The Body in Postwar Japanese Fiction

The Body in Postwar Japanese Fiction

The Body in Postwar Japanese Fiction

The Body in Postwar Japanese Fiction

Synopsis

This book explores one of the crucial themes in postwar Japanese fiction. Through an examination of the work of a number of prominent 20th Century Japanese writers, the book analyses the meaning of the body in postwar Japanese discourse, the gender constructions of the imagery of the body and the implications for our understanding of individual and national identity. This book will be of interest to all students of modern Japanese literature.

Excerpt

Within eighteen months of Japan's 1945 surrender to the Allies, Japanese devotees of Western art queued in lines rivaling those for food rations to see a "Living Picture Show" staged on the fifth floor of a Shinjuku Theater. Having finally reached the head of the line, they confronted a series of wall-sized picture frames draped with black curtains. These were drawn back for ten-second intervals to reveal semi-nude women posed in twenty recreations of Western art masterpieces. In this "picture frame show," spectators could ogle, for example, scantily clad women in a Birth of Venus, as well as other models posed in famous pastoral, picnic, and beachfront scenes. While not shocking by present-day standards, such eroticism characterized postwar Japanese culture, an eroticism of commercialized sexuality that garnered hand-wringing and media attention to these "scandals" (all the while filling theaters and selling publications). One of those scandals centered on the famous scene from the 1947 stage adaptation of a Tamura Taijirō novel - a woman being strung up, stripped to the waist, and flogged - and filled Shinjuku's Kūkiza theater to capacity.

Isoda Kōichi reports the case of a certain Nakamura who "chose a decadent lifestyle following his shock at the loss in the war." According to Isoda, Nakamura and his wife engaged in sadomasochistic sexual acts in the main hall of Shinto shrines so as to perform their transgressions "in front of the gods." There is much suggested by this act, highlighting a level of disgust with the tradition of state Shinto, the Imperial system, and the repressive nation-state it represented.

Many Japanese transgressed the boundaries of state and religious authority, redefining conceptions of the body, during the upheavals of postwar Japan. Writers such as Tamura Taijirō (1911-83), Noma Hiroshi (1915-91), and Sakaguchi Ango (1906-55) offered images and narratives that led the way in those redefi nitions. This book focuses on the body as represented in Japanese fiction after what in Japan is called the Asia-Pacific War. (For my purposes, "postwar" refers to the period between the 1945 surrender and the early 1960s.) The body became an obsessive object of focus in the years following Japan's defeat for a complex of reasons. First, this resulted, at least partly, from the sheer physicality of everyday life - the demands of bodily needs - which, for urban populations in particular, was given over to securing food and finding shelter. Concerning the shortages of food, Tsurumi Shunsuke notes, for example, that the Department of Welfare had decreed in 1941 "that a male adult engaged in normal work would need 2,400 calories per day … In 1945 [this figure] was further lowered to

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