Rebecca Copeland

Professor of Japanese Language and Literature
PhD, Columbia University
research interests:
  • Modern and contemporary women's writing in Japan
  • Modern literature and material culture
  • Translation studies
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    ​Professor Copeland's research and teaching interests include modern and contemporary women's writing in Japan, modern literature and material culture, and translation studies.

    Rebecca Copeland’s research and teaching are informed by questions of both gender and genre.  She focuses almost exclusively on modern Japanese women writers, examining the way their gender has defined and often confined their literary production.  Women writers in the 19th century were expected to conform to socially accepted notions of femininity.  Women in the early 20th century often wrote with a self-conscious awareness of their gender, performing to almost hyperbolic extremes ideas of femininity.  Their works are draped in kimono and covered in make-up.  Later 20th-century women writers were known to parody these notions, creating monstrous aberrations of womanhood. And there were certain genres that were deemed unsuitable for a woman.  One was the hardboiled mystery, which is another of Copeland’s interests.

    Her most recent research project returns her to the writer Uno Chiyo, who was the subject of her dissertation and first book. She is contributing to a collection of essays on Japanese women writers and divorce.  Uno Chiyo was well versed in the topic.  Married three times, she was to have quipped: “No one is as lucky as a woman writer. No sooner does she break up with a man than she can write about it all without the slightest sense of shame.”  What fascinates Copeland about Uno, is that she ran a newspaper advice column for a time, counseling women whose marriages were on the rocks.  She also wrote a number of cookbooks and had a second career as a kimono designer.  Rather like Martha Stewart, Uno could be described as “a bad girl of good housekeeping.”  And that aspect of her career will be the focus of Copeland’s next academic project.

    In addition to scholarly projects and translations, Copeland is moving into creative writing.  Her work travels between Japan and the Blue Ridge Mountains, tracing the lines of memory, identity, and self-discovery. The Kimono Tattoo, Copeland’s debut novel, will be published by Brother Mockingbird Publishers in late 2020. The Kimono Tattoo takes readers on a journey into Kyoto’s intricate world of kimono design.  As Ruth struggles to unravel the cryptic message hidden in the kimono tattoo, she is forced to confront a vicious killer along with her own painful family secrets.

    A second creative project, the short story “Blue Ridge Yamamba,” will appear in the anthology Yamamba: In Search of the Japanese Mountain Witch, co-edited with Linda C. Ehrlich. The anthology, scheduled for publication with Stone Bridge Press, will include short stories, poems, essays, and interviews with performance artists, all on the topic of the enigmatic mountain witch.

    For more on Copeland’s creative projects, and to follow her blog posts, see her webpage:

    Teaching is an integral part of Rebecca Copeland’s interests and identity.  She offers courses on mystery fiction, demonic women in fiction, overviews of women’s writing, readings in dramatic texts, explorations of translation, and more. One of the more exciting pedagogical opportunities she has had recently is offering classes on Japanese Civilization at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center—as part of the Prison Education Program.

    Copeland was born the fourth daughter to missionary parents in a Japan still recovering from the aftermath of war.  Shortly after her birth, the family relocated to Wake Forest, North Carolina.  As a junior in college, Copeland had the opportunity to spend a year in Japan, where she studied traditional dance, learned to wear a kimono, and traveled, making ridiculous mistakes in the Japanese language. Afterwards she earned a PhD in Japanese literature at Columbia University.

    Copeland’s first monograph, The Sound of the Wind: The Life and Works of Uno Chiyo, was published by the University of Hawai'i Press in 1992. Her study of Meiji women writers, Lost Leaves: Women Writers of Meiji Japan was published by the University of Hawai'i Press in 2000 and was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2001. The University of Hawai'i Press also published her edited volume Woman Critiqued: Translated Essays on Japanese Women's Writing in 2006. Copeland co-edited a collection of essays concerning the relationship between women writers and their fathers – both biological and cultural – with Dr. Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen of University of Michigan, The Father-Daughter Plot: Japanese Literary Women and the Law of the Father (University of Hawai'i Press, 2001) and a collection of translations, Modern Murasaki: Writing by Women of Meiji Japan with Dr. Melek Ortabasi of Simon Fraser University (Columbia University Press, 2006). More recently, Copeland collaborated with Dr. Laura Miller, the Ei’ichi Shibusawa-Seigo Arai Endowed Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, on Diva Nation: Female Icons from Japanese Cultural History (University of California Press, 2018). Grotesque, Copeland's translation of a Kirino Natsuo title, was published by Knopf in 2007. Her translation of Kirino’s Joshinki (The Goddess Chronicles) was published by Canongate in 2012 and won the 2014-15 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature.


