AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 749

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Session 749: Discursive Masculinities in Modern Japan

Organizer: Emma E. Cook, Hokkaido University, Japan

Chair: Allison Alexy, University of Michigan, USA

Discussant: Allison Alexy, University of Michigan, USA

Despite academic attention to gender in Japan, masculinities remain relatively understudied and undefinable. In popular understandings, masculinity is associated with patriarchy, violence, aggression, oppression and is contrasted to a passive femininity in hegemonic forms that are decidedly heteronormative. Yet discursive constructions of manhood are historically contingent and have shifted in significant ways to reveal both changing individual roles of men and larger structural changes in Japanese society. This panel explores how specific discourses of masculinities are created, disseminated, negotiated and lived in a specific cultural context. Through historical, sociological and anthropological perspectives, and using a variety of textual and ethnographic methods, we analyze the macro and micro links between historical and contemporary discourses of masculinities in Japan and unpack the discourses themselves. We consider textual constructions of masculinity through bilingual publications of the nationalist Amur Society between 1917 and 1921 and through contemporary male fashion magazines, as well as the lived experience of masculinities through the choices, actions, and desires of young part-time male workers (freeters) and of working and retired men who try to maneuver through the experiences of “work” and retirement during two decades of recession and neoliberal economic reforms. Through each particular example, we hope to critically engage with the category of masculinity and resituate notions of male power, agency, and experience in modern Japan.

“The Manly Way” – Bushidō-Discourse in The Asian Review and Ajia Jiron (1917-1921)
Biru D. Binder, University of Heidelberg, Germany

In the 2008 bilingual edition of Nitobe’s Bushido, the Soul of Japan, the managing director of the Nitobe Foundation claims: “Once again in the present day, there is a marked movement to reappraise Inazo Nitobe and Bushido. That President Clinton … sent a message saying that the book ‘contributed to mutual understanding’ is surely evidence that Nitobe’s hopes, which penetrate his publication, have not faded and are still alive”. In fact, the strategic use of Bushido as a (trans)national vehicle is far from novel. In this talk, I will explore the various ways in which modern Bushido myths of masculinity were depicted and (re)created in the bilingual bulletin Ajia Jiron (1917-1921) respectively The Asian Review (1920-1921) published by “the pan-Asian society par excellence” (Saaler), the Amur Society (Kokuryukai). This male homosocial nationalist society, founded in 1901 and disbanded by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in 1946, has been classified as “prototypical” in at least two regards: Ultra-nationalism, respectively right-wing (uyoku) ideology and “Japan-as-leader” (meishuron) pan-Asianism, i.e. a form of nationalism that transgressed the nation-state boundary of Japan while reaffirming it with the objective of Japan’s leadership. While the English bulletin mainly reworked older inventions of Bushido and paralleled them with “chivalry”, the Japanese bulletin additionally puts a pan-Asian twist to it. However, both bulletins declare the Bushido myth to be distinctly “Japanese”. Thus, the paradox of the Amur Society`s “transnational nationalism” in general reverberates in constructions of an “Asian Bushido-masculinity”.

Analyzing Masculinity: Japanese Fashion Magazines for Young Men
Ronald Saladin, University of Trier, Japan

Beginning in the 1990s, fashion magazines for young men started to boom in Japan. This boom is situated within a discourse of changing masculinities claiming that old fashioned ideas of masculinity become increasingly outworn. I take a look at two specific categories these new magazines can be divided into, in order to analyze what kind of masculinities are constructed here and how these constructions are carried out. I argue that both categories stand for different ways of constructing and construing masculinities. The first category, the magazines aiming at a particular youth-culture called gyaru-o, shows great ambivalence in constructing masculinity insofar as within the magazine men treat their girlfriends equally and respectfully in love-relationships, yet, when sexual intercourse is concerned, show strong linkage to the idea of a man who perceives his partner merely as a tool to enact a dominant male position. As they differ from the other category by an overt representation of heteronormative sexualized masculinity, these gyaru-o magazines construct masculinity by heavily drawing on a discourse that is strongly linked to sexual intercourse. The other magazines, however, nearly completely lack the dimension of sexual intercourse and thus love-discourses are dominant. I will argue that these magazines depict a man that is distanced from sexual discourses and whose masculinity is thus not linked to male domination anymore, while the gyaru-o-magazines do not distance themselves from more traditional gender-role-allocations, but rather broaden it without losing touch with it.

Negotiations and Navigations: Male Freeters and the ‘Salaryman’ Discourse of Masculinity
Emma E. Cook, Hokkaido University, Japan

Freeters, young part-time workers who are neither students nor housewives, are often either berated for being lazy, irresponsible youth, or discussed as victims of a changing economic situation and labour structures. What often remains unstated is the gendered nature of this discourse, which implicitly suggests that male freeters are shirking their responsibilities as adult men. So-called irresponsible freeters are often juxtaposed against upstanding ‘salarymen’ types, or at least men with stable incomes. This paper ethnographically explores how and why freeters engage with, negotiate, resist and reject the salaryman discourse of masculinity. Furthermore, even though large-scale economic and corporate changes have taken place within the last few decades which have significantly affected work choices and trajectories in the contemporary moment, this paper seeks to shed light on why the discourse of the salaryman continues to exert a hegemonic hold on normative ideals of masculinity in contemporary Japan.

Aminchu Oyaji as a Men’s Lib Movement?: Reconsidering Salarymen “Hegemonic” Masculinity Under Neoliberal Economic Reforms
Nana Okura Gagne, University of Tokyo, Japan

The “hegemonic” image of white-collar Japanese salarymen and their iconization as “normative” masculinity are still pervasive in academy today. However, 20 years of economic recession and neoliberal economic reforms have undermined the "traditional" Japanese corporate practices that protected individual “salarymen” against economic downturns. Chasing this ghost of the hegemonic salaryman in 2010 reminds us that the image of “salarymen” has always been historically contested. This paper questions this image of hegemonic masculinity by drawing attention to one notable “(salary)men’s liberation movement.” In the midst of economic uncertainty, the social movement Aminchu Oyaji was established in 2009. It began as a small Shiga-based musical group calling themselves “ordinary Japanese oyaji” (men). Despite the “conflicting” images of hypermasculinity and emasculated “pathetic” oyaji they projected through aggressive chanting/singing and other antics, unlike women’s liberation movements, the motivation, process, and effects of their performance fundamentally enhanced the spiritual rather than ideological dimension of being a man or embracing neoliberal subjectivity. Accordingly, it eventually became an inclusive movement that attracted other men, women and children across Japan. This paper analyzes how such practices of apparent hypermasculinity are not simply translatable into the discourse of hegemonic masculinity. Faced with losing a defining feature of their “masculinity” as corporate workers, many salarymen have creatively responded to neoliberal restructuring, becoming “neoliberal subjects” while eschewing a “neoliberal subjectivity.” Instead, they are reconsidering their fundamental motivations for “work” and are recreating themselves through other social institutions and movements.

Elegy to Japan Inc: Masculinity, Retirement, and Japanese Neoliberalism
Katrina L. Moore, University of New South Wales, Australia

This talk explores changing demands on masculinity in Japan since the late 1990s. After men retired from Japan Inc, they yearned for intimacy and companionship with their wives, yet confronted a situation where new expectations of self-sufficiency and self-care under neoliberalism demanded that men eschew companionship. This talk examines how men navigated the two opposing forces of intimacy and self-sufficiency, and situates these tensions within the new paradigms of personhood, responsibility, and self-sufficiency emerging in contemporary Japan.