Negotiating kendo capital and gendered identity in a Japanese sports university kendo club


Sylvester, Katherine (2015) Negotiating kendo capital and gendered identity in a Japanese sports university kendo club. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


This thesis explores how female Japanese sports university kendo practitioners negotiate their identity to accumulate kendo capital and personal meaning in the processes of club membership. To make sense of Japanese women’s sports university kendo, an ethnographic research project was conducted over an 18-month period starting in 2012. In culturally protected social fields such as kendo, ethnography is invaluable as a method as it provides new and exciting ways to understand and theorise the relationship between sport, culture and gendered identity. Evolving from warrior culture, kendo is considered to be one of Japan’s most traditional and treasured physical heritages. To preserve a sense of ‘traditional’ identity and cultural ownership, modern kendo, re-produces some aspects of Tokugawa period (1603-1868) warrior culture. The epicentre of modern kendo is within the education system. In Japan, sport clubs play a vital role in educating members with cultural values deemed beneficial for their futures. These values are conservative and can assist members in gaining government employment. Kendo clubs are highly gendered social spaces where women learn that their primary role in society is one of mother and wife. As a result of this social role projection, women receive less resources and development opportunities in kendo compared to men. In this way kendo formally institutionalises gender. Given the entrenched male proprietorship of kendo and its symbolic value, it is difficult to change how women are positioned in the field of kendo. However, as a result of their positioning, women can enjoy the freedom of expressing a ‘bigendered identity’ and experience intrinsic reward in kendo more so than men as they are bound to a separate sphere of oppressive systems and articulations. Albeit a result of patriarchy, women do experience agency and can positively create their own raison d'être through the practice of kendo.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 2002 Cultural Studies
Current > Division/Research > College of Sports and Exercise Science
Keywords gender, Japan, culture, religion, sport, society, social roles, tradition, Ryōsai Kenbo, field, TSSU, identity negotiation, philosophy, warrior culture
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