Date of Award

December 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Arijit H Sen

Committee Members

James P Leary, Anna V Andrzejewski, Jessica E Sewell, Takeshi Ito


City, East Asia, Ethnographic, Japan, Modern, Tokyo


This dissertation explores Japanese women’s uses of non-domestic spaces in the modern period (1868–1945), focusing on the transformations that were occurring in the new capital city of Tokyo. After the 1868 Meiji Restoration, a modern government took over in place of the Tokugawa shogunate, the feudal military government that had ruled Japan for nearly three centuries, based on a hereditary status-based system. The fall of Tokugawa social order liberated Japanese people from the principle that John W. Hall famously called “rule by status.” Yet, it also complicated the ways in which the society was organized. Because the status system had defined where people lived and visited on an everyday basis, the mechanisms for ordering spaces in cities also drastically transformed after the fall of the Tokugawa regime.

In this time of instability and negotiation, women began venturing outside of the familiar spaces of home. At the same time, various male stakeholders with social, political, and economic power – such as national government officials and corporate managers – employed multiple strategies to establish a new socio-spatial order across the city of Tokyo. It was men who, for the most part, designated which spaces were to be used and how, according to what they deemed appropriate. Yet, I argue that women played limited, but surprisingly active roles in contesting these mechanisms. Through three case studies of incidents that involved women venturing into non-domestic spaces, I show how women worked with and against these forces, inventing alternative uses of non-domestic spaces of their own.

To examine some of the forces propelling women’s increasing presence outside of the home, this dissertation builds on two methods for understanding cities and architecture: an approach that examines urbanity as a process and the ethnography of architecture. Using the urbanity-as-a-process approach, this dissertation interrogates modern Tokyo as an ongoing, complex project that was constructed by multiple stakeholders and forces, rather than designed merely by professionals, such as architects, planners, and policy makers. Drawing on the ethnography of architecture approach, the chapters also privilege interpretations that emphasize the uses and perceptions of specific spaces, rather than their forms and construction.

Each case study focuses on what was at the time a new kind of urban space, whose spatial mechanisms for gendering were still flexible and unstable. The first case study traces the development of the campus for Tsuda College – a women-only school in Tokyo – from 1900 to 1931. It shows how Tsuda College students, teachers, and administrators contested the exclusionary system of higher education in Japan by identifying and scraping up alternative resources. The second case study looks into the process by which two women’s organizations – Tōyō Eiwa Girls’ School Alumnae Association and Japan Women’s Association for Education – expanded their spatial networks for socializing between 1873 and 1912, focusing on their uses of parks. The national government intended to push violent and noisy men, who met in the parks for political gatherings, out of the parks to achieve their purpose of having regular gatherings. This chapter demonstrates how socializing women took advantage of the national government’s need to achieve their purpose of having regular gatherings. The third case study explores how managers at the flagship location of Mitsukoshi Department Store used female employees as what I call “sensory capital” from 1900 to 1924. This chapter demonstrates that managers constantly manipulated the bodies of saleswomen, through complex strategies to ensure their coexistence with male employees at work and separation outside work. It also shows how saleswomen subverted the systematic management of their bodies.

Taking all these case studies together, I suggest that it was not only women who were gauging their changing place in the city and in Japanese society after the collapse of the Tokugawa social order; this process was also significant for the elite men who established most of the gendering systems. In doing so, this dissertation complicates traditional historical narratives of architecture and urban spaces in modern Tokyo; namely, it reconceptualizes the modernization of the built environment in Tokyo as an unstable, inconsistent process of exploration and negotiation, rather than a perfectly calculated process of progress and development. More broadly, by using materials that have not traditionally been deemed as architectural evidence, this dissertation offers a model for how to excavate the spatial interactions of under-documented, marginalized populations. By demonstrating that people can make architectural contributions even without engaging in the physical construction of buildings, the dissertation promotes a more democratic view of architecture and its significance in everyday life.