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Reviewed by:
  • Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan
  • Noboru Tomonari (bio)
Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan. Edited by Jan Bardsley and Laura Miller. University of California Press, Berkeley, 2011. xiv, 284 pages. $55.00, cloth; $22.95, paper; E-book, $22.95.

When I was growing up in late Showa-era Japan, I frequently heard the saying “The most scary things in this life are earthquakes, thunder, fire, and oyaji [fathers].” The saying has not become entirely obsolete and is still used today. There is an understanding, however, that “oyaji” was originally “ōyamaji,” which meant “typhoons.” Thus, the inclusion of oyaji among objects to be feared is a relatively recent phenomenon. Manners and Mischief, among its other accomplishments, brings to the fore the criticism oyaji figures have met, reflecting the loss of authority on the part of the adult male in Japan today. With this, will it be possible that “typhoons” make a comeback one day and replace “oyaji”?

Described by editors Jan Bardsley and Laura Miller as an exploration of “Japan’s practices and guides to good manners from a range of stand-points” (p. 11), the chapters in this book interrogate the premises carried by those practices and guides of good conduct, and they lay bare the construction of the notions of femininity and masculinity in Japan. As such, this book is a welcome sequel to Bad Girls of Japan, edited by the same two scholars. Their earlier book was a feminist inquiry into radical women in Japan, which discussed how “bad girls” were named and defamed by others. It also made an issue of how women purposely reclaim such statuses and demonstrated how “negative labeling and defining fortifies a patriarchal system.”1 Their new book continues such inquiry through the study of conduct literature, but it moves further along in that it extends the inquiry into masculinity. The chapters by the two editors look at both recent mannerism guidance books for and visual images of Japanese men. Miller has contributed a chapter to the book Men and Masculinities in Contemporary Japan: Dislocating the Salaryman Doxa, edited by James E. Roberson and Nobue Suzuki (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), and she continues in the volume under review with a study of masculinity, in particular the figure of the oyaji— the salaryman doxa—and the efforts to subvert such figures. Along with Recreating Japanese Men, edited by Sabine Frühstück and Anne Walthall (University of California Press, 2011), then, this book embodies a positive [End Page 460] tendency of recent Japanese studies to continue with analyzing the construction of masculinity in the Japanese past and present.

This book follows the format of Bad Girls of Japan in that it looks at the issues chronologically. The first three chapters discuss the literature that emerged in premodern Japan. Linda H. Chance’s “Genji Guides, or Minding Murasaki” is an analysis of how reading guides to the tenth-century classic Tale of Genji have proliferated in Japan throughout history, coercing readers to accept one particular version of the text but not others. Such efforts were made in order to maintain the good conduct of young women, and they were intense enough that, as Chance observes, “some guides to the Genji seem more like guards keeping us from the Genji, from Murasaki Shikibu, or even from ourselves” (p. 31). “Box-Lunch Etiquette: Conduct Guides and Kabuki Onnagata” is a chapter on the relationship between conduct guides for women and a manual for kabuki onnagata acting in early modern Japan. Maki Isaka’s discussion notes that instead of the texts serving either a “natural reality in daily life” or “performed theatricality onstage,” they mark confluences between the two, with women and onnagata being simultaneously citers and citees to a large degree. “One may want to say, ‘Onnagata are to women not as copy is to original, but rather, as copy is to copy’” (p. 59). Through this “labyrinth of gendering” (p. 59) emerge modes of behavior that bound both onnagata onstage performances and women’s offstage conduct.

As she did in Bad Girls of Japan, Kelly Foreman writes about geisha, this time in a chapter titled “The Perfect Woman...


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