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THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
Breaking the silence on sexuality in Japan
By DONALD RICHIE
GENDERS, TRANSGENDERS AND SEXUALITIES IN JAPAN, edited by Mark McLelland and Romit Dasgupta. London: Routledge, 2005, 218 pp., £60 (cloth).
Now that the conspiracies of silence have begun to evaporate, scholarly works on gender and transgender have begun to proliferate. This very interesting collection of papers is an example of the fruitful amplification of the field.
Papers by 15 scholars are here collected and well indicate the levels of interest now being pursued. Linguistic study as applied to gender terminology is particularly well represented.
Yuriko Nagata and Kristen Sullivan write on the hegemony of gender in language -- the marked difference between men and women's vocabularies, particularly the consequent construction of an apparent "feminity" (and "masculinity"). Tomoko Aoyama presents "girl's inter-text/sex-uality," Wim Lunsing contributes an excellent discussion of the politics of such sexually loaded nouns as okama and onabe (pejorative terms for male and female homosexuals), and Laura Dales writes about feminist vocabulary in the works of Yoko Haruka and Minori Kitahara.
The field is widened in other essays. Romit Dasgupta writes of "Salarymen doing straight: heterosexual men and the dynamics of gender conformity," and Mark McLelland writes of "Salarymen doing queer: gay men and the heterosexual public sphere." Both these authors are the editors of this collection. The former wrote "East Asian Masculinities (2003) and the latter, "Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan" (2000).
McLelland is joined by Hitoshi Ishida and Takanori Murakai in investigating the origin of "queer studies" in Japan, and Beverly Curen and James Welker analyze Western and Japanese creation of "lesbian identities." Kimio Ito writes of the recent proliferation of "men's studies," while Futoshi Taga investigates recent research trends involving Japanese masculinities. Matthew Allen contributes an interesting study of masculinity and gender in Okinawan shamanism.
Among the papers, I found two particularly interesting. One is Vera Mackie's provocative essay on "understanding through the body," using as example the "masquerades" of Yukio Mishima and Yasumasa Morimura. This surprising comparison of the presentational styles of the famous super-tough author-suicide and the frilly collage artist specializing in transvestite exhibitions sheds considerable light on both examples.
Mishima bravely confronted Tokyo University students in slacks and shirt. Morimura later fearlessly faced the same student body clothed as Marilyn Monroe, skirt flaring. Both won the students over with their sincerity and their charm. "Morimura," writes Mackie, "is clearly a man masquerading as a woman, but this juxtaposition suggests that other men might simply be masquerading as men."
The other paper of particular interest is Akiko Takeyama's "Commodified Romance in a Tokyo Host Club." Much leg work must have been involved in getting all of the facts and figures presented here. There are some 200 host clubs in Kabuki-cho alone, employing some 5,000 hosts. Prices vary, but drinks and viands are about 10 times what they are outside the establishments. The hosts are ostensibly free, but practice, of course, proves different.
Sex plays its part but that is not the entire attraction -- as it is in hostess bars. As one of Shinjuku's hosts says: "Host club culture couldn't exist in the West, where men are genuinely gentle to women and ladies-first services are provided for free. Host clubs can only exist in such a male-dominated country as Japan where men are insensitive to women's psychological needs."
Although it is estimated that some 80 percent of the hosts have physical relations with their clients, this is not all that there is to the relationship. Women demand what has been called the "3Cs -- comfort, communication, cooperation," qualities in daytime life found usually only in other women.
Perhaps that is why so many of the hosts, primped and permed, look like Takarazuka girls in male drag. Maybe that explains why so many Japanese women prefer the wimpy and effeminate nimaime actor when they go to theater or watch movies. Conceivably this is the secret of the extraordinary popularity of the young Korean actor here affectionately known as "Yon-sama." With his floating hair, his rimless glasses, his pursed and permanent simper he looks like someone's idea of a girlfriend, favorite aunt, or even mother.
These latter reflections are mine, not Takeyama's, but they indicate the breadth of study involved in this collection and the inspiring nature of the contents.
The Japan Times: Oct. 9, 2005
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