Debate on the how, when and why of mankind’s creation brims over mere academic study. Sabine Fruhstuck and Anne Walthall, professors of Modern Japanese Culture and History in the University of California system, playfully yet soundly consider something more practically important: how society recreates the image of man.
Each essay in their collection, “Recreating Japanese Men,” traces the shifting parameters of manhood throughout Japanese society and history: how guns became a symbol of status while the true warrior kept his sword; controversial personality and acclaimed writer Yukio Mishima’s devotion to both bushido and “manly beauty”; rock climbing in Japan as equally an androgynous sport and an enclave of machismo; the tangle of techno-geeks, animation and “pure” obsessions in the modern two-dimensional love revolution; and men asserting their manliness by rejecting society and living on the street in Japan’s growing homeless concern.
By elucidating various societal constructions of masculinity across 400 years, this collection transcends gender and borders to become an insightful provocation on what it means to be human.
A particularly relevant piece for every 21st-century homo sapiens — “After Heroism: Must Real Soldiers Die?”- is by co-editor Fruhstuck. She considers anthropologist Margaret Mead’s famous 1940 assertion: “Warfare is only an invention, not a biological necessity.” As we are reminded early in the essay, the Japanese military — uniquely in the world today — “trains for battle so that it will not need to use those skills, prepares for war so it will not happen.”
Fruhstuck is thus able to reveal universal realities. Historically, nations as well as men identify the maturity of a country or a man with the wielding of arms. In a world increasingly focused on peacekeeping as the new model to counter the spread of hostility, this paradigm shift becomes illuminated with the struggles of the 21st-century Japanese soldier, members of the Self-Defense Forces. In one sense applauded for their humanitarian emphasis, the soldiers nonetheless feel the difference in expectations and societal views on manhood with their institutional military restrictions. Food for thought, for all citizens of the world.
Japan’s male identities, with many such cultural contradictions, provide several such morsels of thought.
From the samurai code of the warrior to the modern so-called herbivore male, the Japanese man oscillates wildly, and the collection covers a wide range of male identities across time and situation.
The reader visits the male worker in the merchant house of the late 1700s, learns about the fugusha part-male and part-female medical conundrum in the early twentieth century, and commiserates with the union man in postwar modern Japan.
Other favorite essays featured in the volume: Tom Gill’s “Failed Manhood on the Streets of Japan” discusses self-reliance and identity for homeless men throughout the nation. “Do Guns have Gender?” is a fascinating look at firearms in Japan’s male identity by Walthall.
An intriguing peek at the future of humanity and technology concludes the collection with “Gendering Robots: Posthuman Traditionalism in Japan,” by Jennifer Robertson. Reading each essay, the spectrum of masculinity broadens, and with the contributors balanced evenly between male and female, all humanity, it seems, has something to say about the changing image of man.
The essays are organized in three main sections, “Legacies of the Samurai”, “Marginal Men” and “Bodies and Boundaries, together tackling man’s struggle to conform or redefine varying societal expectations to form a new ideal. Each essay proves engaging and highly readable, and “Recreating Japanese Men” is not just a book for Japanophiles or graduate students in men’s studies — it is a book for all males, and the mothers, sisters and wives who hope to understand them.