholarship, while those dedicated to modern writers introduce readers to little-known texts with translations and readings that are engaging and original.

Praise for The Father-Daughter Plot

“This spirited, eye-opening volume of essays explores the significance of the father daughter relationship in the lives and writings of Japanese women writers from the Heian era to the present. Some of the essays concern themselves mainly with an author’s biological father, others with her “cultural fathers” such as the male critical establishment, influential male authors, or patriarchal society in general. All attempt to define how a paternal presence-actual or metaphorical, individual or collective shaped the sensibility of a literary woman and how this is reflected in her literature. —Maryellen Toman Mori, Journal of Asian Studies

The Father-Daughter Plot, edited by Rebecca Copeland and Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen, presents a dozen thoughtful, well- researched, and informative essays that extend the depth and scope of our field’s gender-focus, exploring the connection between women writers and their fathers, father-figures, or the cultural complex of patriarchy.” —Joan Ericson, Japanese Language and Literature

“Because the father-daughter relationship is not only a literary but a personal one, the material that this volume takes on is charged with psychological and cultural significance far beyond the literary. I commend the editors and contributors for treating this subject with the nuanced consideration it deserves, and for delivering numerous valuable insights into and speculations about the father-daughter relationship, whether familial or literary, both within the Japanese tradition and in general. The collection treats Japanese women’s writings from the first identifiably woman… Suffice it to say that The Father-Daughter Plot makes a major contribution not only to the study of Japanese literature but also to feminist criticism and gender theory.” —Janet A. Walker, Monumenta Nipponica


Lost Leaves: Women Writers of Meiji Japan (University of Hawai’i Press, 2000)

Most Japanese literary historians have suggested that the Meiji Period (1868-1912) was devoid of women writers but for the brilliant exception of Higuchi Ichiyo (1872-1896). Rebecca Copeland challenges this claim by examining in detail the lives and literary careers of three of Ichiyo’s peers, each representative of the diversity and ingenuity of the period: Miyake Kaho (1868-1944), Wakamatsu Shizuko (1864-1896), and Shimizu Shikin (1868-1933).

In a carefully researched introduction, Copeland establishes the context for the development of female literary expression. She follows this with chapters on each of the women under consideration. Miyake Kaho, often regarded as the first woman writer of modern Japan, offers readers a vision of the female vitality that is often overlooked when discussing the Meiji era. Wakamatsu Shizuko, the most prominent female translator of her time, had a direct impact on the development of a modern written language for Japanese prose fiction. Shimizu Shikin reminds readers of the struggle women endured in their efforts to balance their creative interests with their social roles. Interspersed throughout are excerpts from works under discussion, most never before translated, offering an invaluable window into this forgotten world of women’s writing.

Awards for Lost Leaves

Japan Foundation Publication Grant

2000 Choice Award Winner

Praise for Lost Leaves

“Judging by traditional literary histories and scholarship, it would seem that Higuchi Ichiyō was a sole female talent among the male writers who comprised the generations of Meiji period literature. In more recent, critical scholarship, however, we have learned that other accomplished women were writing as well. Rebecca Copeland effectively reappraises the context in which Ichiyō wrote, while examining attitudes toward women and female writers, in order to recuperate a female literary tradition that has been ignored.

It came to appear that Ichiyō was the only woman writing during the Meiji period, Copeland notes. Ichiyō became ‘a romanticized ideal whose very idolization became a burden rather than birthright for successors’ (p. 229). Perhaps with continued efforts to recover the ‘disappeared,’ Ichiyō will be reevaluated in a better understood context. Copeland recognizes that the task of recovering a literary tradition is formidable. ‘This study is just a beginning,’ (p. xii) she writes. Yet, Copeland has brought us much closer to the goal with this provocative contribution. She is to be commended for this effort in gathering the lost leaves.” —Leslie Winston, Japanese Language and Literature

“Copeland’s study of Meiji women writers should inspire scholars to reconceive the Meiji literary scene and to seek out buried talents and forgotten names.” —Anglia Yiu, Monumenta Nipponica

“This book on women writers of Meiji Japan both is and is not about that era’s best known female author, Higuchi Ichiyō (1872-1896). The ostensible contents of the book concern the Meiji-period journal, Jogaku zasshi (Journal of Women’s Learning), and Meiji Women’s School (Meiji Jogakkō), and three women writers loosely affiliated with those two institutions: Miyake Kaho (1868-1943), Wakamatsu Shizuko (1864-1896), and Shimizu Shikin (1868-1933). For many readers, these will likely be unfamiliar names, and Copeland argues that they should be better known. Lost Leaves is an heir to that branch of feminist inquiry-the roots of which lie in studies such as Elaine Showalter’s A Literature of Their Own (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977)-that seeks to (re)construct a female literary tradition by interrogating the gender configurations of literary memory and recovering lost voices. Copeland’s intelligent and cogent study, which seeks to recover the first generation of modern Japanese women writers, is a welcome addition to the field. Some readers, however, may be disappointed on picking up a book subtitled Women Writers of Meiji Japan to discover that Higuchi Ichiyō is not included in the roster, but this is precisely the point. Copeland argues that Ichiyō was the sole female writer from the Meiji period elevated to canonical status (the best known female poet, Yosano Akiko (1878- 1942), is mentioned only a few times in passing), and that the process of canon formation that worked to raise Ichiyō as the lone exemplar of Meiji women’s writing simultaneously worked to erase her contemporaries from literary memory. In this sense, Ichiyō constantly hovers in the background of Copeland’s study.” —Timothy J. Van Compernolle, Journal of Asian Studies 

