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In Session: Patients, Nurses, and Doctors: Medicine and Gender in Modern East Asian Literature and History
1: Women's "Hysteria" in Early-Twentieth Century Japan
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
H. Yumi Kim
Johns Hopkins University, United States
“Hysteria” (hisuterii) evolved from European-derived medical jargon to household word in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Japan. It served as a catchall term for women’s mental and emotional disorders, with mothers complaining about unmarried daughters showing signs of hisu and men describing their wives, older sisters, and aunts as having hysterical personalities that made the women susceptible to depression, anxiety, and excitability. Yet women who were medically or socially diagnosed with hysteria rarely, if ever, described their conditions as “hysteria.” Using a medical archive of writings by and about middle-class women seeking private treatment from psychiatrists in Tokyo in the 1920s and 1930s, this presentation explores the ways in which women either rejected or ignored a diagnosis of “hysteria,” referring to their conditions with the generic term “illness” and delving into the complexities of their domestic lives to understand their suffering. For these women, their illnesses occurred “off” their bodies, to borrow the words of anthropologists Veena Das and Renu Addlakha, and in the realm of intimate, family relations. While their families and doctors were usually interested in localizing and isolating the affliction within the bodies of women, the women themselves tended to point to the ways in which their bodies were inseparable from the world of family and kin, often the source of both their suffering and succor.