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The Art of the Gut

The Art of the Gut: Manhood, Power, and Ethics in Japanese Politics

Robin M. LeBlanc
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Art of the Gut
    Book Description:

    This beautifully written ethnography follows the lives of two very different Japanese men entering political life in two very different communities. One is the rural leader of a citizens' referendum movement, while the other hopes to succeed his father in a Tokyo ward assembly. Fast-paced and engrossing,The Art of the Gutputs the reader behind the scenes to hear speeches, attend campaign functions, and eavesdrop on late-night strategy sessions and one-on-one conversations. In her groundbreaking analysis, Robin M. Le Blanc explores the the two men's differing notions of what is expected of a "good" man and demonstrates how the fundamental desire to be good men constrains their political choices even as it encourages both to become ethical agents. The result is a vibrant and up-to-date picture of politics in Japan today that also addresses masculine gender expectations in a male-dominated political world, the connection between gendered identity and ethical being, and the process by which men who are neither dominant nor marginal to their communities assert themselves both with and against power.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94505-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Note on Names
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. INTRODUCTION: The Power Remainder
    (pp. 1-36)

    In his essay “The Power of the Powerless” Vaclav Havel argues that even in a totalitarian political system, responsibility for power is located in ordinary individuals. He offers the example of a greengrocer who displays in his window the slogan “Workers of the World Unite!” Even though the greengrocer might never think very deeply about his behavior, Havel says, posting the slogan expresses a choice to participate in the process of compelling others to accept, at least on the surface, the political system’s dominant ideology. “The slogan really is asign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Breadwinners
    (pp. 37-67)

    Takada-san looked weary and sounded miserable. It was an unusually warm Saturday morning in January, still almost three months before the beginning of the official campaign period for the 1999 Shirakawa Ward Assembly elections in which Takada-san hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps. As is commonly the case in Japanese elections, Takada-san’s efforts to win endorsement from the Liberal Democratic Party and round up supporters for his bid had begun the previous fall, when the legally recognized, ten-day public campaign period was more than half a year away. Takada-san described the emotional strain he was feeling as we chatted...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Inheritor
    (pp. 68-94)

    In Takeno-machi many of the Referendum Association men with whom I talked were cynical about elected officials. Along with the terms they used to describe local politicians as people who craved position (sukide sukide shōganai) or who were seeking a sinecure and a feather in their cap after completing their life’s more serious work (meiyo shoku), I often heard residents repeat a local saying that went something like this: “If you can sell one rice paddy, you can run for election.” The point of the saying is that, given how expensive it is to campaign for office, especially when corruption...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The Paradox of Masculine Honor
    (pp. 95-127)

    Takada-san’s strategy of connecting himself to his father’s constituency base worked, and he won his first election. Unfortunately for Takadasan, 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. His postelection political narrative justified his acceptance of the masculine hierarchy he faced in elected office, and thus it also acted to constrain his political and ethical ambitions as an elected representative. Takadasan struggled to reinterpret traditionalist notions of Japanese masculinity into the means of defining a politician’s work...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Cheating as a Democratic Practice
    (pp. 128-158)

    Throughout the evening Baba-san and I have been talking about Takeno politics. Now it’s so late we have given up making more tea. Instead Baba pours a little hot water into my cup,sayu, he calls it, a fancy word for “hot water for making tea.” He sucks on his cigarette; his body has crumpled below the level of the table. His legs have slid far under the blanket tacked around the table edges to hold in the warmth from thekotatsuheater attached to the bottom of the tabletop.¹

    “In high school my sister and I sat under the...

  11. CHAPTER 5 The Art of the Gut
    (pp. 159-186)

    In December 2002 I scheduled an interview with Katō Susumu, a leader in the little talked of but growing world of Japanese political consulting. In the fall I had added another man’s election campaign to the list of those I observed in my attempt to understand the link between masculinity and the use of power in local politics. Katō and a volunteer staff were instrumental in developing that candidate’s campaign strategy, and I was meeting with him to get a more complete sense of how power was distributed in the campaign office.¹ Generally Katō works with progressive candidates from what...

  12. CONCLUSION: Salad and Cigarettes for Breakfast, or How to Find Democracy by Losing Your Sense of Perspective
    (pp. 187-202)

    By the time Iida, my journalist friend from Takeno, confesses he has completely lost his objectivity, our shared beef tongue soup pot has boiled down to a scummy mass. The remaining pieces of tongue, which Iida keeps popping into his mouth with the compulsive rhythm of the young and thorough eater, are thick knobs that hardly bear gnawing, let alone chewing. Tucked in this warm restaurant, one floor below the rainy streets of the Ginza and beyond the reach of cell phone signals, we are lost to Tokyo.

    Iida’s startlingly good mimicry and journalist’s capacity for recalling detail have transported...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 203-224)
  14. Index
    (pp. 225-229)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 230-230)