The Art of the Gut: Manhood, Power, and Ethics in Japanese Politics

The Art of the Gut: Manhood, Power, and Ethics in Japanese Politics

The Art of the Gut: Manhood, Power, and Ethics in Japanese Politics

The Art of the Gut: Manhood, Power, and Ethics in Japanese Politics

Synopsis

This beautifully written ethnography follows the lives of two very different Japanese men entering political life in two very different communities. One is the rural leader of a citizens' referendum movement, while the other hopes to succeed his father in a Tokyo ward assembly. Fast-paced and engrossing, The Art of the Gut puts the reader behind the scenes to hear speeches, attend campaign functions, and eavesdrop on late-night strategy sessions and one-on-one conversations. In her groundbreaking analysis, Robin M. Le Blanc explores the the two men's differing notions of what is expected of a "good" man and demonstrates how the fundamental desire to be good men constrains their political choices even as it encourages both to become ethical agents. The result is a vibrant and up-to-date picture of politics in Japan today that also addresses masculine gender expectations in a male-dominated political world, the connection between gendered identity and ethical being, and the process by which men who are neither dominant nor marginal to their communities assert themselves both with and against power.

Excerpt

Most of the time I have to work long and hard for the insights I have into my research subjects, but every once in a while I just run into them. That is literally what I did on a hot September morning in a Tokyo suburb where I was out for a three-mile jog just before beginning a semester as a visiting professor at a Japanese university. I was doing an out-and-back course along a river, and I was on the return leg of my run when, on a wall around a small parking lot, I saw a political poster that summed up the theme of nearly a decade’s worth of my work in a few tiny words. I suppose the poster was left over from Japan’s July 2007 House of Councillors’ election, in which the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won a substantial and not fully expected victory over the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). the poster pictured the winning DPJ’s leader, Ozawa Ichiro, looking up and away, his lips pressed tight in an expression of grave determination. Alongside his face was the slogan Nihon no oyaji, ugoku, “Japan’s middle-aged men are on the move.”

My unavoidably clumsy translation actually hides the richness of the slogan’s combined specificity and ambiguity. Nihon no means “Japan’s.” Oyaji is a slang term for men, usually used for one’s father or for middle-aged or older men. the term is not always a positive one. For example, sometimes oyaji connotes a tasteless, unrefined geezer or an “old fart.” At other times oyaji is an almost affectionate reference to a hardworking and dependable if somewhat crusty member of a close . . .

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