Dimensions of Japanese Society: Gender, Margins and Mainstream

Dimensions of Japanese Society: Gender, Margins and Mainstream

Dimensions of Japanese Society: Gender, Margins and Mainstream

Dimensions of Japanese Society: Gender, Margins and Mainstream


Japan remains one of the most intriguing yet least understood nations. This balanced and comprehensive analysis includes among its revelations that the Japanese are driven not by a morality based on good and evil, but by what is pure and impure.


Japan has 'vast numbers of cattle of all sorts', and is 'well stocked with elephants, oxen, buffaloes, and sheep'.... Japanese costumes 'have not been altered for at least 2,444 years. They universally consist of night-gowns'.... 'Such is the simplicity of their habit, that they are soon dressed.'

Such are some of the pearls of wisdom passed on to us by the Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1797. Two hundred years later, our knowledge of Japan has improved somewhat. In those intervening years Japan has changed from a remote and obscure land to an international superpower. The isolated country has been forced on more than one occasion to open up by western powers, first in the mid‐ nineteenth century and then again after its defeat in World War Two, when for seven years it was occupied by Americans. Japanese people and products are now commonplace around the world.

And yet, for all our contact with Japan, our knowledge of it is still far from perfect. We may even prefer it that way, for Japan continues to play for many of us the role of Other. It is a mysterious Other, an imprecise Other whose very vagueness allows us to make of it what we will. We are intrigued by it, and like to learn about it, but the more we do, the more we risk losing that convenient Other. If you have no Other, how can you define the Self? And how dull life would be without an element of mystery such as Japan provides.

We still like to think of Japan in many ways as a Topsy-Turvy Land, a Back-to-Front Land where everything is the opposite to our own cosy ways. That fictional hero of the western world, James Bond, tells us that 'the bloody Japs do everything the wrong way around'. The word 'wrong' is particularly telling, for it confirms the rightness of our own ways. We do like to see the Other as wrong. Japan is a particularly convenient Other here, not only because so much about it is still rather unclear to us, but also because of its defeat in the war. Victory has given us a sort of licence to criticise it with impunity.

As one example, holier-than-thou western fingers were wagged at Japan recently when it was found to have been sterilising mentally . . .

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