1999 Student-Faculty Fellows: St. Andrews Presbyterian College

Japan: Sharing the Stage: Women as Performers of Shinto Festival Music

Mentor: David Fish, Music
Student: Luanne Homberger, ’00, Asian Studies


Luanne Homberger

My fieldwork in Japan was a very fruitful experience. I was able to investigate the role of women performing kagura as an insider within the Wakayama troupe of Tokyo. Through the guidance of Professor Fish’s introduction, I was able to take a month of intensive lessons with guild leader Wakayama Taneo and performed with him and his other students. Participating in a performance allowed me to observe female members of the troupe backstage as well as on. I made important progress on my research and plan to gather additional data by returning to Tokyo in November 1999. During my one-month stay in Japan, I also learned about the people of Japan and the country’s culture, history, art, and society. I was able to combine what I learned in my Asian studies courses with my firsthand experience. On a personal level, the fellowship was also rewarding. Perhaps most importantly, I dispelled many of the prejudices and assumptions I had about the Japanese. My experience has also given me increased confidence as a student of Asian studies. Now, I have a passion to share Asian studies with others and plan to go on to graduate school to study Japan, Korea, and China. In addition, I plan to become a member of Wakayama’s troupe and help preserve the cultural tradition and art of kagura. I am grateful to the Freeman Foundation and the ASIANetwork for giving me the opportunity to meet and work with Wakayama Taneo and the members of his troupe. As a direct result of my Japanese experience, I am currently studying the Japanese language and plan to return to Tokyo in November to conduct a week of follow-up fieldwork.

Prof. David Lee Fish

Both Ms. Homberger and I benefited significantly from participation in the ASIANetwork Freeman Student-Faculty Fellowship. For Ms. Homberger, the program provided the opportunity to be mentored though her first ethnographic fieldwork project. This included attendance at a number of Shinto festivals as well as interviews and a month of intensive lessons with Wakayama Taneo. She was also able to interview other guild members and is currently utilizing the data she collected as the foundation for her Asian studies senior thesis. While still preliminary, I believe her findings will shed important light onto the phenomenon she is investigating. Participation in the Freeman program has also benefited my own scholarly development. I gained a more intimate understanding of the Wakayama troupe and the festivals at which its members perform and gathered significant data about the Wakayama troupe’s performance of shishi mai. This material has inspired a paper I will give next March at the annual conference of the Association of Asian Studies. Through Luanne’s project, I learned a good deal about an important phenomenon within the Wakayama troupe that I myself would probably never investigated. Finally, I believe I myself have become a better fieldworker by mentoring a student through a fieldwork.

Research Findings

There has indeed been an increase in the number of female performers within the Wakayama troupe in recent years. Female membership has grown to the extent that it almost equals male membership. Several female performers are among the most accomplished in the troupe and perform professionally on a regular basis. The average age of professional female performers is perhaps 10 years younger than their male counterparts. Wakayama Taneo wholeheartedly encourages participation by women. Several female performers within the troupe are extremely dedicated, going well beyond learning the music as a recreational activity. While female performers are recent, Wakayama Taneo revealed that women did perform during the Meiji period. Despite a growing number of female performers, a certain inequality still seems to exist. For example, it was observed that women play a subservient role in backstage situations. Also, when the troupe performed at two festivals on the same day, only men performed at the more important of the pair.

Venues for Sharing

My research will culminate in a formal paper written as an Asian Studies senior thesis. During the 1999-2000 school year, I will also actively share my experience with fellow students by encouraging involvement in the St. Andrews Asian Studies program, especially the Japanese Festival Ensemble. I hope to present the findings from my research to classes involved with Asian studies and gender issues. The St. Andrews Women’s Issues Club is another likely forum. Beyond the campus, Professor Fish and I, along with the rest of the Japanese Festival Ensemble, will continue to perform for local schools, civic organizations, and other institutions of higher learning. I would also like to organize a Japanese awareness week to be held for St. Andrews and the Scotland County communities. This would include lectures, art exhibits, a festival, dance performances, and discussions on Japan. Finally, I plan to submit a formal paper for hopeful publication in the Wittenberg East Asian Studies Journal.