$0 eBook: Intimate Japan - Ethnographies of Closeness and Conflict @ Amazon


by Allison Alexy, Emma E. Cook, S. P. F. Dale & 9 more, 284 pages, published Oct 31, 2018

Amazon's Description:

How do couples build intimacy in an era that valorizes independence and self-responsibility? How can a man be a good husband when full-time jobs are scarce? How can unmarried women find fulfillment and recognition outside of normative relationships? How can a person express their sexuality when there is no terminology that feels right? In contemporary Japan, broad social transformations are reflected and refracted in changing intimate relationships. As the Japanese population ages, the low birth rate shrinks the population, and decades of recession radically restructure labor markets, Japanese intimate relationships, norms, and ideals are concurrently shifting.

This volume explores a broad range of intimate practices in Japan in the first decades of the 2000s to trace how social change is becoming manifest through deeply personal choices. From young people making decisions about birth control to spouses struggling to connect with each other, parents worrying about stigma faced by their adopted children, and queer people creating new terms to express their identifications, Japanese intimacies are commanding a surprising amount of attention, both within and beyond Japan. With ethnographic analysis focused on how intimacy is imagined, enacted, and discussed, the volume's chapters offer rich and complex portraits of how people balance personal desires with feasible possibilities and shifting social norms.

Intimate Japan will appeal to scholars and students in anthropology and Japanese or Asian studies, particularly those focusing on gender, kinship, sexuality, and labor policy. The book will also be of interest to researchers across social science subject areas, including sociology, political science, and psychology.

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  • +3 votes

    Recent book, good find. This social shift can happen to anywhere else in the world next.

    • +3 votes

      You think we're turning Japanese?

    • +19 votes

      Japanese culture in the main is very formal & different to Australian culture. Especially so when it comes to intimacy & work.

      Important topics are not discussed unlike here, so many I have got to know erroneously think everyone holds the same opinion, just like them. Challenging another's thinking or beliefs is not accepted.

      Intimacy is discouraged in public. I am unable to detect relationships when meeting groups there, where relationships between couples would be much more apparent in most Western countries. As an outsider, I don't understand the subtle patterns of building intimate relationships in their culture.

      A rice farmer friend from a tiny mountain village just sent a postcard of Maiko (trainee Geisha). The 2 Kimono clad women are facing away, observing the view. People here think they should be facing us, so we can see their faces. It is a different appreciation of subtle beauty (unlike our more crass & seductive bikini postcards)!

      Work has a very different relationship there compared to here - with a transition away from a "job for life" & being willing to die from overwork - Karōshi (過労死). The relationship to your superiors is generally unquestioned & unquestioning. And suicide is sadly too common if you can't find the position you have spent years training for since childhood…

      People in small businesses seem to work until they can no longer - many I met in their mid 80s worked 6 days a week. Even in retirement many are very busy with hobbies & study.

      I've met men in suits sleeping rough after losing jobs - as it is a great dishonour. Giving out free meals & clothes (collected from fellow Foreigners), I have to build good relationships before they will share my simple gifts. They may sleep on cardboard in the street, but they are generally proud & don't accept handouts.

      Fascinating topic, but likely not very translatable to here. Looking forward to reading their observations.

      • +6 votes

        The 2 Kimono clad women are facing away, observing the view. People here think they should be facing us, so we can see their faces.

        Tinder in Japan was unbearable for this reason. Not exaggerating when I say 1/30 profiles had a clear face shot. At least half didn't even show themselves at all, and the rest were looking away or behind masks and filters.

        • +11 votes

          Interesting. Never tried Tinder - even here. But could imagine the difficulties in Japan.

          When a womderful young Japanese woman told me "I really like you" - I was embarrassed as it may have been simply a lost in translation moment. It seemed far to forward in Japan.
          Introducing me to all her friends, even arranging work designing t-shirts (she loved my designs) in her small town would have been definite signs, if I was a Japanese guy. On me it was lost. She was not happy! We never recovered from that. But I was just visiting her Onsen town over busy Golden Week.

