AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 280

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Session 280: Handle with Care: Private Parts and Public Concerns in Japanese History

Organizer: Alexander R Bay, Chapman University, USA

Discussant: Akihito Suzuki, Keio University, Japan

Our panel puts issues related to the body squarely within a national narrative of Japanese history. Interest in medicine and the body has been lukewarm at best (or nonexistent at worst) in the field of Japanese history: We challenge these assumptions by showing how bodily concerns were central not only to the lived experience of the past but also to pivotal moments in national history. Alex Bay writes about the history of hemorrhoids, examining the medical transition across the Edo-Meiji divide, the cultural construction of disease (etiology couched in terms of Japanese customs), and the relation between this affliction, military service, and imperial expansion. Greg Pflugfelder moves beyond a critical theory take on the body; instead focusing on the material as well as psychological culture of what he refers to as the “penis industry.” Exploring the intersection of the body and medical marketplace, he reveals the construction (and commercialization) of phallic anxiety in twentieth century Japan. Andrew Goble’s paper examines the material culture related to sex and genitalia in the context of family and reproduction during the medieval period. While this panel is about genitalia and bottoms, it is less about people’s nether regions and more about Japanese history. We focus on historical and historiographical issues important to the longue durée view of Japan’s past, including the importance of reproduction for medieval families, the continuities and changes across the Edo-Meiji divide, the medical marketplace in the early twentieth century, and the links between bodies, national power, and empire in the 1930s.

Rectal Fitness and National Strength: Hemorrhoids in Modern Japan
Alexander R Bay, Chapman University, USA

In 1940, specialists established Japan’s first proctology society, arguing that hemorrhoids were a “national disease,” asserting that their research supported the Holy War in China and Japan’s position at the center of the East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere. The question of how individual rectal fitness came to be a prerequisite for nation and empire drives this study. My paper focuses three main topics. First, I examine the medical modernization of the rectum across the Edo/Meiji divide. How did traditional or folk medicine view and treat hemorrhoids? Diseases of the rectum were not discursively taboo in Japan; officials openly took time off to recover from hemorrhoids. How did western medicine “modernize” the asshole? Second, using medical discourse, I reveal the cultural construction of this disease. Western specialists estimated that a large percentage of the world’s population, regardless of race, suffered from rectal disorders, yet Japanese proctologists constructed culturally specific etiological narratives to explain the prevalence of hemorrhoids in Japan. Third, drawing upon military statistics and medical texts, I explore the increased attention, tied to concerns with national strength, given to hemorrhoids in the 1930s. On one hand, army statistics reveal a yearly growth in incidence rates and time lost to medical treatment (as many as 50,000 workdays). On the other, various forms of debilitating rectal afflictions were tied to tuberculosis etiology. Since hemorrhoids struck the most productive strata of society, men ages twenty to fifty, and related complications often weakened the sufferer’s resistance to TB, hemorrhoids became a disease with national implications.

“What’s Wrong with Me? Cultivating Male Penis Envy in Early Twentieth-Century Japan”
Gregory M. Pflugfelder, Columbia University, USA

Critical theory, especially of a Freudian-inflected variety, has produced a rich account of the phallus as a cultural symbol. What is needed now is a history of the body that takes the penis seriously. In modern times, penises have been concealed, cleansed, inspected, manipulated, measured, and subjected to other forms of social regulation and medical normalization, in addition, of course, to their physiological functions in sexual arousal, urination, and reproduction. They have also generated what might be called a “penis industry”—a complex of urological knowledge, business interests, and advertising media that, by instilling a fear in young males that their genitalia embody an embarrassing departure from the physical norm, encourage them to part with their cash in order to receive often-questionable treatment. This paper traces the emergence of the penis industry in early twentieth-century Japan, focusing on the advertising strategies that its entrepreneurs deployed in print to promote a distinctively modern form of psychological anxiety.

Medicine and Sexual Health in Medieval Japan
Andrew E. Goble, University of Oregon, USA

Illness, nutrition, and reproduction were central to the lived daily lives of people in medieval Japan (and, of course, anywhere else at any time in human history). Unfortunately, these fundamental topics have received scant scholarly attention, reflecting perhaps a broader tendency to downplay the importance of material culture and technology. This paper will examine some topics related to the good health, functioning, enjoyment, and medical use of items connected with and generated by organs of reproduction. The paper will focus on sources from the fourteenth century, but will also draw upon medical texts, diaries, and visual materials produced between the tenth and fifteenth centuries in order to confirm that interest in the topics was chronic rather than sporadic. We will first examine the broader theoretical and conceptual linkages between health and sexual activity, and indicate some influences of pre-Song Chinese medical writings in Japan as reflected in the well-known Ishinpō, and the less known late Kamakura work Eisei hiyōshō. We will next look at writings directed to a more general audience (such as the Ton’ishō), which convey a stronger focus on issues of functionality and compatibility of sexual organs, and provide a guide to some medicines, applications, and suppositories in contemporary use. We will then look at the medicinal use of reproduction-related body parts and products, such as penis, clitoris, and fetus. We will conclude with some general comments on how research into the body and its uses provides an untapped perspective from which to investigate broader issues in social and intellectual history.