The Mountain Is Moving: Japanese Women's Lives


226 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-0675-3
DDC 305.42'0952





Reviewed by Patricia Whitney

Patricia Whitney, former coordinator of Women’s Studies Program at the
University if Prince Edward Island, is the Bank of Montreal Visiting
Scholar in Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa.


Patricia Morley, Professor Emerita of English and Lifetime Honorary
Fellow of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University, is
perhaps best known for her study on Margaret Laurence and her
biographies of the painter William Kurelek and the Montreal poet of the
1920s Leo Kennedy. This most recent work, while of a piece with her
writings as a feminist scholar and biographer, looks beyond Canada to
Asia, and presents a contemporary portrait of Japanese women seen
through an interdisciplinary lens. Here is Morley the student of
literature, the life-writer and the cultural historian, bringing a
learned sensitivity to a look at the women of a society far different
from her own. She is forthright about her limitations: years of effort
left her still unable to speak the language of her subjects, and she
never lived in Japan. On the other hand, she took nine long trips to
that country (the first in 1961) and was a respectful researcher who was
awarded a Japan Foundation Fellowship and other honors that both made
her writing possible and gave her fieldwork and research recognition and

Morley argues that men in Japan work very hard indeed (in fact, there
exists a term in the language—karoshi—indicating death from
overwork). Why, she asks, would women want to seek equity under such
circumstances? Her book provides the answer, presenting a society where
women have been, and in many ways still are, bound to subservient roles
by “ties of silk and steel.” Morley’s compelling chapter on sexual
politics describes the life of the geisha, sold as a shikoni or
geisha-in-training at age 6, and compares her existence to that of the
wife of a powerful man. There seems little to choose between one sort of
gilded oppression and another. Even today, women are subjected to
humiliation by the proliferation of foul, often pedophilic, pornography
and the continuation of danson johi, the principle that men are
respected while women are scorned. Yet these women are highly educated,
and while Morley does not shy away from their struggles, she valorizes
their accomplishments, all of which have come about through the
determination of Japanese women themselves, whether they are office
workers or artists.


Morley, Patricia., “The Mountain Is Moving: Japanese Women's Lives,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,