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  • Love in Modern Japan: Its Estrangement from Self, Sex and Society
  • Lim Youngmi
Sonia Ryang , Love in Modern Japan: Its Estrangement from Self, Sex and Society. London and New York: Routledge, 2006. 192 pp.

Sonia Ryang's Love in Modern Japan is a provocative and timely addition not only to the literature on Japanese culture and society but also to the discussion of the problematic relationship between the modern nation-state and its population. Love—Ryang eschews a rigid definition or classification of love—is not a mere matter of individual preference or uncontrollable passion but a set of complex social functions contingent upon cultural logics of different historical timing in which the modern nation-state plays a pivotal role (2–3). Examining the discursive representations and practices of love, the author inquires into a process whereby "the national state makes its population into 'loving' national subjects" (1). Ryang demonstrates the connection between the birth and maturity of the modern Japanese nation-state—a nation for which ideology and legitimacy rest on the restoration of the ancient sovereign order, i.e. the imperial reign—and the rapid transformation of the ways Japanese people express and practice/idealize love. She offers an intriguing genealogy, tracing the origins of the alienation of love from sex and self (soul) in contemporary Japan, and critically examining a wide range of ethnological and popular cultural material. Her study sheds light on the complimentary and contradictory [End Page 1187] relationship between the modern, reflexive self—which monitors, disciplines and controls one's own behavior—and the nation-state as a biopower for which love is the most efficient and omnipresent state apparatus for the reproduction of its ideology and population.

Building on Michel Foucault's concepts of governmentality and biopower as well as Giorgio Agamben's distinction between zoē (a bare life) and bios (a socially and politically meaningful life), she asserts the state intervenes through overt and covert maneuvering in the ways people love (live and die)—by implementing the regulations of marriage, kinship, and reproductive health and by instilling and disseminating values through education (or lack of education) and mass culture. This regulation relies on state technologies of love: the family registry (koseki) in which the state controls kinship and marriage practices (32, 107), prostitution (51–52), the school system which disciplines the national subjects' mind and body (44, 67, 90, 109), national eugenics laws (1940, 1949–1998) (56–57, 60) and their ideological twin "purity education" during the immediate post-war period. The omission of history and sex education correlated with a legacy of purity education during the reconstruction phase of post-war Japanese collective identity (71, 93, 109). Ryang suggests the truly efficient and chilling effect of love as a state apparatus was more powerful during the post-war period than during the war-time state of emergency, even though under the guise of democracy its intervention was subtle and benign (124–125, 129).

Ryang establishes a logical connection between a range of discourses about love: the eighth century Manyō poems; the festivals of sacred non-conjugal sexuality (kagai and yobai, the latter survived sporadically in rural areas up to the early post-war period) (Ch. 1); an accused individual crime of passion and extreme sexual violence during the state of national emergency—justified and excused because the violence was committed by Imperial institutions of militarism (the Rape of Nanjing of 1937 and "comfort" stations during the first half of the 1940s) (Ch. 2); a story of pure love from the early 1960s based on the best-selling correspondence of college students that ended tragically with the young woman's death (Ch. 3); and more contemporary cases of high school student prostitutes (enjokōsai, or aid-date); a sexual fantasy novel of fatal adulterers; and the South Korean soap opera fad of the early 2000s (Ch. 4).

Her analytic interpretation ranges from the ancient to the post-modern, presenting a diachronic view of how the modern Japanese nation-state has changed forms of love. As eighth century poems and surviving ethnological [End Page 1188] evidence suggest, love took a form in which sex, the individual soul (of both the living...


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