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Reviewed by:
  • Japan, Alcoholism, and Masculinity: Suffering Sobriety in Tokyo by Paul A. Christensen
  • James E. Roberson (bio)

Japan, Alcoholism, and Masculinity: Suffering Sobriety in Tokyo. By Paul A. Christensen. Lexington Books, Lanham, Md., 2015. xvi, 164 pages. $80.00, cloth; $79.99, E-book.

Roughly coincident with the new millennium, there has been an increasing, if still relatively limited, scholarly interest in masculinities studies in and of Japan. Much of this work has attempted to dislocate the salaryman doxic, to critique and deconstruct the (self-)representational and homogenizing ideological power of images of the ideal-typical Japanese man as heteronormative, college educated, white collar, and middle class. Critiques and deconstructions of “the salaryman” as the iconic postwar figure of hegemonic masculinity in Japan have been made from a number of positions and perspectives.

Much, perhaps most, of such scholarship has attempted to show the plurality of masculine practices, performances, and identities among various groups of male-identifying persons in Japan who have been or are diversely marginalized or subordinated vis-à-vis samurai or salaryman hegemonic [End Page 362] forms of masculinities. Thus, for example, Sabine Frühstück and Anne Walthall’s recent collection, Recreating Japanese Men, contains essays that examine noniconic masculine figures across a long stretch of Japanese history and “explore sites where formations of masculinity are devised, contested, and renegotiated in a dialectic response to historical transformations.”1 These essays join earlier collections edited by James E. Roberson and Nobue Suzuki and by Mark McLelland and Romit Dasgupta that have focused more fully on contemporary constructions and negotiations of noniconic or nonhegemonic men and masculinities, especially those which articulate with practices, experiences, performances, and identities related to class, ethnicity, sexuality, and (trans)gender.2 Whether contending with or pointedly countering and contesting the hegemonic and marginalization from it, the masculine practices and identities described in such work remind us that masculinities are contexted, constructed, and contested.

In addition to the above sorts of critical re-examinations of men and masculinities in Japan, mostly from the margins, recent monographs have also attempted to deconstruct the salaryman icon/hegemon from within, as it were. For example, Romit Dasgupta’s Re-Reading the Salaryman in Japan shows the negotiated and sometimes conflicted formation across the life-course of normative “salaryman” identities, while Tomoko Hidaka’s Salaryman Masculinity reveals cross-generational continuities and changes in the hegemonic salaryman lifestyle and identifications.3 In a different vein, in his book Danseigaku nyūmon, Itō Kimio many years ago examined the costs of masculine ideologies and practices in Japan.4 We are reminded by such work that even for men who (try to) fit and follow the normative hegemonic, the normative is still contexted, constructed, contested, and sometimes costly.

Adding to this literature, in Japan, Alcoholism, and Masculinity, Paul Christensen aims to “describe and theorize the ways in which alcoholism is understood, accepted, and taken on as an influential and lived identity among Japanese men” (p. 2) and in particular to analyze “how admissions of alcoholism and sobriety group membership challenge Japan’s prevailing masculine gender norms” (p. 3). Christensen’s discussion is based primarily [End Page 363] on ethnographic fieldwork in Tokyo, where he claims to have attended some 200 sobriety group meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Danshūkai in 2007 and 2008. Alcohol can be, of course, one of the pleasures of Japan, where a great variety of locally produced and imported, “native” and “foreign” alcohols are readily available not just for private but for social consumption. However, for many of the male sobriety group members whom Christensen portrays, the bodily, personal, and social problems experienced because of alcoholism begin with the social and cultural dynamics at work in the taken-for-granted nature of homosocial alcohol consumption. The major contribution of the book is that it shows the complex interconnections of masculine sobriety group membership with the gendered, embodied, (homo)social, (cross-)cultural, and historical dimensions of alcohol consumption in contemporary Japan. Especially for readers unfamiliar with Japan, there is much to think (critically) about here.

In Japan, Alcoholism, and Masculinity, Christensen in effect argues that the dominant masculine doxa in Japan is constructed via cultural assumptions, media...