The Sound of the Wind: The Life and Works of Uno Chiyo 
(University of Hawai’i Press, 1992)

Fashion ingenue, magazine editor, kimono designer, femme fatale, prize-winning writer–Uno Chiyo has become one of twentieth-century Japan’s most accomplished and celebrated women. In this two-part volume, Rebecca L. Copeland offers Western readers a fascinating portrait of Uno’s life along with translations of three of her distinctive works of short fiction.

Part One depicts Uno’s sometimes turbulent passage from obscurity in a small village to national literary prominence. There are the early years under her father’s stern tutelage; the first scandalous, failed romance which cost her her job as a schoolteacher; her apprenticeship at Enrakuken, the coffee shop of the literary elite whose ranks she later joined as a resident of the “Magome Literati Village”; her series of passionate and troubled relationships and marriages. Throughout, Dr. Copeland focuses on the evolution of Uno’s art and discusses her major works, paying special attention to the effect being female had on Uno’s development as a writer.

The three stories in Part Two are examples of Uno’s work at its finest. “The Puppet Maker” (1942), a much-admired reflection on art and life, describes an encounter with a venerable carver of puppets. “The Sound of the Wind” (1969) is the tale of a wife at the turn of the century who willingly denies her own needs. “This Powder Box” (1966) shows a progressive career woman coming to terms with an old love affair. At once compelling and lyrical, the stories are a masterful interpretation of tradition, of women, and of self-fulfullment.

The Praise for Sound of the Wind

“After centuries of near silence, Japanese women writers of the Taisho Period (1912-26) began once more to achieve literary prominence. Few of these women lived conventionally as wives and mothers, and their prominence was often due more to their unorthodox, even reckless, behavior than to the quality of their writing. Uno Chiyo (Chiyo Uno in Western order), born in 1897, belongs to this first generation of the revival. Rebecca L. Copeland’s book The Sound of the Wind, part critical biography and part translations of three stories, offers a fine introduction to a writer whose literary stature has grown considerably in recent years. The informed, conversational biography, which includes a liberal sprinkling of Uno’s comments, moves the reader smoothly and coherently through Uno’s life and her development as an artist.” —Celeste Loughman, World Literature Today

“Readers will be grateful to Copeland for the opportunity to become better acquainted with Uno Chiyo, an important writer and a fascinating and impressively ambitious woman. The translations are especially pleasing, and the biography highly entertaining.” —Ann Sherif, Monumenta Nipponica

“A biography of Uno Chiyo is a book worth waiting for. Her amazing life, now in its ninety-fifth year, spans Meiji, Taisho, Showa, and Heisei. Down through the turbulent decades she has gone full tilt, from a promiscuous, apolitical fashion plate with a literary flair and a sure sense of self- promotion-the quintessential “modern girl” dancing her way through the ero-guro-nansensu of the 1920s-to a survivor of just about everything, whose ability to defy both disaster and defeat (war, broken marriages, bankruptcy) and the normal depredations of age gives her life the aura of miraculously weightless aplomb.

At different times she has been a teacher, a maid, a waitress, a model, a bookkeeper, an aspiring actress, a charcoal peddler, a seamstress, a ‘normal wife’ and also an unconventional one (three to five times over, depending on how you’re counting), a famous novelist, a publishing tycoon who launched Japan’s first fashion magazine, a shopkeeper, a designer of kimono, an architectural preservationist, ‘the Ann Landers of Japan,’ and, as a result of all of the above, a popular celebrity on the television talk-show circuit.”

The Sound of the Wind: The Life and Works of Uno Chiyo by Rebecca L. Copeland is an intelligent account that consistently conveys both the style and energy of this extraordinary woman.” —Robert Lyons Danly, Japanese Language and Literature


Suffice it to say that The Father-Daughter Plot makes a major contribution not only to the study of Japanese literature but also to feminist criticism and gender theory.

—Janet A. Walker, Monumenta Nipponica


Woman Critiqued will make us wonder why we thought we could grasp modern Japanese literature without concerted attention to what men and women had to say about women’s literary production.

—Norma M. Field, University of Chicago


This collection will be valuable not only to those interested in Japanese studies, but also for those with an interest in gender studies, queer studies and any field engaging with minority cultural or subcultural groups.

New Voices in Japanese Studies