          My rice farmer friend tried to marry me to his attractive daughter. I am much older than her & found that weird, but we became good friends.
          Naked in the Onsen, he asked what type of porn I liked… Strangely that can be discussed, but how do you answer that?

          Relationships can be hard enough to understand in our own culture😉

          • +2 votes


            but how do you answer that?

            The appropriate answer is "shokushu goukan" in keeping with broader social mores.

            Remember that:

            Challenging another's thinking or beliefs is not accepted.

          • +2 votes


            When a womderful young Japanese woman told me "I really like you"

            I've always found it interesting that the common Japanese way of saying "love" is literally translated as "really like". ie. 'dai-suki'.

            While there is a word for 'I love you' in Japanese ('ai-shite-ru') it's seen as being way too intense to say (comes off as sounding like 'I love you with all my heart, all my soul and will be with you for eternity' etc.) and something people would never say unless they were literally about to die or they were starring in a romance drama.

      • -1 vote

        many I have got to know erroneously think everyone holds the same opinion, just like them

        Is that entirely correct? You make them sound like simpletons who fail to consider the possibility that other people have opinions different to them.

        • +4 votes

          If people don't discuss things - how would they know what others think. And Japanese culture discourages meaningful discussion - to avoid offending.

          So as they don't know - it is easy to assume others, who seem like them, have the same thoughts. The (creation & other) stories told are that Japanese are similar, different to others, & are special.

          As an outsider, many people from different backgrounds open up to me. That has been my interest, studies, & career. It may give different insights, but is still limited.

          Happens in many groups, even on OzBargain!
          I challenged a comment last week that most Ozbargainers are unemployed (like that person). I simply asked what proof there is for that assertion.

          We generally don't meet socially & don't usually ask other Ozbargainers about personal issues. So it's easy to make assumptions without much basis.

          It's what groups generally do to maintain cohesion. It's others who are different😉


            @Infidel: You claim the Japanese have an aversion to meaningful discussion "to avoid offending". Does it not logically flow from this claim that the underlying Japanese reasoning for avoiding discussions (and therefore offending) is an implicit acknowledgement that differing opinions are likely to exist…?

            Put another way, if all Japanese assume that all other Japanese hold the same opinion, then surely the risk of offending is effectively nil and there is no reason to avoid meaningful discussions.

            • +2 votes

              @Pacolito: Best to explain that in Japan😉
              Group dynamics are not my area.

              A Japanese way, probably since the Edo period, was not to pry into others affairs.

              People were gathered together in large numbers hundreds of years ago in Tokyo, living right by each other. So personal privacy had to be created by no one seeing what was in front of them.

              This still applies now.

              Homeless live in blue (tarpaulin) huts in city parks. They sweep around their huts, hang up a clock, line up shoes by the entrance as they would in a normal home… But are invisible.

              So people live an illusion of sameness. We do that here. Not asking, not offending / challenging is more to maintain the group. It's a collective culture.

              Cohesion often requires overlooking difference within the in-group, and playing up difference in the out-group. Anyone for an election😀

              • -1 vote

                @Infidel: I'm not quite sure what relevance that has to what we're talking about.

                But it seems to me the Japanese aversion to prying and imposing opinions on others, and perhaps even having "meaningful discussions", is based on an acceptance of differing opinions – not the absence of any conception that they may exist.

                In other words, you say the Japanese are ignorant to the possibility that people around them have opinions different to them. I say it is the exact opposite of this, that the Japanese accept that those around them may have different opinions and therefore avoid discussing the issues to avoid conflict and maintain harmony.


                  @Pacolito: Differing opinions of individuals are not of much importance in a collective culture. It doesn't matter.
                  That is a big difference to our individualistic ways.

                  If you live in a culture that does not reward individual thought, why be bothered with what others really think?

