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Erotic Grotesque Nonsense

Erotic Grotesque Nonsense: The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times

Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 388
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  • Book Info
    Erotic Grotesque Nonsense
    Book Description:

    This history of Japanese mass culture during the decades preceding Pearl Harbor argues that the new gestures, relationship, and humor ofero-guro-nansensu(erotic grotesque nonsense) expressed a self-consciously modern ethos that challenged state ideology and expansionism. Miriam Silverberg uses sources such as movie magazines, ethnographies of the homeless, and the most famous photographs from this era to capture the spirit, textures, and language of a time when the media reached all classes, connecting the rural social order to urban mores. Employing the concept of montage as a metaphor that informed the organization of Japanese mass culture during the 1920s and 1930s, Silverberg challenges the erasure of Japanese colonialism and its legacies. She evokes vivid images from daily life during the 1920s and 1930s, including details about food, housing, fashion, modes of popular entertainment, and attitudes toward sexuality. Her innovative study demonstrates how new public spaces, new relationships within the family, and an ironic sensibility expressed the attitude of Japanese consumers who identified with the modern as providing a cosmopolitan break from tradition at the same time that they mobilized for war.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92462-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. By Way of a Preface: Defining Erotic Grotesque Nonsense
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    On May 14, 1932, Charlie Chaplin arrived in Japan. The following evening the prime minister of Japan was assassinated by members of the armed forces. These two events were not coincidental: Naval Lieutenant Koga Kiyoshi, abetted by a group of naval cadres, army officers, and civilians, had originally intended to mount their attack at a reception for Chaplin planned by Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi. These activists, eager to ingest a nativist Yamato spirit into politics, recognized the charged political nature of mass culture, as the court testimony of the ringleader revealed: Chaplin was to be murdered, in order to facilitate...


    • Japanese Modern within Modernity
      (pp. 13-48)

      I place the years of ″erotic grotesque nonsense″ within the global modern culture of the 1920s and 1930s, and I position the Japanese modern culture of those decades within a Japanese modernity stretching from the state-sponsored modernization policies of the Meiji era into the late twentieth century. In distinguishing betweenmodernandpostmodern, and amongmodernism,modernization, andmodernity, I agree in part with John Frow′s distinctions. For Frow,modernismrefers to ″a bundle of cultural practices, some of them adversarial″;modernizationis ″an economic process with social and cultural implications″; andmodernity, overlapping with the modernization process, is ″a...


    • 1 The Modern Girl as Militant (Movement on the Streets)
      (pp. 51-72)

      The Modern Girl makes only a brief appearance in our histories of prewar Japan. She is a glittering, decadent, middle-class consumer who, through her clothing, smoking and drinking, flaunts tradition in the urban playgrounds of the late 1920s. Arm in arm with her male equivalent, themobo(Modern Boy), and fleshed out in the Western flapper′s garb of the roaring twenties, she engages inginbura(Ginza-cruising). Yet by merely equating the Japanese Modern Girl with the flapper we do her a disservice, for the Modern Girl was not on a Western trajectory. Moreover, during the modern years when this female,...

    • 2 The Café Waitress Sang the Blues
      (pp. 73-107)

      The Japanese café waitress was the working-class embodiment of the Modern Girl and as such she sang the blues. Let me elaborate. The Modern Girl was defined as promiscuous and autonomous for two reasons. First of all, women were now on the streets as workers and/or as women demanding rights and, secondly, male critics found a variety of new ″modern″ mores and projected their fears onto this Modern Girl. And just as the Modern Girl could and can be viewed in two ways—as a middle-class consumer or as a politicized working woman—the café waitress can be studied from...

    • 3 Friends of the Movies (From Ero to Empire)
      (pp. 108-142)

      The chatty movie magazineEiga no Tomo(Friends of the movies), which first appeared in January 1931, offered a vision of modern, everyday gestures to its readers. In its monthly illustrated narratives of the private practices of stars and starlets, in its gossipy accounts of scenes on movie sets, and in its sensational ads for foreign and Japanese movies, the magazine firmly established moviemaking and moviegoing as embedded inseikatsu, with some meaningful shifts in emphasis over the decade. A close chronological reading of select material from the magazine from 1931 through 1941 reveals a transition from a focus on...

    • 4 The Household Becomes Modern Life
      (pp. 143-174)

      The photo-essay, ″The Real Way to Eat Western Food,″ in the February 1923 issue ofShufu no Tomo(Friend of the housewife), led an unsmiling middle-aged woman in kimono through the stages of a meal that was to be fantasized by the housewife-consumer. This began with the placement of a napkin in her lap preparatory to sipping soup and ended with the use of a finger bowl. Such montage was a model for countless narratives inFriend of the Housewifethat introduced new practices into Japanese culture during the modern years, although the word ″Western″ would disappear from these articles....

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)

    • 1 Asakusa Eroticism
      (pp. 177-202)

      When I say that Asakusa was honky-tonk, as when I say that the Japanese café waitress sang the blues, I am not being literal. I am referring to a similarity in atmosphere and to some extent, context. In the American South of the 1940s,honky-tonkreferred to small tough bars that catered to white working-class customers who came for the prostitutes and for the syncopated rhythms of the ″honk tonk″ music. Thus the term honky-tonk could refer to the establishment, or to its music—which emphasized rhythm over melody. It could also be used as an adjective, to refer to...

    • 2 Down-and-Out Grotesquerie
      (pp. 203-230)

      Asakusa grotesquerie must be defined by the tensions embodied in the coexistence of dire poverty with leisure, of resistance with surveillance, of unprecedented (capitalist and anticapitalist) attitudes with older forms of relationships, and of desperation with humor. Although it was a playground for those enriched by capitalism, it was also the home of Tokyo′s most down-and-out.

      The speaking orangutan and the giant Serbian imagined by Iwasaki Akira evoke two commonly noted aspects of the grotesque: the sideshow freak and the grossly oversized or deformed. We have now expanded the connotations oferobeyond manifestations and sensual consummations of physical desire,...

    • 3 Modern Nonsense
      (pp. 231-258)

      In September 1931, the critic Iijima Tadashi defined the true nonsense film as ″nearly meaningless.″ The director Itami Mansaku disagreed. Although he had been proclaimed the king of nonsense, he refused to see himself as a specialist in the nonsense film. Moreover, unlike others, he did not emphasize the influence of the slapstick of Mack Sennett, possibly because he was too well aware that ″nothing″ was not going on. In the words of Itami, in ″Considerations on the New Period Film,″ the nonsense film could not be dismissed as ″mere fun″; intellectual, artistic, social, and moral issues had to be...

  10. Freeze Frames (An Epilogue in Montage)
    (pp. 259-270)

    Tempo (1931)A scene in the filmMadamu to Nyōbo(Madam and the wife), directed by Gosho Heinosuke, highlights the truth that woman′s eroticization during the 1920s and into the 1930s was emblematic of modernity. Our hero is overwhelmed by the freewheeling behavior of the women in the jazz ensemble gathered in the house next door to him in the suburbs. But it is the song played by the neighboring Mammy′s Jazz Band—″The Era ofSpeed″—that punctuates an equally important aspect of the Japanese conceptualization of the modern by August of 1931, when the film was released. The...

  11. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 271-272)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 273-326)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 327-344)
  14. Index
    (pp. 345-369)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 370-370)