Women are increasingly finding opportunities to learn or enjoy traditional Japanese arts and games primarily pursued by men.
Yamato Takahashi, a professional player of “shogi,” also known as Japanese chess, holds evening lessons for women twice a month at an office in the Shimokitazawa district in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. Participants in her “shogiotome” class are grouped by skill level into teams of about 10 to learn shogi techniques.
Although “otome” is the Japanese word for “maiden,” participants range from university students to women in their 40s. Although they are quite serious about learning the game, they also enjoy eating snacks and chatting during their breaks.
Mariko Takahashi, a 33-year-old employee in the suburban Tokyo city of Nishitokyo, says she now has a “wider view of things” after learning more about the nation’s history and culture through the class.
“Now that traditional Japanese culture is being re-appreciated, I want more people to be interested (in shogi),” Takahashi says. She also offers lessons to housewives in the morning as well as to kindergartners.
Another male pastime, “yabusame” (horseback archery) is also attracting interest from women.
Yabusame is a shrine ritual held to pray for health and good fortune in which an archer mounted on a galloping horse and clad in samurai attire shoots three arrows successively at as many wooden targets.
Although the training is difficult, an increasing number of women are getting into the act.
Last fall, Sawako Fukagawa, a 25-year-old health worker in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, started training at the Ogasawara-ryu/Ogasawara-kyojyo, a nonprofit organization aimed at preserving the 800-year-old tradition of Ogasawara-ryu ceremonial etiquette, archery and mounted archery.
In addition to archery, “I can learn arts of gracious etiquette for use in daily life,” Fukagawa said.
Although women are occasionally banned from taking part in yabusame for certain rituals, inquiries about training are coming in from women ranging from their 20s to their 40s, says Kiyomoto Ogasawara, 32, who heads the NPO.
Advertising agency Hakuhodo Inc. began hosting biannual “rakugo” shows for women in March last year, performed by both male and female rakugo artists who sit on stage alone and tell long comic stories. At each show, three artists tell stories about love and other issues women feel familiar with.
Women in their 20s and 30s account for two-thirds of the audience, Hakuhodo said.
Yu Nakagawa, a Hakuhodo official, organized the event after “hearing lots of women say they want to listen to rakugo but are reluctant to go to theaters where the audience overwhelmingly consists of men.”
“We’d like to increase rakugo followers through the event,” Nakagawa said, adding the agency may hold it outside Tokyo if people elsewhere show interest.