                  Westerners & their thinking are a curiosity to many Japanese I've met. Traditional storytelling (I trained in some Rakugo, appearing on TV) tells people not to be a smart arse, be gentle & polite to others, etc. If a Foreigner asks why things are the way they are - give an answer even if you don't know - to be polite & help the visitor. Japanese often do not know why they do or believe things - they just do. No complex thought required.

                  The relevance of the history of Japan is on the stories, beliefs & thinking of its people now.
                  Just the same as the stories we choose to highlight informs our ways of thinking here.

                  I was putting my own observations on many trips to Japan. Others can give better explanations for reasons behind the thinking, beliefs, & behaviors.

                  Just experience it!


                    @Infidel: Now you are claiming the Japanese are not "bothered with what others really think". I think you are wildly incorrect on this point also.

                    I think Japanese are very much concerned with what others might think, especially if those others might think something different. So much so, in fact, that individual Japanese suppress their own ideas in order not to offend others who may hold different ideas. That is very different to your claims that Japanese people fail to comprehend the possibility that others hold different opinions, and that they are simply not bothered with what others think.

                    Your observations and analysis seems to reduce the Japanese people to absurdly ignorant and uninterested simpletons.


                      @Pacolito: Don't just theorize…
                      You just don't seem to understand from inside your own frame of thinking.

                      Go! Just experience Japan beyond the bright lights! And read the book.

                      The Japanese are usually wonderful people I highly respect.

                      • -2 votes

                        @Infidel: How wonderful can a people be who allegedly care nothing for the opinions others and cannot even comprehend that people might even hold opinions different to their own?

                        • +3 votes

                          @Pacolito: Most in Japan would not waste their time with such questions from such an individualistic perspective. It would make no sense.

                          They do care for others, but maybe not the minutia of their thoughts & personal justifications that you think is important.

            • +1 vote

              @Pacolito: "Does it not logically flow from this claim that the underlying Japanese reasoning for avoiding discussions (and therefore offending) is an implicit acknowledgement that differing opinions are likely to exist…?"

              Correct, and they have also realised that humans are not very adaptive to hearing an alternate view , especially when it challenges their own belief(s). If anything, it is a more advanced and defensive, (if more complicated) social structure than our more linear but freely expressive culture.
              There's numerous articles on this particular quirk of human psychology, but none really address the fact that sometimes having a mild disagreement might have ended up with you getting disembowelled in 17th century Japan.

              To paraphrase Jordan Petersen “In order to be have an opinion, you have to risk being offensive."


                @Magpye: Years ago, I designed & conducted a research experiment into different outcomes on a task by those from Collective & Individual cultures, in University students. I had not really considered this cross-cultural issue before. It had critical acclaim.

                Those from an Individual culture (Aussies) performed at higher output when their individual output was visible, and Collective culture (North Asian) when their individual output was combined (hidden) with others.

                The result confirmed "Social Loafing Theory" - the phenomenon of a person exerting less effort to achieve a goal when he or she works in a group than when working alone - but interestingly limited its use in collective cultures.

                I reported my observed results, implications when teaching different groups of students at Uni, but did not suggest the possible underlying reasons, simply the support / cultural limitations of the Theory. Research in 1989 by Christopher P. Earley suggested collectivist thinking reduces the social loafing effect. Exactly why that happens is a different question - outside my field.

                As I did in my original comment above - when reporting my informal observations with a small (non-random) group of Japanese men. It was interesting, but may not apply beyond the select group I spent a long time to get to know very well. It has taken years with some - a very rewarding journey.

                Delving into the underlying cause may be pointless (the Japanese way of offering an answer the Foreigner wants to hear) & may offend! I was only a curious traveller.

                As with all enmeshed in a culture, they are unlikely to report why they behave this way, falling back on cultural norms & stories about their culture to try to explain what they don't notice & can't explain. As we do.


                @Magpye: For the context of our discussion, perhaps the quotation should read "In order to express an opinion, you have to risk being offensive".

  • +4 votes

    After kids, sex life is over. That's the truth about sex life with a Japanese partner.

