The role of women in Japan’s samurai culture was the topic of a lecture presented by Dr Tomoko Kitagawa at the University of Cape Town (UCT) last Thursday, May 17.
Dr Kitagawa, who holds a BSc degree in mathematics and life sciences from the University of British Columbia as well as a PhD from Princeton University, is also known as “Lady Samurai” for her thought-provoking work.
Her main expertise is in pre-modern Japanese history and religion and the history of science in East Asia and her topic last week was “The role of women in diplomacy”.
In popular culture, male and female samurai are depicted as warriors trained in ancient arts to protect their clans.
In the case of men, part of that is true as men were warriors, dressed in body armour, wielding a katana sword which evolved as weapons got more modern.
In the case of the female samurai, whose history goes back to over four hundred years, she was not described as someone who was a highly trained soldier, but played the role of main mediator when it came to peace and negotiations between two rival clans.
This scenario can even be seen in modern society today, where women play a role in conflict resolution.
Dr Kitagawa took this notion even further and her work is relevant to understanding gender-balance in modern societies. “It is to make a good gender-balance, to be respectful towards each other, its not only about equality,” said Dr Kitagawa, who was named in the top 100 people in Japan in 2012. There were women in the audience who were intrigued by her presentation.
Michelle Callis, who has an architectural background, enjoyed how the presentation touched on the art of negotiation.
Tracy Leigh, who accompanied her son to the presentation, appreciates Japanese culture. “It is humble and everything about it is of beauty and respect for others,” she said.
What was special about this presentation is that the Japanese Consulate in Cape Town is celebrating their centenary. It is the oldest Japanese overseas mission in Africa.
Consul Yasushi Naito not only mentioned the strength in diplomacy between South Africa and Japan, but also wanted to celebrate the work that Dr Kitagawa does. “She relates the issue to the modern world. We can see the power of women networking to make change,” said Mr Naito.