Material Culture of Royal Childbirth in Medieval Japan

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About the Event

Royal childbirths were events of critical importance for Japan’s imperial house and court. They required numerous rituals and objects to ensure the safety of the mother, the newborn, and those involved in the pregnancy, labor, and postpartum care. My talk will examine the material culture associated with an imperial consort’s birth of a prince in the late Heian period, with focus on women’s roles in such rituals and objects. The imperial consort to be discussed is Taira no Tokushi (a.k.a. Kenreimon’in), and the baby is the future Emperor Antoku. Through the office of her household, Tokushi performed the duty of the principal consort and took an initiative in many rituals, such as sponsoring the production of Buddhist images, viewing certain objects for empowerment, and presiding over the first night of the postpartum banquet. Moreover, her mother, the newborn’s “nursing mothers,” and spirit mediums, among other women, played indispensable roles in many of the childbirth rituals. I will investigate how and why these women actively contributed to the safe childbirth rituals in medieval Japan.

About the Speaker

Gunji, NaokoNaoko Gunji is Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her primary research interests lie in cultural, social, political, and religious functions of Japanese premodern art. Her current research centers on visual representations of the Tale of the Heike and the functions the Heike art served in historical contexts. Her publications include “Heike Paintings in the Early Edo Period: Edification and Ideology for Elite Men and Women,” Archives of Asian Art 67:1 (April 2017); and “The Ritual Narration of Mortuary Art: The Illustrated Story of Emperor Antoku and Its Etoki at Amidaji,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 38:1 (Fall 2013). Her first book, Amidaji: Emperor Antoku’s Mortuary Temple and Its Culture, was published in 2022 from Brill’s Japanese Visual Culture series.

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March 23
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Free – $20.00
Event Category:


Japan America Society Of Chicago
(312) 263-3049
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