  • +4 votes

    Japan is intriguing when it comes to relationships. Nearly every married Boomer that I met had their marriages arranged for them and had usually been on 2-3 dates before signing the dotted line at the local city office. Open intimacy was never displayed but many couples seemed to have a very good connection and sense of understanding of each other. While there is still arranged marriage today, the practice is much less common. The results being that parents have very little advice to pass onto their children when it comes to finding and developing relationships. Japan's very low marriage and birth rate are manifestations of this change in culture. As for sex, I always think Japanese seem similar to Al Bundy. Grumpy husbands always spurning their wives advances in preference for young women they can spend 10000 Yen on for 25 minutes.

    • +6 votes

      Chapter 1 covers some of these interesting aspects, & the Western fascination / obsession with them.

      Boomers grew up in a very poor period, primitive compared with modern Japan. Old customs were respected. I've met many with arranged marriages.

      I spend time in rural & remote Japan. It is very different to urban areas. Old ways are more likely to be retained.

      Even eating has it's strict rules from long ago, that may not be apparent to the outsider - until you break them.
      Half asleep at breakfast in a remote Shrine, I added soy sauce to my bowl of rice. The women (visiting uni students) at my table gasped in shock, but were too polite to say anything & embarrass a Foreigner. It was as if their parents were at the table disapproving.
      Later I asked & this faux pas was explained. I had done things Japanese children had drummed into them never to do - it is disrespectful to the rice farmer to pollute the white rice by adding almost anything (from Edo period when the rice farmer was just below the Samurai in respect) & only poor people make a meal out of rice by adding soup or sauce.

      With many unwritten rules, there are a lot of unspoken expectations in relationships, especially intimate ones. These presumably shared expectations can keep relationships going along culturally accepted paths, but make any variation unacceptable.

      • +6 votes

        I got the soy sauce on the rice bowl lecture on my second day there. I shrugged my shoulders and suggested they try it. I said if was ok to add wakame or any other furikake I could add soy sauce. I also didn't chase every last piece of udon around the bowl either and I was never concerned about the reactions of others. I love rural Japan, especially during the summer and my times there were never without a hint of sadness that so many villages and small towns were becoming abandoned due to the lure of the cities. To think that so many give up the beautiful old ancestral houses, their communities and traditions for tiny apartments, awful jobs and loneliness of the metro areas.

        • +6 votes

          I cheekily asked - what about curry rice (rice with curry added on top) - something thought of as very Japanese… That's foreign food (introduced by the Portuguese hundreds of years ago, along with popular fried foods) - not Japanese🍛

          Foreigners can usually get away with these type of "errors" in Japan, especially on their first visit. We can be treated like little children who don't know any better - "Japan is too hard for you to understand". It is meant in a nice way.

          When in another culture, I view it through the eyes of a fascinated child. Everything is then fresh & interesting, not viewed as wrong, or needing to defend my own cultural views.

          I like making mistakes in cultures - it teaches me a lot. I sometimes show fascinated locals what I've learnt about their culture. When we're immersed in our own culture - we may not really understand it. That's the advantage of the outsider.

          A child gave me a flower in a village in Myanmar. (I was volunteering there.) I put it in my hair. I knew what to expect… Women stared & men laughed.
          I asked my local friend… "only women wear flowers in their hair - you are a woman!". Such strict gender roles!
          (I pointed to his traditional Longyi - a sarong / skirt in our culture, so he must be a woman…😉
          He strongly defended his masculinity stating women & men tie it completely differently. I also wore the local Longyi, tied correctly in front… not at the side!)


          I felt the same way, especially about the shotenkai (the old shopping districts) which are often quite beautiful and which are becoming displaced by box-top shopping malls. But of course, we did exactly the same thing ourselves, the only difference in Japan is that it happened so quickly that you can still see the remnants of the past.

          I think the people who think that the sexual politics of Japan are just a uniquely cultural quirk are deluding themselves - we have gotten a few more years out of capitalism by inflating credit bubbles, pump-priming migration and digging up stuff and flogging it to China. Once everything goes tits-up here, you'll see the same story play itself out.


