Thursday, August 24, 2006
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
How did notions of interracial sex change in Japan from roughly 1880 to 1980? Admittedly, this is a broad and complex question that would require years and mounds of empirical data to answer. Having neither, for this paper I will limit my focus to literature, particularly to three representative works that address the subject of interracial sexuality: Mori Ōgai's The Dancing Girl (Maihime; 1890), Tanizaki Jun'ichirō's Some Prefer Nettles (Tade kuu mushi; 1929), and Murakami Ryū's Almost Transparent Blue (Kagiri naku tōmei ni chikai buru-; 1976). Drawing from the ideas developed by Weiner, Lippit, Russell, Burkhardt, Snyder, Hamilton, Giddens, Engels, Bonnett, and Burkhardt, I will examine these three works to get a sense of how the discourse regarding interracial sex evolved over this span of nearly a century.
Using art to make claims about social or historical realities is always a risky business: there is always the chance that the artist’s mirror had been warped, if not cracked. But even so, are the tools at the artist’s disposal any less reliable than those used by specialists in other fields? The answer to this certainly depends on the artist, and the degree to which he strives for mimesis, which in some aesthetic traditions—the Japanese included— was for centuries considered a dirty word, and to be avoided at all costs. But since the Meiji period (1868-1912), realism— with notable exceptions— has been the norm in fiction; therefore, there is much that we can infer about historical and social conditions from the literature of the Meiji, Taishō, and Shōwa periods.
Particularly useful to the historian and social scientist is the way in which fiction alone can reveal in detail various social dynamics, from how people of a certain age and place handled various topics and maintained taboos, to how they defined social, political and racial parameters. The topic of this paper is interracial sex. By interracial sex, I mean primarily the act of sex between members of different races. But the phenomenon is not limited solely to cross-border fornication per se, for also important to the discussion are intra-racial sexual discourses and the dynamics of orientalist and occidentalist constructions. Notably, the dynamics of interracial sex may be observed even within intra-racial relationships, a phenomenon described by Tanizaki Jun’ichirō in at least two of his novels.
By lining up these three representative texts that span nearly a century, it becomes clear that the discourse of interracial sexuality has undergone a radical transformation. My conclusion is, of course, dependent to some extent on the works I have selected. In order to gauge as accurately as possible the broad social and historical trends, I have limited my discussion to these three works by Ōgai, Tanizaki, and Murakami, each of whom is regarded as representative of his particular age. My reasons for specifically selecting these three works are: a) the span between each of the three works is at least three decades, thus dividing this period— from roughly 1890 to 1980— into roughly three equal periods; b) each is a major work by a canonical author c) each enjoyed popularity at the time of publication; and d) most importantly, each is centered around the subject of interracial sexual relationships. Thus, in a broad sense, when viewed together these three works provide a glimpse of the larger historical narrative of the changing attitudes toward interracial sexuality from 1890 to 1980.
Mori Ōgai's The Dancing Girl (1890) is a sort of Japanese version of Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly, which debuted nearly a decade later. Ōgai’s story can be seen as a reversal of Puccini’s orientalist fantasy of a Western man, Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton, who meets, falls in love with, impregnates, and eventually abandons an innocent and hapless Japanese woman in Nagasaki in the late 1890s. In Ōgai’s story, it is a young Japanese man who is sent abroad to Germany, where he engages in a romance with an equally innocent and hapless German girl.
Mori Ōgai (1862-1922) wrote and published The Dancing Girl in 1890, partly basing the story on his own adventures abroad in Germany, from which he had recently returned. In the story, a narrator by the name of Ōta Toyotarō recalls while returning home on a ship the five years spent in Germany. Toyotarō describes for us a highly romanticized vision of the West, which he sees as a place where the individual is free to live as he pleases, and where he can “cultivate his soul” in the pursuit of his “real self.” Contrasted with this is his constricting homeland of Japan, where feudal and dogmatic traditions persist, making impossible such projects of self-discovery. Despite his desires, Toyotarō is pulled by a sense of duty which compels him to return home.
