Heroes in Japanese popular culture are a global phenomenon with a complex genealogy descended from juvenile fiction of the Meiji period. In Meiji Japan, numerous intellectuals and middle-class reformers influenced by the ideas of Thomas Carlyle extolled the importance of hero worship as essential for both the initiation of boys into men, and the greater mission of modernizing Japan.
This presentation will examine hero myths in late Meiji period juvenile fiction through a close textual analysis of boys’ adventure and hero novels. The study reveals that the promotion of heroism in juvenile fiction contributed to a misogynist view of women, rooted in the fear of a regressive return to a state of maternal nurturing and dependence, since femininity was perceived as inimical to the nation. In the conflation of the hero with the nation in the search for a transitional object in adolescent development in Meiji Japan, women and femininity become rejected through the process of object-splitting in the ideological construction of hyper¬masculine heroes as models for emulation and identification.
Jason G. KARLIN is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies and the Institute of Social Science at the University of Tokyo. He specializes in the cultural history of modern Japan, and has previously published on masculinities in his article “The Gender of Nationalism: Competing Masculinites in Meiji Japan,” The Journal of Japanese Studies 28.1 (Winter 2002). He is currently preparing a manuscript entitled The Empire of Fashion: Gender and Nationalism in Prewar Japan.