          With my rice farmer friend, I visited an abandoned village in mountains near the Japan Sea, way north of Kyoto. The elderly slowly died out or left for nursing homes. No young were left to take over. It was a long way to the nearest shop, school or medical help. A beautiful but remote site. I've visited these sites in different countries. As services are too expensive to provide to few but they are needy, people are often forced out by governments.

          An interesting cooperation to reverse this - between outsiders, Government, & local community I visited… In a mountain village in the Iya Valley in Shikoku, the Chiiori Trust - (click the link to experience the beautiful old farm house) brings in Foreign volunteers to harvest the reeds needed for the thatched roofs, to keep the community viable. They also train in the old crafts like rice straw sandal making. You can stay in the old house & learn about the ways of hidden Japan. The house was bought & restored long ago by writer on Japan Alex Kerr - author of “Lost Japan”.

          (In the book "Hitchhiker's Guide to Japan", Japan is referred to as a hitchhiker's paradise. A wonderful slow way to meet locals - they love to show off their favourite spots - introducing me as their "new friend", & experience rural Japan.
          Japan is a gift giving culture & they are taught to help Foreigners - so hitchhiking is perfect for both parties. Although it is a formal task, with straight posture & clean clothes, & bowing to cars as they pass. You usually can't ask where the driver is going to, they ask you. I name the next town. Only when I am in the car can I show them the local Japanese map & ask where they are going. My usual response is "Me too!". Otherwise the driver will likely drive a long way out of their way to help.)

          Hitching a lift, I was taken up the more remote Iya Valley by 10 guides in training from a museum about this famous Valley. The senior guide recognised me from my day spent learning & drinking tea with him at their museum. They translated from the history expert & paid for my stay. After 2 days experiencing their amazing hospitality & learning so much, they presented me with us$200!! I then camped by the river watching wild monkeys. The next day was spent at the next mountain village experiencing Chiiori. A totally amazing experience!

          Thatching roofs: There needs to be a critical mass of villagers to harvest, store & thatch a different house each year.
          The thatch needs a smoky fire to be lit daily to ensure it lasts (drives off vermin & maintains humidity). But as the elderly have trouble harvesting, carting, & splitting wood - it becomes too difficult. So a metal roof is sometimes installed over the thatch. As more do this, there are not enough people to maintain the village roofs. And it disrupts the ancient collective cooperation in the village.

          Some old houses are rebuilt in remote villages & rented cheap to younger people including Foreigners to reinvigorate their communities. On an Inland Sea island, houses are given over to artists - creating a fantastic international art event.


            @Infidel: "The thatch needs a smoky fire to be lit daily to ensure it lasts."

            And there's the catch. When I went to Takayama I thought it was pretty cool how they had the thatched roofs for the first twenty minutes, but after a while having a smoky fire inside your house wears a bit thin. God only knows what it must do to your lungs.


              @cannedhams: Yes. And the smell lingers in the clothes. I can smell those smoky fires just remembering it. An advantage is there is usually tea brewing above the fire & sweet potato in the coals - always a treat on a cold day.

              This method is used in many countries. I'm sure there are other ways, but that would ruin the authenticity.
              Visiting ancient thatched houses in small islands in the Hebrides (Scotland), I was glad to be back out in the gusty wind & breath again.

              Love Takayama! Visited in different seasons & enjoyed the giant wooden floats being pulled along the streets during the Matsuri.

      • +3 votes

        I'm glad this post has got a lot of comments. I'll read this book next. I've been living in Japan for 3.5 years now and married almost 2 years. I see how a lot of these comments would be true in the big cities, but I see it different in the countryside. It reminded me of the time a friend's dad suggested I marry his daughter within 5 minutes of meeting him, and probably 2 days after meeting her. He was serious. He wanted a partner and opportunity for his daughter.