Unlike the other two novels discussed in this paper, Mori Ōgai's The Dancing Girl is centered around an ethical dilemma— much like the popular Edo period works (particularly in the bunraku and kabuki theaters) that featured a protagonist torn between giri (duty) and ninjō (passion). In The Dancing Girl, Ōgai's semi-autobiographical narrator is torn between his desire to remain in Germany with his young German lover, Elise, and his duty to return home to the newly formed nation-state of Japan. Ultimately, he chooses the latter and abandons Elise, who, left to raise their child alone, suffers a nervous breakdown at the end of the story. While structured around this traditional giri-ninjō theme, the work is “modern” in the sense that it a) takes place in the highly-developed and exotic (to Japanese readers at the time) setting of contemporary Germany; b) features an in-depth psychological portrayal of the narrator's internal struggle and c) addresses a theme entirely new at the time: interracial sexuality. Of these three features, the most important to this discussion is the third, so let us now look at how sexuality and racial politics— as they were understood in the 1890s— are presented in the work.
First, it is important to remember that The Dancing Girl was Ōgai's first story to be made available to the general Japanese public (Rimer, 6), and that it was written while he was still a young and nameless writer. For Ōgai, who was hoping to make his mark on the literary scene with a bold debut, what could be bolder than a semi-autobiographical sketch about a young man who talks and walks as an equal among enlightened Europeans, and, more importantly, who has even had sexual encounters with a young woman of the white race?
What did it mean at the time to have a love affair with a white woman? To understand this, we must first consider the racial politics of the time, both in Europe and Japan. As Michael Weiner points out in his article, “The Invention of Identity: Race and Nation in Pre-war Japan," social Darwinism laid the foundation for a hierarchy of races by applying Darwin's observations about evolution in the natural world to the social and racial sphere of humans. The social Darwinists— a group consisting entirely of Europeans— predictably put the white race on top, and the implications of this new order were soon felt in other parts of the world. For Europeans, the racial hierarchy served as a justification for imperialist policies; for many non-Europeans it served as an incentive to Westernize. Social Darwinism eventually made its way to Japan, where it was enthusiastically embraced by prominent ministers and politicians of the day, most notably Fukuzawa Yukichi, who argued that Japan must shed its attachment to Asia and follow the West (Bonnett, 67).
To Mori Ōgai's readers in 1890, the notion of a Japanese man going abroad to actively participate and find acceptance in the far-away and advanced civilization of Europe was stimulating enough. Ōgai, however, provided his readers with an added stimulus by including the sexual element, namely, the romance between the Toyotarō and Elise. By making this sentimental romance the focus of his work, Ōgai effectively reverses the normal racial hierarchy: the white woman, Elise, is thus given the passive role, while the “yellow man,” Toyotarō, is the one who decisively and confidently “acts.”
Elise is a mere sixteen or seventeen when Toyotarō first encounters her leaning against a church, her eyes filled with tears. Ever the gentlemen, Toyotarō offers her his assistance, and, after a brief conversation, follows her to her disheveled apartment inhabited by a family in dire straits. Elise explains to her new Japanese acquaintance that a man, presumably the manager of her dance troupe, had taken advantage of her while she was working at the Victoria Theater. She pleads for him to lend her money; Toyotarō consents, and soon after they begin their affair.
The story develops predictably from there, following a pattern typical among Romantic and some pre-Romantic writers (think Goethe’s Gretchen and Shakespeare’s Ophelia). First, there is the well-intending gentleman’s discovery of the hapless girl. Then, his kind offer of assistance, followed by the affair. Inevitably resulting from the affair is some kind of crisis, after which the woman, having been abandoned, subsequently goes mad and either continues to live miserably in her mad state or perishes.
