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Recreating Japanese Men ed. by Sabine Frühstück and Ann Walthall (review)

From: Monumenta Nipponica
Volume 67, Number 2, 2012
pp. 376-381 | 10.1353/mni.2012.0027

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The essays in Recreating Japanese Men share many of the approaches and themes character­istic of masculinity studies. This comparatively new interdisciplinary field, which draws on history, anthropology, sociology, and media studies, among other subjects, emerged in the 1970s as an outgrowth of women's and gender studies. A concern with masculinity, moder­nity, and the effects that premodern social change have had on how the masculine is defined and performed are also concerns common to both masculinity studies and the authors of Recreating Japanese Men. Where this collection tends to depart from the mainstream is on the issue of hegemonic masculinity. As noted in the introduction, most of the essays in this volume focus on "masculinities at the margins" rather than central hegemonies past or present (p. 2).

In some of the book's historically centered essays, the marginal are not without consider­able social and political power. Ann Walthall in "Do Guns Have Gender? Technology and Status in Early Modern Japan" focuses on Tokugawa shoguns who relied on firearms in ceremonial display and in the hunt to remind the rest of society that only their rulers held a monopoly on legal violence. In a nice twist, she demonstrates how the symbolic display of guns limited their actual use. Writing of Yoshimune, she notes that the mastery of guns and other weapons in the hunt, and not in warfare, helped create the "shogun's persona as a military man." Despite the book cover's image of a seated samurai in loincloth holding a towering matchlock erect between his legs, she contends that firearms were not "cultural symbols of masculinity," but tools that facilitated peaceful governance by Japan's most pow­erful samurai leaders (p. 43).

In contrast to Walthall's shoguns-a group perhaps considered marginal because perched at a rarefied pinnacle of political power-the class treated by author Luke Roberts in "Name and Honor: A Merchant's Seventeenth-Century Memoir" is more representative. While acknowledging that Kanto-region samurai and merchants were indeed at different social poles in the seventeenth century, Roberts contends that they shared "largely indistinguish­able" norms of what constituted "manly behavior" (p. 50). Using Enomoto Yazaemon's seventeenth-century diary, an account filled with quarrels, fights, and a lingering vendetta, Roberts demonstrates one merchant's life-long preoccupation with "violent honor-bound manliness." From this memoir, he speculates that the norms of manliness did not derive from samurai models. Instead, "more universal norms of masculine behavior . . . were a part of village society in Yazaemon's world" (p. 55). In concluding remarks he qualifies the generalization, noting that his subject's standing as a comparatively wealthy Kanto-region merchant may not make him or his autobiography speak for merchants in different circum­stances elsewhere.

In making no mention of violence, honor-bound or otherwise, Sakurai Yuki's "Perpetual Dependency: The Life Course of Male Workers in a Merchant House," seems to implicitly support Roberts's view that merchants were tamed alongside the samurai during the long Tokugawa peace. Yet in Sakurai's longue durée study of the merchants' life course, taming seems to have been unnecessary. As the essay's title suggests, clerks working for the Edo-based Naraya merchant house from the eighteenth to early twentieth centuries generally submitted to rules that banned everything from gambling to theater going and even regu­lated an employee's marriage prospects and opportunities for establishing an independent business. Sakurai notes few instances of rebellion against this regime. On the contrary, in a manner reminiscent of androcentric, game-obsessed otaku, the clerks appear totally ab­sorbed in accumulating an increasingly finer wardrobe, a goal that symbolized the attain­ment of manhood. Until rules loosened in the late nineteenth century, it was an objective that sacrificed the clerks' autonomy as they "exchanged showy pretension for debt to the shop" (p. 124).

Nagano Hiroko also takes up the collectivity's shaping of masculinity in "Collective Mat­uration: The Construction of Masculinity in Early Modern Villages." Using various local guides to ceremonies, village regulations, and Kaibara Ekken's hortatory Customary Precepts for Children, she demonstrates that rural village boys and girls were raised "symmetrically" without much regard to constructing...

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