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Reviewed by:
  • Intimate Japan: Ethnographies of Closeness and Conflict ed. by Allison Alexy and Emma E. Cook
  • Mark Mclelland (bio)
Intimate Japan: Ethnographies of Closeness and Conflict. Edited by Allison Alexy and Emma E. Cook. University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 2019. xii, 270 pages. $68.00, cloth; $28.00, paper.

As the editors of this volume note, intimacy has recently emerged as a topic of academic research, with a growing number of books and articles signaling [End Page 286] interest in the phenomenon by including the term in their titles. In relation to Japan studies, Intimate Japan is not the first to draw attention to the changing nature of intimate relations. There is Lieba Faier's Intimate Encounters: Filipina Women and the Remaking of Rural Japan (University of California Press, 2009), Gary Leupp's Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543–1900 (Continuum, 2003), and Genero Castro-Vázquez's Intimacy and Reproduction in Contemporary Japan (Routledge, 2017). While the focus of much of this prior research has been on heterosocial intimacies, there is also a strong body of work in Japan studies on homosocial intimacies, particularly associated with girls' studies. These include research into shōjo culture as represented in early twentieth-century magazines and novels through to millennial boys love fan communities and practices, as detailed in the collection Girl Reading Girl in Japan, edited by Tomoko Aoyama and Barbara Hartley (Routledge, 2010).

In Japanese scholarship, too, intimacy has come into focus. For example, the 2014 collection edited by Akaeda Kanako and Imada Erika, Seku shuaritei no sengo shi (Postwar history of sexuality) (Kyōto Daigaku Gakujutsu Shuppankai) contains the English subtitle Intimate and Public. This collection is important for its historical reach, starting with the transformation in ways of thinking about heterosexual relations in the wake of the Allied Occupation of Japan (1945–52) and following these changes, largely through an analysis of media representations, into the early 2000s. Akaeda and Imada's collection is exemplary also in the attention it pays to same-sex intimacies, especially the ways in which imagining intimacy (sexual and otherwise) between women has been explored in media representations across the latter half of the twentieth century.

Intimate Japan opens with an introductory chapter exploring intimacy in relation to existing scholarship in English as well as a discussion of what terms exist in Japanese for expressing the concept. Like most ethnographic accounts which focus on the present lives of the participants, there is not much historical detail offered here as to how expressions of intimacy have changed over the course of the last century and although queer, lesbian, gay, trans, and bi intimacies are acknowledged, they are not given a sustained analysis in the collection. Only one chapter, "Gender Identity, Desire, and Intimacy" by S. P. F. Dale, explores intimate relations outside a heterosexual framework, focusing on the rise of X-gender as a category of choice for some Japanese who feel that they do not fit into conventional understandings of male or female. Although a single collection cannot be expected to do everything, the omission of a detailed discussion of intimacy in same-sex relationships is unfortunate, especially given the moves that are taking place in some Tokyo wards and some prefectures to give limited recognition to same-sex partnerships. In the collection we hear a great deal about the struggles of heterosexual people working to redefine marital bonds in the face of economic precarity but the collection is silent on what lesbian [End Page 287] women or gay men—individuals whose relationships have always been structurally precarious—might have to say.

In her chapter "Students Outside the Classroom" looking at intimate experience among youth in the 1990s, Yukari Kawahara investigates competing discourses around sexual intimacy across four high schools in and around Tokyo. A strength of this chapter is the attention paid to how class and gender play out in influencing the various "scripts" governing sexual interaction among the students, especially as regards commitment. Kawahara discovered that students from more elite schools who anticipated going on to university were less likely to invest emotionally in their current high-school relations and that "difference in aspirations" underlies...