Elise is described as a girl who seems she could “dance in the palm of your hand” (Rimer, 16). She is a quaint, doll-like figure who is “occidentalized” by the narrator in a manner reminiscent of the “orientalized” heroine of Puccini's opera, Madame Butterfly (written eight years later in 1898), who, incidentally, is similarly likened to dolls. Throughout the story, Elise is presented as the helpless victim, and Count Amakata, who remonstrates Toyotarō for getting involved with her, refers to her as “mere chit of a girl” (18). There is also a Pygmalion aspect to their relationship: Elise is the pupil in their master-disciple relationship, and it is Toyotarō’s responsibility to rescue and educate the foolish girl. Throughout the story, Elise is on the receiving end while the man makes all of the decisions. In this sense, the story is written according to the usual tropes— the only difference being, of course, that Toyotarō is Japanese, and thus the usual pattern of white benefactor and brown (or yellow) beneficiary is here reversed.
Certainly, the relationship between Elise and Toyotarō would not qualify for what Anthony Giddens calls a “pure relationship,” i.e., a relationship where each person freely participates in the romance only to the extent to which he or she finds it fulfilling, and where neither is bound to the other by any legal, economic, or other obligations (Giddens, 61-62). Rather, Toyotarō and Elise's affair more closely fits Friedrich Engel’s description of love in a capitalist society, in which the woman is enslaved to the man through a system of economic dependency (Engels, 774). Writes Engels: "The modern individual family is based on the open and disguised domestic enslavement of the woman” (744). Engels description seems to apply here, as Toyotarō is certainly the dominant, paternal figure who lords over his Elise. Elise, by contrast, is merely a tool Toyotarō uses for his project of self-discovery. For Toyotarō, the woman is no thing-in-itself, as she is allowed neither agency nor subjectivity. Instead, she is for him merely an embodiment of all the romantic notions he has about the West— personal liberation, freedom from feudal life, democracy, romantic love, etc. Ironically, Toyotarō allows the girl very little room to pursue these abstractions.
Tanizaki's Some Prefer Nettles (1929)— a story ostensibly about a man who nearing middle-age discards his Western pretensions and returns to his own tradition— can in fact be read as a parody of such orientalist and occidentalist stereotyping. The story’s protagonist is named Kaname, meaning "a pivot," an appropriate name for a man torn between the opposite poles of an imagined “East” and “West.” Like Tanizaki himself, Kaname was once fascinated with all things Western, but the more he ages, the more he becomes disillusioned with the West as he sees it. Instead, he comes to long for his “native” tradition, which, as Tanizaki skillfully shows, is largely a product of the contemporary imagination.
Kaname’s change in affiliation from West to East is conveyed in part by his changing taste in women. He has grown bored of his wife Misako, a Westernized, “modern type” who has recently taken a lover of her own. His mistress, too—a dubious “Turkish” prostitute in Kobe named Louise (she is more likely half-Japanese) – is no longer capable of exciting him. Kaname’s tastes have moved from the one extreme of an idealized West to another extreme of an idealized Orient, specifically an orientalized Japan, represented by Kaname’s somewhat warped vision of his father's mistress, a geisha named Ohisa.
As Noriko Lippit points out in her book Reality and Fiction in Modern Japanese Literature, Tanizaki’s body of literature can be seen as centered around the evolving image of unattainable forms of female beauty. In his early career, it was the cruel, sadistic and often foreign bijin (“beauty”) that his masochistic protagonists sought. In his next stage, it was the refined but vacant “Oriental doll” that his protagonists longed for. Next came the theme of the search for the long-departed “eternal mother.” Finally, in the last stage of his career Tanizaki’s attention moved to the classical court lady behind the screen (Lippit, Ch. 5). It is this figure that becomes his ideal feminine after Some Prefer Nettles, a work which is itself a sort of “pivot” that marks Tanizaki’s transition— or at least the simulation of a transition— from this first stage to the second.