    Courses Taught

    • L05 226 Japanese Civilization
    • L05 333C The Modern Voice in Japanese Literature
    • L05 346 Japanese Literature in Translation II: Mystery Fiction
    • L05 445 Japanese Fiction: Images of Demonic Women
    • L05 445 Japanese Fiction: Meiji Women Writers
    • L05 4451 Topics in Modern Japanese Literature: Sense and Sensuality in the Novels of Tanizaki
    • L05 446 Japanese Theater
    • L05 449 Modern Japanese Women Writers: Madame Butterfly's Delinquent Daughters
    • L05 520 Practicum in Literary Translation (Japanese)

    Selected Publications

    • Diva Nation: Female Icons from Japanese Cultural History (University of California Press, 2018.)
    • The Goddess Chronicle (translation of Kirino Natsuo title; Cannongate, 2013.)
    • Grotesque (translation of a Kirino Natsuo title; Knopf, 2007.)
    • Modern Murasaki: Writing by Women of Meiji Japan (co-editor with Dr. Melek Ortabasi of Hamilton College; Columbia University Press, 2006.)
    • Woman Critiqued: Translated Essays on Japanese Women's Writing (editor; University of Hawai'i Press, 2006.)
    • The Father-Daughter Plot: Japanese Literary Women and the Law of the Father (co-editor with Dr. Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen of University of Michigan; University of Hawai'i Press, 2001.)
    • Lost Leaves: Women Writers of Meiji Japan (University of Hawai'i Press, 2000.)
    • The Sound of the Wind: The Life and Works of Uno Chiyo (University of Hawai'i Press, 1992.)
    • WU Newsroom: "Unconventional Exploration"


    • 2001 Choice Outstanding Academic Title for Lost Leaves: Women Writers of Meiji Japan (University of Hawai'i Press in 2000).
    • 2014-15 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature for her translation of Kirino Natsuo's The Goddess Chronicle.
    Diva Nation: Female Icons from Japanese Cultural History

    Diva Nation: Female Icons from Japanese Cultural History

    Diva Nation explores the constructed nature of female iconicity in Japan. From ancient goddesses and queens to modern singers and writers, this edited volume critically reconsiders the female icon, tracing how she has been offered up for emulation, debate or censure. The research in this book culminates from curiosity over the insistent presence of Japanese female figures who have refused to sit quietly on the sidelines of history. The contributors move beyond archival portraits to consider historically and culturally informed diva imagery and diva lore. The diva is ripe for expansion, fantasy, eroticization, and playful reinvention, while simultaneously presenting a challenge to patriarchal culture. Diva Nation asks how the diva disrupts or bolsters ideas about nationhood, morality, and aesthetics.

    Joshinki (The Goddess Chronicles)

    Joshinki (The Goddess Chronicles)

    From internationally bestselling crime writer Natsuo Kirino comes a mythical slice of feminist noir about family secrets, broken loyalties, and the search for truth in a deceitful world.

    In a place like no other, on a mystical island in the shape of tear drop, two sisters are born into an esteemed family of oracles. Kamikuu is admired far and wide for her otherworldly beauty; small and headstrong Namima learns to live in her sister’s shadow. On her sixth birthday, Kamikuu is chosen to become the next Oracle, serving the realm of light, while Namima is forced to serve the realm of darkness―destined to spend eternity guiding the spirits of the deceased to the underworld.

    As the sisters undergo opposite fates, Namima embarks on a journey that takes her from the experience of first love to the aftermath of scalding betrayal. Caught in an elaborate web of treachery, she travels between the land of the living and the Realm of the Dead, seeking retribution and closure.

    At the heart of this exquisitely dark tale, Kirino masterfully reimagines the ancient Japanese creation myth of Izanami and Izanaki. A provocative, fantastical saga, The Goddess Chronicle tells a sumptuous story of sex, murder, gods and goddesses, and bittersweet revenge.



    Life at the prestigious Q High School for Girls in Tokyo exists on a precise social axis: a world of insiders and outsiders, of haves and have-nots. Beautiful Yuriko and her unpopular, unnamed sister exist in different spheres; the hopelessly awkward Kazue Sato floats around among them, trying to fit in.Years later, Yuriko and Kazue are dead — both have become prostitutes and both have been brutally murdered. Natsuo Kirino, celebrated author of Out, seamlessly weaves together the stories of these women’s struggles within the conventions and restrictions of Japanese society. At once a psychological investigation of the pressures facing Japanese women and a classic work of noir fiction, Grotesque is a brilliantly twisted novel of ambition, desire, beauty, cruelty, and identity by one of our most electrifying writers.

