Tomiko Yoda Named Takashima Professor of Japanese Humanities

Cambridge, Mass. - July 8, 2010 - Tomiko Yoda, a scholar acclaimed for her feminist critique of modern Japan’s canonization of ancient Japanese literary texts, has been named Takashima Professor of Japanese Humanities at Harvard University, effective July 1, 2010.

Yoda was previously associate professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies, literature, and women’s studies at Duke University, where she has been a member of the faculty since 1996. She joins Harvard’s Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

"Professor Yoda is both a scholar of modern literature and an intellectual and cultural historian," says Diana Sorensen, dean of arts and humanities in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "Her scope ranges from the thousand-year-old Tale of Genji to the Japanese pop novelists of recent decades. This breadth has allowed her to weave a compelling narrative on the repositioning of ancient Japanese texts as a modern literary genre, in the process contesting predominant gender-based assumptions and the validity of national literary canons."

Yoda’s first book, Gender and National Literature: Heian Texts and Constructions of Japanese Modernity (Duke University Press, 2004), analyzes modern Japanese discourse on the Heian literary texts of the late ninth to early twelfth century. She shows how this retrospective evaluation by early modern and modern scholars, establishing these writings as essential parts of the kokubungaku or national literature, also served to feminize the works. Yoda meticulously traces multiple modern interpretations of these works that identified the feminine characteristics of the Tale of Genji, Tosa Journal, the Kagerô Diary, and other major Heian works. In so doing, she reveals modern kokubungaku scholars’ ambivalent efforts to idealize the feminine qualities of classical literature while at the same time subordinating the genre to the overarching national identity, which is deemed masculine and virile.

In a 2006 volume co-edited with Harry D Harootunian, Japan After Japan: Social and Cultural Life from the Recessionary 1990s to the Present (Duke University Press), Yoda shifts her focus to debates over Japan’s contemporary social and cultural malaise. The book maintains Yoda’s earlier interest in gender and nationalism in modern Japan, questioning prevailing assumptions about gender as a means of gaining new insights into Japanese cultural and intellectual history.

Yoda is currently working on a book, tentatively titled Girl Time: Gender and Postmodern Consumer Culture of Japan, tracing the post-1970s rise of Japan’s consumerist society centered on female youth. Drawing on women’s journals, advertising, televised dramas, pop fiction, anime series, and graphic fiction, she traces the growth of the adjective kawaii (cute) into a powerful cultural icon adopted not only by young women, but also by older, married Japanese women.

Yoda received a B.A. in religion from Wesleyan University in 1983, an M.A. in oriental philosophy from Nagoya University in Japan in 1987, an M.A. in Japanese from Stanford University in 1991, and a Ph.D. in Japanese from Stanford in 1996. She was named an assistant professor of Asian and African languages and literature at Duke in 1996 and associate professor in 2003. In 2002-03 she was a visiting assistant professor in Cornell University’s Department of Asian Studies.

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