Review of The Weak Body of a Useless Woman.
In The Weak Body of a Useless Woman, Anne Walthall takes a look at the life of Matsuo Taseko. Taseko came from a rich peasant family in the Ina valley region of Japan. Her life, as interesting as it is, serves only as an example for Walthall.
In her book, Walthall takes Taseko's life and uses is as a model of many aspects of life during the end of the Tokugawa bakufu and into the Meiji restoration. First, she uses it as a model of the rich peasant family. Her life at home was very much like every other upper-class peasant in Japan. She married, mostly for financial reasons. This is not to say that the Takemura family, Taseko's birth family, was not wealthy. Most marriages amongst upper-class peasants were to link to families together. Taseko's marriage to the Matsuo family did just that.
Most upper-class peasant families produced some form of cash crops. The Matsuo family did, also. As the economy changed, so did their cash crops. When it was profitable to make sake, they did. When it wasn't, they stopped. The upper-class peasants had to continually adapt to the radically fluctuating economy.
As a member of the upper-peasant class, Taseko was expected to be somewhat educated. She got her education, but went beyond what was required or expected. .
After doing more than a woman was expected, or rather limited, to, she decides to leave. While this wasn't a common thing among the upper-class peasants, it was becoming more and more common around Japan. Walthall takes care to show us that Taseko's family did not approve of what she does. She also uses Taseko's decision to show what many young people were starting to do around Japan. Many educated people were going off to Kyoto, the home of the emperor, or Edo, the location of the bakufu. Taseko chose Kyoto. Along the way, she joined the Hirata School. Hirata Atsutane, a famous thinker at the time, preached the need to recreate a "pure" Japan, by going back to the villages.