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  • America’s Geisha Ally: Reimagining the Japanese Enemy
  • Chizuru Saeki
Naoko Shibusawa, America’s Geisha Ally: Reimagining the Japanese Enemy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006. 397 pp.

In the United States during World War II, Japan was depicted as the hated enemy. American mass media frequently condemned Japanese as savages and maniacs. After the war, as U.S. troops occupied Japan and the Cold War heated up, America's racial hostility toward Japanese ebbed, and the image of Japan was dramatically transformed [End Page 155] from a deadly enemy into a staunch ally as the United States decided to make Japan its bulwark against Communism in Asia.

How was the U.S. public able to accept an alliance with Japan when not so long ago "the Japs" had been thoroughly vilified as simian-like creatures with Coke-bottle glasses? Naoko Shibusawa demonstrates that the ideologies of gender and maturity helped to mitigate the racial hostility. Feminizing the hated enemy and depicting the Japanese as immature youth enabled the Americans to humanize the Japanese and regard the former enemy as dependents who needed U.S. guidance and benevolence. MacArthur's occupation forces, journalists, filmmakers, and private philanthropic groups all helped to create new images of Japan. By showing educational films and pictures of Japanese babies, the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers (SCAP) in Japan emphasized America's pedagogical role to reeducate Japanese who had been warped by the militarists. At the same time, the series of instructional courses arranged by SCAP as part of each American soldier's orientation program helped to foster Americans' love of the former enemy's culture, including flower arrangements, tea ceremonies, and kimonos.

At the same time, SCAP's materials and the U.S. mass media promoted a traditional view of women and children as as weak and helpless in postwar Japan. U.S. journalists published many photographs of smiling U.S. troops with Japanese children during the occupation. Americans liked seeing the kindness and mercy of their soldiers, believing that they were the mentors and protectors of a Japan that was as vulnerable and helpless as a woman or child. American perceptions of Japan turned brighter.

According to Shibusawa, as U.S. soldierss became obsessed with Japanese paintings and collected Japanese handicrafts that had survived the war, the nineteenth-century image of Madam Butterfly reemerged and even triggered a second Japonisme boom in the United States. Shibusawa calls Japan "a beautiful woman pockmarked with ugly scars" (p. 20). Feminizing Japan's image was done not only by U.S. troops but also by the Japanese government. At the beginning of the occupation, Japanese officials recruited lower-class Japanese women whom Shibusawa calls "baby-san" to erode the hostility of U.S. servicemen toward Japan "by satiating the conqueror's sexual appetites" (p. 39). Shibusawa describes how American racism toward the Japanese diminished as soldiers brought Japanese wives back to the United States and as Hollywood movies began to romanticize these transnational love stories. But Shibusawa neglects to explain how Japanese racism toward Americans was influenced by interracial marriage and gender discourse. An analysis of this topic would have allowed her to compare how Japanese perceptions of Americans changed as the occupation progressed. Americans were initially reviled in Japan as a hated and cruel enemy but over time came to be seen as a reliable and benevolent friend.

Shibusawa examines the U.S. decision to retain Emperor Hirohito on his throne in order to maintain unity among the Japanese and prevent guerilla warfare against the occupying U.S. forces. To ensure that the American public would accept the retention of Hirohito, Douglas MacArthur (the commander of SCAP) and his subordinates invented a story that Hirohito was willing to sacrifice his own life if the Supreme [End Page 156] Commander could guarantee the safety of the Japanese people. SCAP portrayed Hirohito as an innocent victim manipulated by evil Japanese military advisers led by Hideki Tōjō. When Hirohito started a nationwide tour after renouncing his divinity in January 1946, SCAP successfully advertised him as cute and scholarly, the people's lovely "A-So" emperor. (Hirohito often repeated the comment "Is that so" in his...


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