Organizer and Chair: Douglas Slaymaker, University of Kentucky
This panel will explore representations of the human body in Japanese culture in the years following the Pacific War in literature, journalism, film, and painting by giving special attention to representations of the (female) prostitute. The wartime subordination of the individual to the national body resulted in extraordinary physical and spiritual deprivation. The U.S. Occupation (19451952) exerted a very different pressure on the incorporation of individuals into the body politic by placing subjects under foreign rule. We wish to bring recent accomplishments in the interdisciplinary study of representations of the body to the critical understanding of this cultural history.
A vast class of often contradictory representations of bodies was produced and disseminated in postwar Japan. Victimized and humiliated bodies are perhaps testimonies of the individual deprivation of millions of people, but were also understood as personifying the collective travail of the Japanese nation. But the wars end also represented liberation and utopian possibility for many and these optimistic nuances are also expressed in representations of the body.
The analysis of representations of prostitutes is a unifying focus of this panel. Contradictory views of prostitution typify its larger history: is she a free autonomous agent flaunting the constraints of society or a victim? There are other perspectives and all point to larger ideological concerns and frameworks, therefore the representation of prostitutes and other marginal figures is a promising site for interdisciplinary investigation into issues associated with the body in postwar Japanese culture.
Postsurrender Japanese Painting: Bodies in Torment
Bert Winther-Tamaki, University of California, Irvine
The postsurrender decade (19451955) of twentieth-century Japanese painting is distinguished by a class of images of suffering figures. Artists of a wide range of ideological persuasions working in diverse styles painted human beings disabled by overwhelming circumstances. A lone crumpled figure stands forlornly before a desolate void (Kitawaki Noboru); a man crouches helplessly beneath a monstrous misshapen pair of hands (Tsuruoka Masao); a prostitute in the guise of a grotesque animal with a senseless stare kneels before her lascivious customer (Yamashita Kikuji); diseased body parts are strewn like inanimate objects within a sterile chamber (Kawara On).
Insofar as the painterly presentation of these unfortunate protagonists weakens or destroys them, they represent the continuation of a tendency which I have identified in Japanese painting during the war ("Embodiment/Disembodiment: Japanese Painting during the Fifteen Year War" Monumenta Nipponica, 1997). But while the assault on the integrity of the human figure in wartime painting complemented the ideology of self-sacrifice which was a state-sanctioned instrument of war, the postwar imagery of tormented bodies visualizes a cultural crisis precipitated by war defeat. In 1951 political scientist Maruyama Masao described this crisis as "a feeling of stagnation and prostration" and declared the "collapse of national consciousness." Through the analysis of contemporary writings of painters and art critics, this paper ascertains the therapeutic value of these disturbing images of bodies to individuals in a society recovering from this postsurrender trauma.
Prostitutes and Japanese Cinema in the Occupation Era
Joanne Izbicki, Wake Forest University
This paper examines the representation of female sex trade workers in the Japanese cinema of the Occupation era, with emphasis on prostitutes. Women who engaged in prostitution during the Occupation became micro-symbols of the macro-betrayal experienced through the military defeat. They were also emblematic of the suffering emerging from the economic and social disorder, decadence, and despair of the immediate post-defeat years.
I examine cinema in terms of a dilemma posed by the occupation prostitute. On the one hand, films portrayed prostitutes sympathetically and often as admirably spirited, placing their actions within the extreme hardships of the time. On the other hand, prostitutes historically bore a stigma and they were punished on screen, particularly if the character was from a so-called respectable stratum. The friction between sympathy and condemnation played out in implicitly moralistic conclusions belied by the complexity of plot and characterization and further complicated by the eroticizing tendency of the cinema.
I will also address the dilemma faced when discussing the female body and prostitution: the represented prostitute can distract from the abusive reality of the sex trades, even when the prostitute is shown suffering. Moreover, since cinema lends itself readily to romanticizing suffering, its affect often simplifies and glamorizes complex and debilitating circumstances. How can one theorize about prostitution, about the prostitute as emblem of a defeated, suffering nation, and about the aesthetic dimensions of film without erasing from the material the actual exploitation and abuse which women were facing everyday outside the movie theater.
Prostitution and Japanese Journalism in the 1950s
Michael S. Molasky, Connecticut College
The end of Americas occupation of mainland Japan witnessed a boom in Japanese journalistic exposÚs of prostitutes who catered to the American forces. Throughout the mid-1950s, magazines ranging from the leftist, intellectual monthlies, Sekai and Kaiz˘, to the middle-class womens magazine, Fujin k˘ron, regularly featured articles about prostitution. Many books and articles from this time offered exposÚs of the "Recreation and Amusement Association," or "RAA" (a euphemism for the equally euphemistic term, "postwar comfort woman system"). Others focused on prostitution and "mixed-blood children" near U.S. military base towns, thereby highlighting the occupations ongoing legacy while criticizing the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.
The majority of these publications treated prostitutes as either pitiful victims or depraved hussies. As victims, prostitutes conveniently embodied a sense of subjugation to the former occupiers. Male writers eagerly appropriated this image, rendering the prostitute an allegorical figure who embodied the postwar nation, subjugated to the United States. Conversely, images of the depraved woman who flouts propriety to pursue her own sexual pleasure emphasized the prostitutes irrevocable difference from Japans middle-class, from the national body politic, and from those patriarchal social structures that connect the two.
A handful of contemporary publications included the voices of prostitutes themselves, who broached issues that were taboo in Japanese public discourse. My paper will explore several of these "first-hand accounts" (while acknowledging that they were invariably mediated by the male cultural elite), and I hope to show how they challenged popular assumptions about race, class, national identity, and sexuality.
Freedom and Bondage: Tamura Taijir˘s Prostitutes
Douglas Slaymaker, University of Kentucky
In this paper, I will discuss the eroticism of the work of Tamura Taijir˘, a writer who gave new meanings to the "body" in his fiction by focusing on the putative freedom and autonomy of the prostitutes who reject all societal taboos and structures to freely determine their own lifestyle. The sexuality in his writings marks a decidedly new turn in thinking and interest within postwar Japan. His fiction of prostitutes and sex work is a very masculine portrayal and one that he implicitly criticizes in his later fiction, of the 1960s. By comparing the fiction he wrote in the late 1940s, where the prostitute embodies freedom and autonomy, to that of the 1960s, in which we find much darker portrayals of graphic brutality, I can track ideological shifts reflective of larger society.
In the early fiction (in particular, "Nikutai no Mon") Tamura articulates the "physical, individual body" over the heretofore valorized "national body." In the later fiction (in particular "Inago") we find a soldier torn by his duty to oversee sex workers and his understandings of the excesses of male desire. This writing emphasizes the physical in a conscious reaction to the wartime emphasis on the communal sacrifice in which the most strident and persistent, but persuasive, clichÚs focused on the need for sacrifice of individual needs and desires for those of the nation. That is, the physical and the carnal becomes in this fiction the site of a protest against the wartime propaganda, and the eroticism is an explicit resistance, that marks a change of emphasis.