In a tradition extending from the medieval era to the early twentieth century, visually disabled Japanese women known as goze toured the Japanese countryside as professional singers and contributed to the vitality of rural musical culture. The goze sang unique narratives (many requiring several hours to perform) as well as a huge repertory of popular ballads and short songs, typically accompanied by a three-stringed lute known as the shamisen. During the Edo period (1600-1868) goze formed guild-like occupational associations and created an iconic musical repertory. They were remarkably successful in fighting discrimination accorded to women, people with physical disabilities, the poor, and itinerants, using their specialized art to connect directly to the commoner public. The best documented goze lived in Echigo province in the Japanese northwest. Although their activities peaked in the nineteenth century, some women continued to tour until the middle of the twentieth. The last active goze survived until 2005.
In Goze: Blind Women and Musical Performance in Traditional Japan, author Gerald Groemer argues that goze activism was primarily a matter of the agency of performance itself. Groemer shows that the solidarity goze achieved with the rural public through narrative and music was based on the convergence of the goze's desire to achieve social autonomy and the wish of lower-class to mitigate the cultural deprivation to which they were otherwise so often subject. It was this correlation of emancipatory interests that allowed goze to flourish and attain a degree of social autonomy. Far from being pitied as helpless victims, goze were recognized as masterful artisans who had succeeded in transforming their disability into a powerful social tool and who could act as agents of widespread cultural development. As the first full-length scholarly work on goze in English, this book is sure to prove an invaluable resource to scholars and students of Japanese culture, Japanese music, ethnomusicology, and disability studies worldwide.