Kaname’s supposed transition, however, must be viewed with skepticism. His longing for Western movie stars is not altogether together different from his vision of the girl he sees as the embodiment of “Eastern beauty.” Like the Western movie stars, the geisha Ohisa is similarly likened to a doll throughout the story. Yet Tanizaki makes it clear that Ohisa is the quintessential Japanese beauty only after she is filtered through Kaname’s imagination. Despite both Kaname and his father-in-law’s attempt to mold Ohisa into the archetype they both desire, their project inevitably ends in failure: Ohisa is already a product of the modern world, and she is thus an intricately woven combination of native and foreign influences. She is constantly being reprimanded by Misako’s father for using Western commodities, and for complaining about the discomfort of traditional dress. Just as the reality of Louise did not match Kaname’s fantasy of her, the reality and representation of Ohisa are similarly out of joint. Tanizaki thus does in this work what he would later do again in his 1933 essay “In Praise of Shadows,” that is, he subverts the assumptions of the East-West discourse by showing that both “East” and “West” are arbitrary constructions that, in reality, obfuscate more than they clarify.
Kaname is torn between not only these imagined extremes of “Eastern” and “Western” women, but also between the two female archetypes of the mother-figure (bofūgata) and the harlot-figure (shōfūgata). Though initially attracted to both extremes, Kaname has recently come to prefer the harlot, as is revealed through his rejection of his wife, who is far more maternal than she is whorish. One should also note that Kaname’s desire for the harlot freely crosses national and ethnic boundaries, as we can see from the transfer of his interest from the exotic “Turkish” prostitute to the young geisha attending his father-in-law.
Kaname’s preference for extremes— for idealized forms, for constructed fantasy over reality, for dolls over real women, for the eternal and universal over the particular— is a theme that appears again and again in Tanizaki's fiction. In fact, this is one aspect of Tanizaki's works that is often singled out for criticism by advocacy-minded liberals and feminists. In fact, Tanizaki's idea of the “eternal woman” (eien no onna) is not altogether different from the “essential woman” Annette Hamilton picks out for ridicule in her essay, “Primal Dream: Masculinism, Sin and Salvation in Thailand’s Sex Trade” (Manderson, Ch 6). But what these critics fail to see is that Tanizaki is not seeking to describe reality as it is per se; rather, he is making the argument that men and women, in general, are propelled by the fictions that they consciously and unconsciously construct in order to make the world bearable.
Murakami Ryū’s (1952- ) was awarded the Akutagawa Prize for his debut work, Almost Transparent Blue (1976), a drug-, sex- and vomit-infested novel centered around the lives of a group of outcasts living near the Yokota U.S. Air Base in Fussa, Tokyo. Despite the extreme subject matter and the decidedly politically-incorrect tone of the narration, the work was selected for the prize in 1976, but not without controversy. Famed literary Karatani Kōjin described the work as a “basically base novel based upon the base” (Snyder, 203), and his predecessor Etō Jun “called the selection ‘nonsense,’” criticizing the work for “reflect[ing] a subculture” and not “expressing the culture as a whole, which is the job of real fiction” (Snyder, 216). Questions of literary merit aside, the novel did succeed in forcing readers to confront subjects that most members of polite society would prefer to avoid, namely, race, military occupation, Americanization, drug use, and, most importantly, interracial sex.
John Russell points out in his article “Race and Reflexivity: The Black Other in Japanese Mass Culture” that in Japan representations of blacks can be divided into the following eight categories: infantilism, primitivism, hypersexuality, bestiality, natural athletic prowess and physical stamina, mental inferiority, psychological weakness, and emotional volatility (Russell, 21-2). As Russell notes, the Japanese— who historically had little direct contact with blacks— imported these stereotypes directly from preexisting Western models, and their attitudes toward blacks are largely a product of this importation from the West.
Murakami Ryū’s novel Almost Transparent Blue can certainly be added to Russell’s list of Japanese fictional works that adhere to these predetermined tropes. We certainly see the following depictions of blacks in Murakami’s work: black-as-sexually-promiscuous-animal, black-as-violent-deviant, and black-as-African-savage. But there is one new trope present in the novel which is not included in Russell’s list: black-as-homosexual.
