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  • Colonizing Sex: Sexology and Social Control in Modern Japan
  • Karen Kelsky
Sabine Frühstück . Colonizing Sex: Sexology and Social Control in Modern Japan. Colonialisms, no. 4. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003. x + 267 pp. Ill. $50.00, £32.95 (cloth, 0-520-23547-9); $19.95, £12.95 (paperbound, 0-520-23548-7).

In this book Sabine Frühstück surveys the invention, adoption, and dissemination of "sexual knowledge" in modern Japan, from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth. She starts with the basic anthropological notion that such things as sexual identity, sexual desire, sexual orientation, and sexual practices are not natural and universal biological functions shared by all people, but rather are created and controlled through discourse, or modes of understanding and knowledge that are always under construction by various interested parties, and are thus historically contingent and culturally distinct. She further relies on the work of Michel Foucault that has shown us that sexual discourses (like all discourses) are always imbued by power, and in the modern era became the preeminent mode for governments' efforts to supervise and control national populations by dividing [End Page 394] and taxonomizing the "normal" from the "abnormal," the "healthy" from the "diseased," and "citizens" from "enemies of the state."

It is little known that similar events took place in modernizing Japan, and Frühstück's contribution is to translate and interpret a mass of major and minor material—from medical textbooks to popular magazines, sexological studies to eugenics tracts—that shows how government figures, leaders, scientists, academics, activists, and others made sexuality and sexual knowledge a core discourse for controlling Japanese populations during the country's rapid and tumultuous modernization.

In the introduction Frühstück succinctly states her goal: "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). She notes that during the seventy-year period from the late 1870s to the early 1940s, the scientific use of statistics and census techniques imported from the West allowed for the emergence of a new public health regime that identified categories of people in order to study them and judge them as healthy or diseased. In chapter 1 she shows the intense system of health examinations undertaken by the Meiji government to gather data on soldiers as exemplars of "normative" Japanese masculine physiology, while pathologizing "diseased" prostitutes and disciplining children's bodies through a newly formed national Division of School Hygiene within the Ministry of Education. Chapter 2 focuses on the sexual education of children by parents and in schools, and the intensifying public fear of masturbation, homosexuality, and debauchery as causes of widespread neurasthenia among schoolchildren and soldiers that could potentially lead to mass insanity and revolution (p. 65).

Western sexological writing was foundational to this project, and this "science" of sex was adopted like other Western sciences in Meiji Japan's effort to "catch up" to the modern West. Chapter 3 explores the successful emergence of sexology as a scholarly discipline in Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, in the work of Yamamoto Senji, who undertook the first extensive sexological surveys in Japan, as well as the efforts of other scholars such as Kitano Hiromi and his Sex Study Society of Tokyo to disseminate and popularize sexological science in new journals with titles such as Sexual Desire and Humankind.

Chapter 4 turns to the control of women's bodies under the modern Japanese state. On the one hand, abortion, infanticide, and eventually all forms of birth control came to be criminalized (in stark contrast to earlier permissive attitudes) under the intensifying militarization of society leading up to World War II. On the other hand, early bourgeois feminists, left-wing activists, and sexological scholars raised voices advocating for access to birth control for women. Ultimately, by the 1930s, progressive forces lost out to the right-wing imperative, imposed by law, to breed a larger, stronger, and better Japanese race through a combination of pronatalist policies and eugenic control, the topic of chapter 5. Chapter 5 and the epilogue move beyond this well-known history, however, to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3176
Print ISSN
0007-5140
Pages
pp. 394-396
Launched on MUSE
2006-06-05
Open Access
No
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