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The Role of Japanese Women in Ancient Japan

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The Role of Japanese Women in Ancient Japan

East Asia from Pre-Origins to 1800

USCI/NCTA Fall 2012 Seminar – UTLA

09/25/12 -01/08/12

Lesson Plan: The Role of Japanese Women in Ancient Japan

Teacher: Miguel Covarrubias

Grade: 7 - 12

Class: World History

Topic: Aristocratic Women During the Heian Period

Objective: Students will learn about the lives of court women in Japan through evaluating, analyzing and discussing primary and secondary sources.


History–Social Science Content Standards for California
7.5 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of Medieval Japan.

National Center for History in the Schools Content Standards

World History Era 4: Expanding Zones of Exchange and Encounter, 300-1000 CE
Standard 3B: The student understands developments in Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia in an era of Chinese ascendancy.
• Assess the patterns of borrowing and adaptation of Chinese culture in Japanese society from the 7th to the 11th century.
• Assess the political, social, and cultural contributions of aristocratic women of the Japanese imperial court.

Day One

Activity One: Pair Share

Time: 10 - 15 mins.

Students with a partner will generate a list of characteristics that they think are expected from today’s American woman. Students will share their responses and create a class list on the board.

Activity Two: Reading and Annotation of a Primary Source

Time: 45 mins.

Pass out copies of Ban Zhao’s “Lesson for a Woman.” Students will individually read and annotate the document and generate a list of characteristics that they think were expected of ancient Asian women.

Homework: Students will do a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the characteristics expected of American women and ancient Asian women.

Day Two

Activity Three: Writing Assignment and Discussion

Time: 35 mins.

Have students do a writing assignment, in which they answer the following questions: How do the expectations of ancient Asian women compare with the expectations of American women in society today? What were some of the institutional structures that may have been placed on Asian women that limited their roles in society and do American women have any such limitations? Students will discuss their findings and thoughts on the role of women in Ancient Asia versus American women today.

Activity Four: Lecture

Time: 25 mins.

Lecture on Confucius and Confucianism

During the brief lecture students will do Cornell Notes. The lecture will provide an opportunity to review Confucianism and its relationship to the structure of Asian societies and its function as a system of patriarchy in China and later in Japan. The establishment of both Confucianism and the Chinese bureaucracy system in Japan by the 8th century put into place a structure that kept women from being involved in government. Nonetheless, Japanese women still had access to education and maintained some of their rights from the pre-Heian period.


Students will read the essay "The Court at Kyôto: Japan's Golden Age" and must also explore the following website:

For the website visit they will do a reading assignment called 3-2-1.
3 Things You Found Out 2 Interesting Things 1 Question You Still Have.
Day Three

Activity Five: Class Discussion

Time: 10-15 min

Students will share what they learned about the article and the website they had for homework. They should share their ideas about Heian period and the role of women during that time. Discussion questions: What part did Confucianism play in women’s role and power in Japanese society in the Heian Era? Can the writing by Heian court women be viewed as an outlet for the imitations placed upon women by society at the time?

Activity Six: Jigsaw

Time: 45 mins

Break up the class into small groups of four students and give each person in the group one document from a set of four documents. Two of them are excerpts from the The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon: The Diary of a Courtesan and two excerpts from the Tale of Genji. Each person will fill out their portion of their graphic organizer and then they will share their findings with their group members. Before they share their findings they must briefly summarize their document.

Activity Seven: Debriefing

Time: 15 mins

After the jigsaw, what conclusions can they draw about Heian court life? What is the role of women and what limitations were placed on them? How did Japanese women from the Heian period overcome these limitations?


Students will read the articles entitled The Japanese Family and Education & Work. They will also watch the videos related to these topics. The links to these articles and videos are below. Students will do a writing assignment in which they compare and contrast the role of women in contemporary Japan versus the role of women during the Heian period. They will evaluate their roles and decide to what extent their roles have improved.