The Careers of the Blind in Tokugawa Japan, 1603-1868
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CitationTan, WeiYu Wayne. 2015. The Careers of the Blind in Tokugawa Japan, 1603-1868. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThe blind deviate from bodily ideals and how we make sense of this difference matters. My dissertation examines the blind in Tokugawa Japan (1603–1868) to offer a contrasting perspective on disability from a non-Western society. The blind were impaired but not disabled. They were, in fact, enabled and engaged in careers that were mostly unthinkable to their peers in other contemporary societies.
By far the most important enabling factor was the growth of a core institution called the tôdôza. I focus on the main professions through which the blind made their living—musical performance, moneylending, and medicine—and their relationships with the tôdôza. In my discussion, I investigate surprising aspects of the careers of the blind. These characteristics not only reflect the complex social history of the blind, but also reveal the intersections with critical developments in Tokugawa society.
Founded as a society of blind musicians, the tôdôza was transformed into a political institution and later, a profit-driven organization of diverse professions. The narrative analyzes the social, political, and economic contexts of this transformation. Chapter one discusses the hierarchy of the tôdôza and the financial motives of moneylending. Chapter two looks at how rituals and myths were appropriated to strengthen the internal authority of the tôdôza. In chapter three, I discuss the representative lyrical genre of blind musicians called heikyoku and the increasing participation of sighted performers in writing texts. In chapter four, I explore how popular discourses about health compelled the tôdôza to innovate and concentrate on medical practice.
My dissertation takes a fresh approach to Japanese history with insights from disability studies. The tôdôza supported the formation of blind communities and gave them political and economic leverage. This reverse perspective places the blind not on the margins, but instead refocuses the attention on their leading roles in transforming Tokugawa society. The history of disability in early modern Japan is also about the history of the tôdôza. By focusing on the tôdôza, my proposed approach highlights that the discourse of disability embraces the underemphasized but nonetheless important theme of enablement, which is crucial for retelling Japanese history.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:17467393
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