The most prominent black character featured in the book, Jackson, is described in highly racist terms as a wild, violent and sexually overcharged beast that does not seem to mind whether his next prey is a man or woman. The novel’s first-person narrator, Ryū, is one such prey, and he is mocked by his friends who accuse him of being “a fairy for those niggers” (23). Jackson is a bisexual junkie with a “swollen asshole,” who is constantly “rubbing [his] cock in [the narrator’s] face (55).” When Ryū does not respond appropriately to his advances, Jackson hits him in the face a few times before reinserting his penis into his bloodied mouth. “Jackson thrust his hot prick into my dry mouth, a hot stone burning my tongue” (55).
Besides Jackson, none of the other black characters seem to have homosexual tendencies. They are described instead as sexually promiscuous animals on the prowl to steal “our women,” i.e., the native Japanese. It is the task of the Yakuza gangsters to prevent the girls from being defiled by the dark, foreign intruders, and they serve as self-appointed protectors of the girls (43). As we see from the orgy scene, however, they are not always successful.
In Murakami’s defense, he is writing not about black intellectuals in Paris or New York, or jazz musicians in New Orleans or Chicago, but rather about poor, uneducated men stationed at a military base in a U.S. occupied foreign country. Regardless of race or nationality, low-ranking occupying soldiers are usually perceived and represented by the natives according to these tropes. Moreover, it is not only the black characters who are singled out for unflattering characterization; the promiscuous Japanese women, the heroine addicted men, the white woman with the “huge cunt,” and others are all described by the narrator in equally offensive language. Still, because the focus of this paper is interracial sexual dynamics, I will limit my scope mostly to Murakami’s depiction of the black characters.
In addition to being sexually promiscuous animals, blacks are also portrayed as violent deviants in need of constant supervision. Ryū and his gang of junkies are dependent upon the black soldiers for their heroin, hash, and mescaline supply. Jackson, we are told, is being closely watched by the MPs, who suspect him of peddling cheap jewelry. Yet, despite their tendency toward mischief and deviancy, on the whole they can be relied on for drug supplies: “Those niggers are strong and they’ll give us some hash, right?” Moko remarks (25-6).
When they are not drug-peddling deviants, they are depicted as beasts with superhuman strengths, often likened to “African savages.” “Those niggers are strong,” Moko remarks after the night’s orgy has ended. Even the next day, Moko can still feel on her skin the “greased, shiny bodies of the black men” (37), who were capable of numerous consecutive ejaculations (38). The konketsuji half-black Saburō, who, according to Burkhardt suffers a more pronounced marginalization because he is the product of miscegeny, is as much an animal as the “pure blacks” (Burkhardt, 22). Saburō’s penis, incidentally, is the largest of the bunch, and he has a laugh “like an African way cry” (38). There is also Bob, who, “growling like a lion,” “rocked her while he gnawed a piece of chicken” (41). The book is littered with numerous descriptions of their huge bodies, “huge asses and penises,” and occasionally when a face is described, it is usually of their glowingly white teeth (39).
References to Africa are numerous despite the fact that their ancestral and historical severance from the continent most likely occurred at least three centuries ago. “[Jackson] and the black woman chanted something like a spell. It wasn’t English, I couldn’t understand it. It was like a sutra with a conga rhythm,” the narrator observes (55). During the orgy scene, Ryū likens his African lover, too, to a wild African dancer who in some kind of savage ritual extracts and drinks the blood of her victim: “the black woman licked up my blood” (56).
I should also note that on several occasions the narrator goes out of his way to distinguish the present depravity from the elegance of the old black culture of the first half of the 20th century. “That stuff [Billy Holiday, jazz, etc],” Yoshiyama remarks to Kei, “is to blacks like what Naniwabushi is to us” (29). In this novel, the old “high cultures”— both of Japan and America— have long since vanished, and what is left is this grotesque fusion of low-brow cultures. In this sense, the story might be read as a polemic to counter the ideologies of multiculturalism, globalism, pluralism, and, more specifically, Americanism. This, my friends, is what is born of Americanization, Murakami seems to say.
