Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle: The Rules of Scandal in Japan and the United States

Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle: The Rules of Scandal in Japan and the United States

Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle: The Rules of Scandal in Japan and the United States

Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle: The Rules of Scandal in Japan and the United States


A leader of a global superpower is betrayed by his mistress, who makes public the sordid details of their secret affair. His wife stands by as he denies the charges. Debates over definitions of moral leadership ensue. Sound familiar? If you guessed Clinton and Lewinsky, try again. This incident involved former Japanese prime minister Sosuke Uno and a geisha.

In Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle, Mark D. West organizes the seemingly random worlds of Japanese and American scandal- from corporate fraud to baseball cheaters, political corruption to celebrity sexcapades- to explore well-ingrained similarities and contrasts in law and society. In Japan and the United States, legal and organizational rules tell us what kind of behavior is considered scandalous. When Japanese and American scandal stories differ, those rules- rules that define what's public and what's private, rules that protect injuries to dignity and honor, and rules about sex, to name a few- often help explain the differences. In the cases of Clinton and Uno, the rules help explain why the media didn't cover Uno's affair, why Uno's wife apologized on her husband's behalf, and why Uno- and not Clinton- resigned.

Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle offers a novel approach to viewing the phenomenon of scandal- one that will be applauded by anyone who has obsessed over (or ridiculed) these public episodes.


Oh what a scandal it was, what a delicious tragedy to befall the leader of a world power. She betrayed him, revealing steamy secrets of their clandestine affair. The press reported the minutiae relentlessly. The wife stood by her man, at least initially. Apologies, public backlash, debates over moral leadership, and outrage in the legislature all played their roles in the drama.

How very American, some groaned, all this fuss about a little sex. But alas, our actors are not Clinton and Lewinsky. With apologies for the bait-andswitch, I'm referring to the 1989 scandal that beset Japanese prime minister Sōsuke Uno and his paramour, geisha Mitsuko Nakanishi. The facts of that incident resemble the Clinton affair, but the resulting scandal was quite different. Clinton was outed by the Internet-based Drudge Report; Uno was outed by the Sunday Mainichi tabloid and the Washington Post. Clinton faced criminal charges; prosecutors could not have cared less about Uno. Clinton apologized; Uno did not—but his wife did. Clinton's sins were spelled out in enough detail to clog Internet adult-content filters; Uno's sins were never discussed explicitly. Clinton's party's reaction was mixed; Uno's party abandoned him. Clinton was front-page news even in Japan; Uno was page three at best in his own country until he resigned—something Clinton claimed never to have contemplated. And in the end, the lasting cultural impact of the two scandals differed dramatically: while Clinton left us with the blue dress, the I-did-not-have-sexual-relations-with-that-woman, “the inappropriate relationship,” and Lewinsky as a verb, Uno left us, both Americans and Japanese, with a legacy as forgettable as last Tuesday's lunch.

Uno's is not the only Japanese scandal that parallels an American one.

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