Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Paternal invisibility

Tackling paternal invisibility after 1945 involves a reversal of the structural, aesthetic, and linguistic processes through which men and labour have been methodically removed from the home, and a discussion of how this removal has expressed itself as men’s social power in both “lived experience and fantasy” (Tosh & Roper, 1991). This removal occurred in multiple ways, reaching back, as Sawayama Mikako has shown, to the 1800s. Sawayama’s work with childcare diaries (ikuji nikki) published in parenting magazines from the late Meiji period observed that, as mothers uniformly came to replace fathers as the authors of these diaries, “paternal contributions to child rearing” were soon no longer recorded at all, and the fathers themselves came to be less archivally readable (Sawayama 1991).

Christopher Gerteis has observed a similar process in the stories of railway workers or makkuro papa (soot-covered fathers) in the 1950s (Gerteis 2011, 141). These sooty men – categorized by their profession and their status as “papa” - were gradually replaced by middle-class, aspirational blue-collar workers, for whom the visible grime of labour was not something they were expected to bring home. Instead, they carried nice clean wage packets into the home, which promised, although rarely delivered, the spoils of middle-class consumer life. In the 1970s, the steady, postwar progress of tanshin funin contracts fuelled the cultural resonance and status surrounding paternal absence as company workers moved to distant company outposts in order to compete for promotion. Meanwhile, itinerant manual labourers working outside the security of monthly salaries, went wherever there was work, at times far away from home. The retreat of labour was also part of the reduction of the home “to its most basic function in an industrial society: a space of rest” (Sand 2005). This was an inherently problematic idea that gave the home the unachievable status of a “utopian retreat,” which only existed, as Tamara Hareven argues, “in the imagination of social reformers and social scientists,” most of whom were men (Hareven, 1977). However, there is a distinct gender imbalance in the idea of the home as rest, where men were imagined as the returning workers in need of rest, while the unsalaried work of women enabled their relaxation.

The only systematic removal of women’s labour appears in the rapid decline of homebirths. This was part of a wider global trend towards more medicalised childbirth: in 1950, Japanese women laboured in the baby boom and 95 percent of all recorded births took place at home, by 1960 this had dropped to 50 percent, plummeting to just 4 percent in 1970 (JICA 2004). At the same time, as Kathleen Uno writes, this period fostered “the ascendance of motherhood,” which constructed and idealised mothering as a particular and all-consuming occupation; the term sengyō shufu (professional housewife) became emblematic of this “ascendance” (Uno 19##). Yet, according to Uno, the image of the professional housewife, and the bright, convenient, and peaceful home her image came to represent, relied on “the high and late postwar image of the Japanese male – a man in a dark blue suit commuting by train to a company, an actor in the public world, rather than a father or husband in the private world of the home" (Ibid). This reliance was more than financial dependence, it was a visual gendering of productive spaces, framed as the natural order of things. Unsurprisingly, many of the recent studies of men outside the workplace have focused on threats to employment. Tom Gill’s work on homelessness is emblematic of this. Developing Gill’s work is Emma Cook’s work on freeters in contemporary Japan, which interrogates the masculine identity work done by having, or not having, a permanent salaried job.

Jordan Sand has explored the genealogy of a natural-seeming division between home and work through nineteenth-century changes in academic and popular conceptions of where family life happened. He recounts the political projects of Meiji Era (1868-1912) thinkers, architects, and oligarchs and their “modern imagining[s] of domestic space,” in particular, the ways in which “the milieu of the dwelling” and the “flourishing of discourse around the home” was integral to the production of a bourgeois culture deemed fitting for Japan as a globally competitive, hygienic, and healthy nation. Sand narrates how the home in its architecture, space, spatial relations, rituals, and daily life coalesced into a prescription of what a modern and successful home was, feeding into the myth that there was something singular, something “Japanese,” about a certain kind of home and a certain kind of family. For Sand, men are the slogan writers, the town planners, and the historians; they do not experience or embody home. So where are the fathers? Sand clearly sees the home as a point of architectural and emotional connection between people, sex, and space, but he does not complicate “gender” beyond its consignment to a women’s issue and, important for this project, fails to explore how, as Gorman Murray argues, home “is also a key site for masculine identity work" (Gorman Murray 2008).

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