    Modern Murasaki: Writing by Women of Meiji Japan

    Modern Murasaki: Writing by Women of Meiji Japan

    The first anthology of its kind, The Modern Murasaki brings the vibrancy and rich imagination of women's writing from the Meiji period to English-language readers. Along with traditional prose, the editors have chosen and carefully translated short stories, plays, poetry, speeches, essays, and personal journal entries. Selected readings include writings by the public speaker Kishida Toshiko, the dramatist Hasegawa Shigure, the short-fiction writer Shimizu Shikin, the political writer Tamura Toshiko, and the novelists Miyake Kaho, Higuchi Ichiyo, Tazawa Inabune, Kitada Usurai, Nogami Yaeko, and Mizuno Senko. The volume also includes a thorough introduction to each reading, an extensive index listing historical, social, and literary concepts, and a comprehensive guide to further research.

    The fierce tenor and bold content of these texts refute the popular belief that women of this era were passive and silent. A vital addition to courses in women's studies and Japanese literature and history, The Modern Murasaki is a singular resource for students and scholars.

    Woman Critiqued: Translated Essays on Japanese Women's Writing

    Woman Critiqued: Translated Essays on Japanese Women's Writing

    Over the past thirty years translations of Japanese women’s writing and biographies of women writers have enriched and expanded our understanding of modern Japanese literature. But how have women writers been received and read in Japan? To appreciate the subterfuges, strategies, and choices that the modern Japanese woman writer has faced, readers must consider the criticisms leveled against her, the expectations and admonitions that have been whispered in her ear, and pay attention to the way she herself has responded. What did it mean to be a woman writer in twentieth-century Japan? How was she defined and how did this definition limit her artistic sphere?

    Woman Critiqued builds on existing scholarship by offering English-language readers access to some of the more salient critiques that have been directed at women writers, on the one hand, and reactions to these by women writers, on the other. The grouping of the essays into chapters organized by theme clarifies how the discussion in Japan has been framed by certain assumptions and how women have repeatedly tried to intervene by playing with, undercutting, or attempting to exceed these assumptions. Chapter introductions contextualize the translated essays historically and draw out aspects that warrant particular scrutiny or explication.

    The Father-Daughter Plot: Japanese Literary Women and the Law of the Father

    The Father-Daughter Plot: Japanese Literary Women and the Law of the Father

    This provocative collection of essays is a comprehensive study of the “father-daughter dynamic” in Japanese female literary experience. Its contributors examine the ways in which women have been placed politically, ideologically, and symbolically as “daughters” in a culture that venerates “the father.” They weigh the impact that this daughterly position has had on both the performance and production of women's writing from the classical period to the present.

    Conjoining the classical and the modern with a unified theme reveals an important continuum in female authorship-a historical approach often ignored by scholars. The essays devoted to the literature of the classical period discuss canonical texts in a new light, offering important feminist readings that challenge existing scholarship, while those dedicated to modern writers introduce readers to little-known texts with translations and readings that are engaging and original.

    Lost Leaves: Women Writers of Meiji Japan

    Lost Leaves: Women Writers of Meiji Japan

    Most Japanese literary historians have suggested that the Meiji Period (1868-1912) was devoid of women writers but for the brilliant exception of Higuchi Ichiyo (1872-1896). Rebecca Copeland challenges this claim by examining in detail the lives and literary careers of three of Ichiyo's peers, each representative of the diversity and ingenuity of the period: Miyake Kaho (1868-1944), Wakamatsu Shizuko (1864-1896), and Shimizu Shikin (1868-1933).

    In a carefully researched introduction, Copeland establishes the context for the development of female literary expression. She follows this with chapters on each of the women under consideration. Miyake Kaho, often regarded as the first woman writer of modern Japan, offers readers a vision of the female vitality that is often overlooked when discussing the Meiji era. Wakamatsu Shizuko, the most prominent female translator of her time, had a direct impact on the development of a modern written language for Japanese prose fiction. Shimizu Shikin reminds readers of the struggle women endured in their efforts to balance their creative interests with their social roles. Interspersed throughout are excerpts from works under discussion, most never before translated, offering an invaluable window into this forgotten world of women's writing.

    The Sound of the Wind: The Life and Works of Uno Chiyo

    The Sound of the Wind: The Life and Works of Uno Chiyo

    Fashion ingenue, magazine editor, kimono designer, femme fatale, prize-winning writer–Uno Chiyo has becomeone of twentieth-century Japan's most accomplished and celebrated women. In this two-part volume, Rebecca L. Copeland offers Western readers a fascinating portrait of Uno's life along with translations of three of her distinctive works of short fiction.