electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies

Book Review 4 in 2010
First Published in ejcjs on
20 April 2010

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Think Global, Fear Local


Joyce Gelb

City University of New York

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Leheny, David (2009) Think Global, Fear Local: Sex Violence and Anxiety in Contemporary Japan, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-8014-7534-4. 230 pages including index.

David Leheny has written a provocative and interesting book about politics and society in contemporary Japan. His thesis is that a highly anxiety prone Japan, reacting to events after 9/11 and others more specific to Asia, created responses out of proportion to the actual threats. The sense of crisis – that the national government was not sufficiently responsive – was heightened by inadequate initial reaction to the 1995 earthquake, the role of the terrorist group Aum, economic downturn and stalled reform, as well as rising power elsewhere in Asia. A second major theme relates to the role of changing international norms and laws as interpreted by Japan with regard to specific policies. Leheny argues that increasing policies of control, and domestic as well as international security, require villains. He coins the clever term 'glocalization' ( p. 187) to suggest the interplay between international and domestic norms.

Leheny examines how Japanese policy makers have constructed certain norms to exploit national fears: specifically child prostitution and pornography and international terrorism. Among the examples of selective policy making he offers is that of enjo kōsai (compensated dating). He points to the focus on this issue rather than on sex tourism; which may be far more significant in terms of its implications for Japanese society. Leheny traces the origins of policy toward abused children and prostitutes as a basis for examining the 1999 laws on child pornography and child prostitution. One interesting point he makes is that a 1957 anti-prostitution law contributed to the rise of compensated dating by permitting telephone clubs and non professionals in the 'field' while banning other sex related activities (p. 69). A key aspect of his analysis is to show that the teenage girls involved in sex for money were initially prosecuted as symbols of a society gone astray, while their male customers were not charged at all. The author demonstrates that the concern about these phenomena appeared far out of proportion to actual societal incidence of the behavior; he estimates that only 10 percent of young girls were involved (p. 72). I am not sure whether this number is indeed low; does comparable teen girls' behavior exists in other nations?

The second major issue Leheny considers is that of the use of self defense and use of military force, ostensibly barred by the Japanese constitution. He seeks to show that concerns about Japanese vulnerability were heightened by 'suspicious' boats in Japanese waters and threats from North Korea (including the very real abductions in earlier years from Japan). The Japanese response to these perceived threats was to centralize more control in the central government, crack down on new religions and provide greater support to the alliance with the United States, manifested by deploying troops in Afghanistan. The argument here is that an 'unintended consequence' (p. 25) was increased militarization in Japan.

The emphasis on selective policy making is very well documented and provides fascinating reading. But, I do have several concerns. First, though Leheny discusses the role of international norms and laws on Japanese policy, he does not credit the work of others (Gelb 2003; Mackie 2003; Chan-Tiberghian 2004) who have done extensive prior research documenting this phenomenon. Second, the methodology needs further explanation. Leheny says he has interviewed 'contacts' (p. 21) which he had – how many, who were they, how representative were they? This leads to a further issue. There is little discussion here of the actual policy making process, only the outcomes. Who was involved – bureaucrats, Diet members, NGOs? In the latter regard, there is no mention of womenfs groups , who played a significant role in the adoption of the 1999 anti-prostitution and anti-pornography laws. Fewer personal asides and experiences would contribute to a more scholarly analysis; for example, 'my parents were liberals and opposed the Vietnam war' (p. 163) – these tend to foreground the author, not the issues.

Because the focus is solely on Japan, a brief comparative perspective would be illuminating. The advent of the DPJ as dominant actor in Japanese politics has also presumably altered some of the policy related to militarization; hopefully this aspect will be explored in future work. With regard to the interplay of norms and rationality, who in the final analysis, are we to judge?

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Chan-Tiberghian, Jennifer (2004) Gender and Human Rights: Global Norms and Domestic Networks, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Gelb, Joyce (2003) Gender Policies in Japan and the United States: Comparing Women?fs Movements Rights and Politics, New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Mackie, Vera (2003) Feminism in Modern Japan, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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About the Author

Professor Joyce Gelb received her Ph.D. from New York University. Her research and scholarly concerns deal with feminist mobilization and gender policy in comparative perspective, particularly in the United States, Japan and the UK. She has also written on interest groups in urban and national politics in the United States. She has received grants from the Aspen Institute, the Ford and AT&T and Ms Foundations, the US Japan Foundation and the Social Science Research Council, the National Science Foundation and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. In June 2004, she received a two year grant from the American Association of University Women to undertake collaborative research with a visiting scholar at City College. She has been a visiting professor at Yale, the Associated Kyoto Program and Tokyo University in Japan in recent years.

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Copyright: Joyce Gelb
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