Having a bath in Japan: a biographical study of actress and black belt jūdōka Sarah Mayer (1896-1957)
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AbstractIn 1933, British actor and playwright, Sarah Mayer, left behind her wealthy husband, and the large country estate they shared in rural Hampshire, for a trip to Japan. As a judo enthusiast travelling as a sports tourist, Sarah became the first western woman in Japan to receive the award of shōdan, or first degree black-belt, for judo, from the Butokukai, an increasingly militaristic, pedagogical institution, aimed at continuing the study of traditional and modern fighting techniques. Sarah’s training at the home of the art, the Kōdōkan in Tokyo, was encouraged by founder, Jigorō Kanō, a known internationalist in outlook. As the trip continued, the Japanese government promoted Mayer’s tour as part of the drive for modernism. Primarily, this thesis analyses the reasons for her unprecedented acceptance as a Western woman by Kanō and the wider judo establishment. Using a biographical framework, and drawing on a large volume of primary source research, this work places Sarah’s achievement into a context of not only time and place, but social mobility and agency, considering, firstly, Sarah’s life before she went to Japan. Central to the thesis, the work then continues with an in-depth study of her time in Japan and the height of her international fame as a sporting personality, concluding with her final years and reflecting on her precarious place within history. Whilst contributing to the literature on gendered sporting performance and role models of the early twentieth century, this work should be seen as a revision of the limited historiography of women in judo, and also, to a lesser extent, the international politicisation of physical culture. The politicisation of sport, particularly the fighting arts, is an important, and sometimes neglected area of sports history, particularly in the Western literature. Providing a gendered perspective on the international history of the growth and diversification of martial arts, this thesis investigates a crucial case study, encompassing overarching themes of class, individual agency and the wider political context of Anglo-Japanese relations.
PublisherUniversity of Wolverhampton
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
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