Japanese? Language? and Gender?


  • Janet S Shibamoto-Smith University of California, Davis




Japan-as-Place, Japanese, gender, joseigo/danseigo, language, ideology, media, repertoire


This essay offers an overview of language and gender research as it unfolded in a particular ‘Place’: Japan. In the past thirty years, Japanese language and gender/sexuality relations have been characterised both domestically and globally as special, sometimes as unique, due to the existence of distinct joseigo ‘women’s language’ and danseigo ‘men’s language’. A preferential focus on the surface-segmentable forms (pronouns, sentence final particles, etc.) over discursive features and a limited focus on Standard Japanese in the early years of Japanese language and gender research has led to a tendency to view ‘the’ Japanese language as a homogeneous unity and to the reification of the three critical categories, ‘Japan’, ‘language’ and ‘gender’. In this essay, I discuss the problematic nature of the three critical terms, and suggest ways in which Japan-as-Place might profitably be renarrated as the complex place it is and Japanese language, gender and sexuality relations revisited as they operate within that complexity.

Author Biography

Janet S Shibamoto-Smith, University of California, Davis

Janet S. Shibamoto-Smith, Professor Emerita of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis, is a specialist in Japanese language and gender/sexuality, with an emphasis on the interaction between ideology and practice. Publications include Japanese Women’s Language (Academic Press, 1985), Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology (with Shigeko Okamoto, Oxford University Press, 2004), The Social Life of the Japanese Language (with Shigeko Okamoto, Cambridge University Press, 2016), and Japanese at Work (with Haruko Minegishi Cook, Springer, 2018).


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How to Cite

Shibamoto-Smith, J. S. (2021). Japanese? Language? and Gender?. Gender and Language, 15(4), 582–590. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.21525



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