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The Women’s Arts Only? Managing Childbirth in Medieval Japan 

The Women’s Arts Only? Managing Childbirth in Medieval Japan 

The organization of childbirth in elite households of medieval Japan required serious planning and swift orchestration. Although the initial preparations for it could take several months, the labour could easily escalate into both medical and ritual emergency and necessitate an urgent response from the female and male relatives, ritual specialists, physicians, and midwives. Based on recently discovered medico-religious manuscripts and court protocols dating between 1118 and 1337, this lecture will focus on the “gendered choreographies” of childbirth taking place inside and outside of the secluded birth chamber, that is, the actions of people who inhabited such spaces during the tense moments of royal consort’s labour. Closed to male physicians, relatives, and ritual specialists and accessible only to female assistants and ladies-in-waiting, the birth chamber and its immediate surroundings will thus serve as a stage for practicing the various “arts of judgment” and gendered knowledge by both women and men, who specialized in midwifery, Buddhist rituals, Chinese traditional healing or administration of drugs, exorcism, and calculative divination.


Anna Andreeva (University of Heidelberg)

Anna Andreeva specialises in the religious and cultural history of pre-modern Japan and is especially interested in esoteric Buddhism as well as East Asian histories of gender and medicine. She earned her PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2007, and since then worked as a postdoctoral or research fellow at Harvard, Cambridge, the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in Kyoto, and Heidelberg. In 2016–2017, she was a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and International Consortium for the Study of the Humanities at Erlangen, and a visiting professor and chair of Japanese History at Bochum. Anna Andreeva is a co-editor of Transforming the Void: Embryological Discourse and Reproductive Imagery in East Asian Religions (with Dominic Steavu, Leiden: Brill, 2016). Her first monograph, Assembling Shinto: Buddhist Approaches to Kami Worship in Medieval Japanwas published by Harvard Asia Center in 2017. She is the author of many articles on medieval Japanese religions and is currently working on her second monograph on the cultural history of childbirth in medieval Japan.