        There are many meals and food portions sold in the supermarket for one. 独身 dokushin, single, is expected at a consumer level. Since being married I am in charge of finding a suitable partner for all of my wife's single friends. In all cultures, all the good men are currently/presently at work. It is the fault of societies pathway that leads a culture to such a narrow opportunity of relationships. Ants in a nest.

        I hope this book explores solutions to relationship problems that stem from highly populated societies.

        All of the comments here have been a great read


          Since being married I am in charge of finding a suitable partner for all of my wife's single friends.

          Haha, that's great.


    Thanks - enjoying the book👍

  • +1 vote

    Anyone else click this deal title because they wondered if it would be a book they'd want for the articles? :P

  • +3 votes

    One of the more genuinely interesting eBooks I've seen in a while on OzBargain. Thanks.


    Why do the Japanese have the highest suicide rate in the world?

    • +6 votes

      Precision & efficiency?

    • +4 votes

      Not the highest in the world. A lot has changed since Japan was the top. Japan's suicide rate has been dropping since Abe came in and promotion of awareness of suicide and suicide prevention.

      Growing up in Australia, I learned to be good at many things, to be flexible as an employee. In Japan, you specialise, and grow your skills in one area and become very proficient. This is the way it has been done in many countries around the world. When you leave school in Japan, its a completely different world. Loneliness is desolation, and there are hard realities that come with expectation.

      Always look after your friends and the people around you, and prevent those lonely thoughts. There are many avenues to prolong and change your life, correct your situation and no longer end up in that desolation. Look after one another.

      • +1 vote

        Tokyo to the outsider is Japan.
        But it's residents are often from small remote communities around the country. They are separated from family & support, to work long hours with few days holiday to return home. It is very isolating.

        Old people have died in their apartments - some not being discovered for a very long time!! There were reports of pensioners in Hokkaido being so lonely they stole from shops, just so they would have someone to talk to after their arrest. Just sad😢

        Work & after work expectations on them are long and hard. And success is not guaranteed - unlike a "job for life" in the past. Getting to that job is highly competitive - from childhood.

        In my rice farmer friend's village of 200 people, the suicide of a neighbour's daughter was noticeable & tragic. She graduated from a good Kyoto university, but the GFC resulted in no jobs available in her field. It was a great dishonour, met with a far too usual exit.

        Here, there are many options with the flexibility of training towards work & support availability. (As you mentioned.) After the suicide of 2 students in the same course at my Uni, the problem was quickly identified. I was brought in, with others, to help develop solutions.

        My friend's daughter & that girl's friend, gave up on her fashion / wedding business career path & found other work. She & her sister are now teachers in the remote villages near their family. Both are recently married & enjoy life. They had support & understanding from their family & their Father chatted about issues with me. From what I understand, that's far from normal in Japan.

        As open discussion is not encouraged, and people mind their own business - there is no RUOK day, or much in the way of suicide / depression services. Glad to read this is changing👍

        The idea of a suicide forest near Tokyo repulsed me, until I recently revisited South Head in Sydney. With cameras & notices to avoid suicide, and the flowers & memorials… We aren't that different😢

        I was asked by a Kyoto man if it was OK to kill himself. These type of questions don't faze me. We had spent a great day together, and a night with Foreigners eating, drinking & enjoying his company.

        As I do in my travels, I listen & learn. I could sense there was an issue, and waited for him to open up to a stranger like me. Japanese seem to find some Foreigners open & easy to talk with, as long as there isn't a language barrier.

        He was dying of cancer. There was no family to talk with, his religion could only offer traditional ceremonies at a price, and no real support services. He had sold everything & was waiting to die. I was the first person he had opened up to. Very sad. But that has been the stoic Japanese way😢


      Probably a combination of a high stress work culture, onerous social obligations that emphasise the group over the individual, and an associated cultural preference for not drawing attention to one's own suffering (and therefore not discussing one's personal struggles).

      The Japanese have a word for this quiet perseverance, "gaman".

      The BBC did an article on it recently too: http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20190319-the-art-of-perseve...


    Wife is fascinated with jp culture. Will give this a read, thanks op