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Book Review: THE ART OF THE GUT: Manhood, Power, and Ethics in Japanese Politics. By Robin M. LeBlanc... 2011

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Pacific Affairs: Volume 84, No. 1 – March, 2011  8 THE ART OF THE GUT: Manhood, Power, and Ethics in Japanese Politics. By Robin M. LeBlanc. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. xix, 229 pp. US$24.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-520-25917-1. Recent Japanese politics appears to be simultaneously moribund and beset by turmoil. The long rule of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has ended, but Japan’s new regime seems shackled to that checkered past. Certainly it is important that the leaders of the currently ruling Democratic Party of Japan learned their craft during their tenure as members of the LDP. But could the dismal continuities also be explained by the obvious yet overlooked influence of shared cultural practices rooted in common masculinity? This sort of question is stimulated by reading Robin LeBlanc’s The Art of the Gut: Manhood, Power, and Ethics in Japanese Politics. The central dilemma of this engaging and timely book is summarized in the opening pages: in meeting the ethical imperatives implicit in identity discourses, people collaborate in the reproduction and maintenance of the structures of power that constrain them. How then, LeBlanc asks, can the “middle managers” of such structures in Japan, men who do not control but are bound to subscribe to those discourses of power, “do the right thing” and use for good purposes the power that remains to them, when acceptance of the unspoken rules and higher symbolic principles of masculinity is both the source of corruption and the basis for being a good man? Describing in detail two men (one rural, one urban, both reluctant political participants), this book illuminates the paradox of masculine doxa, how the power of seemingly natural, unconscious symbolism and premises for being a “good man” constrain and enable political action. From her ethnographic data, LeBlanc argues persuasively that all politics is personal as well as local, that individuals and their gendered ethics can effect significant structural change. Two figures are central to this complex and intimate account of male gender and Japanese politics. Takada-san is the son of a long-time LDP assemblyman in Tokyo’s Shirakawa Ward. He feels duty to the family enterprise: he inherited his father’s supporters and the web of accumulated mutual obligations. Takada-san accepts his family tradition of masculinity integrity, although he doubts how politically useful its general principles and respect for hierarchical authority are in an age of policy specialization. Despite his questionable enthusiasm for a political life, family connections win Takada-san his first election. In a typical sentence, LeBlanc adroitly summarizes the dilemma of his pyrrhic victory: “Unfortunately for Takada- san, however, his notion of ethical identity was enmeshed with the same masculinist power structure that commanded his submission to the often arbitrary likes and dislikes of men more powerful than he” (95). The older protagonist, the more interesting of the two, is the small- town sake merchant, Baba-san. He resides in rural Takeno-machi, where a  9 Electronic Book Review: Northeast Asia large utility company has bribed the local population to accept a nuclear power plant, hoping money will entice the hard-pressed citizens to ignore the dangers. Baba-san’s business ties to local politicians bound him initially to support the project, but his disgust at the corruption surrounding it causes him to later take the leading role in an anti-plant movement called the Referendum Association, which eventually succeeds in preventing the construction. Baba describes his political participation as “cheating,” violating the codes of his town’s masculine networks and using his masculine power to silence other men and thereby promote the candidacy of less contentious anti-plant female candidates for the local assembly. The “art of the gut” of the title refers to mobilizing “what is unspeakable or must be known in the gut” as a strategy to marginalize, exclude and silence opponents. This meticulous portrait of “the tenacity of unarticulated masculinism” is a worthy complement to the author’s earlier book on the political world of Japanese women, whom she called “bicycle citizens.” Clearly written and reasonably priced in paperback, The Art of the Gut could be used with advanced undergraduates, but it is perhaps better suited to graduate seminars in gender, politics or the sociology of Japan. Over the course of the introduction, five core chapters and a memorable conclusion, the reader is taken on a keenly insightful tour of the complexities at the intersection of modern Japanese masculinity and politics that is more nuanced and less reductionist than the Foucaultian power theory that LeBlanc uses to frame her analysis. Anticipating the criticisms of her colleagues in political science, she offers a reasoned, self-reflexive argument in support of her unabashedly anthropological approach to understanding Japanese democracy. But by the end of her satisfyingly complete and compelling story she is transformed, becoming, in Chalmers Johnson’s phrase, “a recovering academic,” no longer dependent on the illusory objectivity of technique. Osaka University, Shita-shi, Japan  Scott nortH


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