Sacred gender exclusion. A study of cultural heritage and religious tradition in modern Japan

Heilige geslachtsuitsluiting. Een onderzoek naar cultureel erfgoed en religieuze traditie in het moderne Japan
Start - End 
2019 - 2022 (completed)
Department of Languages and Cultures
Research Focus 



This project concerns the practice of excluding women or men from religious sites and religious practices in Japan, and the complex interconnections among religion, traditions, and cultural heritage in the modern period (1868 to the present). Three Japanese sites recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites have historically banned—or currently ban—women’s access as a condition of “religious tradition”: Mt. Ōmine in Nara prefecture (currently off limits to women), Okinoshima in Fukuoka prefecture (currently off limits to women), and Mt. Fuji in Shizuoka prefecture (formerly off limits to women).  A fourth Japanese World Heritage site, Sēfa Utaki in present-day Okinawa prefecture, once banned men’s access on similar grounds. Differentiation based on gender is or was regarded as a key element of religious tradition at these four sites, and many discussions boldly present gender exclusion as a special determinant of the religiosity of the place. At the same time, official heritage documentation prepared by the Japanese government greatly diminishes or deletes altogether the fact of gender exclusion. Breaking with previous scholarship that presents women’s exclusion as an ancient and unchanged fact of Japan’s religious and cultural landscape, this project of historical and ethnographic research examines the conflicting assessments and interpretations of religious gender exclusion at various levels of authority and at selected times throughout history. In addition to fostering a more nuanced understanding of Japanese religions (Buddhism, Shinto, Shugendō), the project will create new data and aims to contribute fresh perspectives for understanding the formation of social structures (religion, gender, heritage, tradition, etc.) in Japan and in other countries—indeed, in all societies.