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  • "Kissing is a symbol of democracy!"Dating, Democracy, and Romance in Occupied Japan, 1945-1952
  • Mark McLelland (bio)

In 1943 American anthropologist Margaret Mead was in Britain on an important wartime mission: her task was to study the interactions between American servicemen and local residents. In the monograph she published describing the experience Mead uncovered an important cultural difference between the two societies, a source of continual misunderstanding and conflict: English girls didn't know how to date! When it came to dating, a practice that Mead argued American boys and girls began "in the early teens, long before they are emotionally mature enough to be interested in each other for anything really connected with sex," young English people didn't have a clue. Why was there this difference? Mead concluded that British society was more sex segregated than the United States. In fact, she opined, British boys didn't really enjoy the company of girls, and "if they just want to spend a pleasant evening, more often they spend it with other boys."1 Apparently, the British couldn't see the point of a date unless it was a prelude to marriage. That young men and women might want to spend time dancing, going to the movies, or just hanging out struck many British people as odd and not a little suspicious.

Mead argued that for Americans, however, "dating is quite different from being in love, or looking for a casual love partner," and resembled a popularity game rather than genuine courtship behavior. She pointed out that when an American took a girl's arm without so much as a "by your leave," he wasn't being forward, since "a casual hand on the arm does not mean anything; it is not a preface to greater and unacceptable familiarity."2 However, to British eyes such a gesture signified a proprietary familiarity and would only have been undertaken in the context of courtship. In her monograph Mead lists a range of such gestures that Marcel Mauss termed "techniques [End Page 508] of the body." According to Mauss, there are "physio-sociological assemblages of series of actions" that differ markedly between "societies, education, proprieties and fashions, [and] prestiges."3 Such ways of looking, gesturing, talking, and moving when trying to impress a member of the opposite sex can collectively be described as the "habitus" of dating.4 Mead noted how these gestures were differently coded and understood in Britain and America and thus became a source of mutual incomprehension.

That two societies with a common language, a shared history and strong cultural links could differ so markedly concerning courtship draws attention to how bizarre American dating practices must have seemed to the Japanese during the U.S.-led Occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1952. Surprisingly, despite the considerable literature that has focused on the political, economic, social, and cultural reforms enacted during the Occupation, little attention has been paid to the impact that the U.S. presence had upon Japanese interpersonal relationships, especially those between men and women.5 Based on accounts preserved in sexological surveys and in the popular Japanese press of the period, this article investigates the impact that the U.S. troops and U.S. popular culture mores generally had upon Japanese notions of courtship and romance in the immediate postwar years.6 It attempts to offer what Akira Yamamoto terms a fūzokushi, that is, a "history of [sexual] customs/morals" of the early postwar period, and in so doing outlines some intriguing connections that [End Page 509] were made at the time between the democratic reform program and the "liberation of sex."7 However, before detailing the rapid changes that took place as a result of Occupation initiatives, it is necessary to outline some of the features of the sex-gender system at work during Japan's period of imperialist expansion.

Sexuality and the State in Imperial Japan

Attitudes toward gender relations and sexual customs changed rapidly in the decades following the 1867 Meiji Restoration, when a range of state-sanctioned programs instigated in the name of "civilization and enlightenment" sought to organize, rationalize, and control all aspects of personal life and bring about "the...


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pp. 508-535
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