Asian Ethnology 82-2 | article The Placenta as the Depository of Patriarchal Imagination Reproductive Experiences in Tokugawa Japan

Eiko Saeki

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reproduction patriarchy Japan Tokugawa period placenta

Though largely neglected, the placenta plays a critical role in reproduction, both physiologically and symbolically. Focusing on the Tokugawa period, where narratives on reproduction by male authorities in the fields of medicine, morality, and politics became prominent, this article argues that the placenta functioned as a depository of imagination, based on patriarchal desires, anxieties, and concerns. In childrearing manuals and obstetrical texts, prior to birth the placenta was depicted as what delivered nutrients to the fetus while protecting the fetus from toxins derived from the mother, revealing the ambivalent views on the maternal body. During the postpartum period, the placenta was used to address the wishes for the child’s career success and his or her obedience to the family patriarch, as well as concerns over the female promiscuity. In short, the placenta operated as a discursive apparatus for control of female body and for the soothing of anxiety surrounding maintenance of the patriarchal order.