The girls who engage in sexual relations with blacks are portrayed as degenerate tramps who seem to enjoy being abused by the Japanese as much as they enjoy being ravished by the blacks. On the night of the orgy, Kei “crawls around on the rug like a dog,” sucking “each of the niggers’ cocks” (37). She shamelessly entices them: “Somebody do it to me, do it to me quick, Kei yelled in English,” after which Bob and Durham proceed to fuck her simultaneously (37). The following day, Kei is mocked by her peers: “Well, Kei, she’s looking forward to it, says she wants to do it with those niggers again” (30). When she is not a sex-crazed tramp, Kei is described by narrator Ryū as a little girl being manhandled by two “mammoth niggers”: “He pulled her legs open, just as if he were helping a little girl to piss.” Reiko, too, is described in equally animalistic imagery: “Her [Reiko’s] cunt, rubbed hard, gaped red and shone with mucus.” Finally, there is Moko, who, not having eaten in two days, simultaneously devours both a “black cock and a crab” (42).
These descriptions of the vigorous and capable blacks contrast vividly with those of the Japanese, who are often described as impotent and incapable of satisfying their women. Okinawa has injected so much heroin in the last few years that he can no longer perform. Girlfriend-beating Yoshiyama is not much better off. Indeed, in both men the sexual urge seems to have been replaced by the urge to violence. In one scene, Yoshiyama remarks to Ryū:
“Hey, Ryū, when I heave like that, you know, and my guts are all mixed up and I can hardly stay on my feet and I can’t see good, you know, that’s the only time I really want a woman. Well, even if there was one around, I couldn’t get it up and it’d be too much trouble to open her legs, but anyway I still want a woman. Not in my prick or in my head, but my whole body, all of me, is just squirming for it. How about you? Do you get what I mean?”
“Yeah, you want to kill her, rather than fuck her?”
“That’s it, that’s it, squeezing her neck like this, tearing her clothes off, ramming a stick or something up her butt, a classy chick like the kind you see walking on the Ginza.” (34)
The one exception to this Japanese-as-impotent trope is the narrator Ryū, who, partly thanks to his moderate use of drugs, retains enough vigor to engage in sex with both white and black women, in addition to the Japanese women. “I somehow believed,” he writes, “I had become just one huge penis. Or was I a miniature man who could crawl up inside women and pleasure them with his writhing?” (54).
In another scene, Rudianna, a black dancer who works at various bars around the Yokota Base, arrives at the party stoned and drunk, exuding a fierce smell, “as if she were fermenting inside” (53). Like the black men, her teeth too “looked disturbingly white as she laughed and stripped.” As she rubs her sweaty hands over Ryū, he begins to “feel nauseated.” Like the black man gnawing on the piece of fried chicken, Rudianna’s dietary habits are described in equally stereotypical fashion, with her “bacon-smelling tongue, [her] red, moist eyes, [and] her big mouth [that] kept laughing and laughing.” She then let out “a Tarzan yell, panted like a black javelin thrower I’d seen in an Olympic film” (54). Like a possessed demon, Rudianna bites into Ryū’s “nipples until blood came out.”
As mentioned, white women are described in equally grotesque terms. The fat woman in the orgy scene (55-6) “smelled just like rotten crab meat,” and, in the same scene, Ryū’s “right foot began to disappear into [her] huge cunt” (56). This work is often condemned as racist and misogynistic; but because Murakami’s unflattering depictions extend to black, white, and Japanese men and women, I think the more appropriate term might be “misanthropic.”
In conclusion, these three works—each of which treats the subject of interracial sex in a vastly different manner— provide an overview of the dramatic transformation that occurred within the discourse of interracial sex from roughly 1890 to 1980. Although the analysis of a broader range of literary works is still needed to make more concrete and definitive conclusions, these three works reflect the following changes that occurred during this time span: a) the gradual normalization of interracial sex; b) the normalization of the discourse of interracial sex became normalized- in other words, the subject is no longer the taboo it once was; c) the hierarchical structures of the old order— specifically regarding race and gender— are not nearly as fixed and prominent as they once were; and, finally, d) the Victorian-Meiji prudishness that kept the subject taboo for so long has for the most part since disappeared.
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