- Colonizing Sex: Sexology and Social Control in Modern Japan
The history of topics related to sex and sexuality remains a sensitive issue even today. In a faculty seminar, the Japanese historians present responded with quiet snickers when I announced that I was researching an aspect of the history of sexuality in modern Japan. When I started that research in 1992, an eminent Japanese sociologist tried to discourage me from continuing, saying it was not a serious historical topic and there were no appropriate sources to examine. That was the same year that a Kyoto University Medical School professor told me that AIDS would never be an issue in Japan because there were no gay men there. However, in the ensuing decade scholars have done much to overcome these lingering prejudices and to illuminate the social, cultural, scientific, and political histories of sex and sexuality in Japan. Recent works in English by Sheldon Garon, Gary Leupp, Gregory Pflugfelder, Jennifer Robertson, G. G. Rowley, Paul Schalow, Timon Screech, and Cecilia Segawa Seigle, among others, have made important contributions to this field.
Sabine Frühstück's Colonizing Sex: Sexology and Social Control in Modern Japan will be remembered as one of the most important of the pathbreaking works in this field. The skeptics who give it a serious reading should be convinced that understanding the history of sex and sexuality is vital to understanding present cultures and societies. As Frühstück shows, the Japanese approach to sex-related policy issues today is rooted in its history.
Frühstück had already started working on this subject when, in 1992, she joined a research group in Kyoto, the Sōtai Kenkyū Kai, to study the history of topics related to sex and sexuality. This group also included Inoue Shōichi, Akagawa Manabu, Furukawa Makoto, Nagai Yoshikazu, and myself; its main activity was to provide a forum for the discussion of sources [End Page 490] and ideas for future development. Most members of that group have gone on to publish significant works in the field, although Frühstück's is the first major work from this group to appear in English.
As the title implies, Frühstück places the concept of colonization at the core of this book: "The underlying structure of this book is informed by various sites and the connections among them—sites where normative ideas about sex were created, examined, weighed, transformed, and translated into cultural practices in an effort to 'colonize' the sex and sexuality of the Japanese populace" (p. 1). It was a gradual colonization project and required the creation of "a complete colonial ruling apparatus" (p. 2). Frühstück further elucidates this book's main focus: "My analysis centers on the strategies employed in the colonization of sex in Japan. I am interested in the techniques at work in the conflicts and negotiations that aimed at the creation of a normative Japanese sexuality" (p. 2). The goal of this normative (and unwaveringly hetero) sexuality was the maintenance and growth of the Japanese polity as expressed in its empire. In the process of empire building, the body became a site for the expression of the imperial will: a place that consolidated "the nation, modernity, and progress" (p. 3) not only in the bodies of all-male conscripts, but also in those of prostitutes, children, and married couples.
The book's five chapters follow a roughly chronological sequence, although each has a clear thematic focus. The first chapter, aptly entitled "Erecting a Modern Health Regime," examines the Meiji-period establishment of the central government's health bureaucracy and its concerns for the sexual health of the Japanese empire. A primary focus was the health of conscripts and the spread of venereal diseases as a threat to their fighting capacity. Soldiers underwent examinations for venereal diseases when conscripted, were issued condoms, and after 1937, were expected to engage in sex only with military "comfort women." The names of military condoms, such as "Attack...