- Changing Lovestyles: Fictional Representations of Contemporary Japanese Men in Love
This essay is a study of one emotion, romantic love, in a single literary genre, the romance novel. More specifically, it is a study of changes in late-twentieth- century cultural understandings of romantic love as inscribed in the fictional romance. Transformations in representations of romantic heroes in popular romantic fiction over the course of the late twentieth century, arguably in response to the demands of a largely female readership, provide important clues to shifts in how women relate — or fail to relate — to potential and real romantic partners in their everyday lives, and why. The changing grammar, as it were, of a man’s love for a woman discernible in the series of texts analyzed below allows glimpses into the figured worlds of Japanese romantic love.1 These figured worlds link in complex ways to [End Page 359] women’s understandings of their everyday lives in the dynamically shifting field of gender relations in Japan, and to how those understandings affect their decisions not just about romance but also about marriage and reproduction, these last matters of central concern in the context of Japan’s contemporary demographic crisis. Although a textual analysis cannot provide direct insight into women’s and men’s real lives, it does provide one aspect of the backdrop — in media-hypersaturated Japan — against which those lives are lived.
Ren’ai (romantic love) is held to be one of the many Meiji imports from the West.2 It has, clearly, been a successful import. Despite scholarly assertions that marriage in Japan was based less on romantic love than on economic status or family considerations,3 or on a kind of gendered complementarity for the household,4 an increasing focus on romantic love between husbands and wives was evident in the postwar era, as women in particular began to rethink marriage. The latter half of the twentieth century saw a shift away from the miai kekkon (arranged marriage) to the ren’ai kekkon (love marriage), and by the mid-1970s, in the Tokyo neighborhood where I then lived, the importance of having a close relationship with one’s spouse was a prominent part of my conversations with women.5 And, with or without marriage as a goal, an increasing attention to romance in popular magazines, popular literary treatments of romance, romance-focused television dramas, and even popular music’s love-oriented lyrics provided a background context for real women and men replete with romantic messages.
It is these media messages that are the focus of my analysis here, in a textual approach to romantic love. The fictional representations of Japanese men and women in love have proved a rich site for the exploration of the pragmatics of romantic love as a gender-differentiated emotion. My particular focus here is on the speech of lovers — male lovers — on the language, that is, of men in love.
Linguistic evidence is an important guide to understanding the structure of cultural models, and in this essay, I analyze how male lovers’ expressions of love are linked to conceptions of “true love” in Japan, as “read” in the [End Page 360] Japanese romance.6 This type of discourse-centered analysis will assist in tracing changes in popular romance fiction’s representations of true love over three postreconstruction decades (1970 – 2000) in Japan, providing a close look at Japanese men’s emotional expressivity in a context where expressivity is expected, if not required. Such analyses permit us to assess what kinds of messages about men’s role in romantic love women — and men, too, of course, but recall that the readership of popular romance fiction is predominantly female — may potentially encounter in a given period of time. A textual analysis of this sort allows us to see what romantic messages are, as it were, available to Japanese women in their everyday lives and provides a vantage point from which to consider the styles of love that they may respond to in those lives.
In the late twentieth century, the image of the gray-suited, briefcase-carrying sarariiman (white-collar worker) whose primary loyalty is to...