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Edited by Laura Miller and Rebecca Copeland, “Diva Nation” celebrates the diversity and impact of Japan’s wow-women. From historical examples like Queen Himiko and Izumo no Okuni, the founder of kabuki, to modern pop culture stars like World Figure Skating champion Mao Asada and avant-garde performance artist and musician Yoko Ono, each essay highlights an influential Japanese woman.

Diva Nation: Female Icons From Japanese Cultural History, Edited by Laura Miller and Rebecca Copeland.
264 pages
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS, Nonfiction.

Miller and Copeland are both professors in the greater St. Louis area, specializing in Japanese studies and literature, respectively. The idea for the book came from a university symposium focusing on Japanese women, but the collected essays appeal far beyond academia. At turns witty and wise, frothy and fascinating, there’s something for anyone interested in gender studies, Japanese culture or the shadowy layers of its subculture. Transgender beauty icon Ikko is featured, as is actress, novelist and manga artist Shungiku Uchida, who revolutionized women’s sexuality in Japan with her open appraisals of everything from incest to masturbation.

As a whole, these essays reveal the paradoxical power women command in Japanese culture, despite the country’s consistently dismal rankings in gender equality. Published last year, “Diva Nation” pays tribute to women through the ages who have found a way to triumph despite societal restrictions. Each chapter brims with feminine empowerment as these divas question the status quo and subvert the norm.

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