Organized Panel Session
What does it mean to be an American military man in Japan? Whereas previous scholars (i.e. Frühstück 2008; Higate 2012) have looked at how foreign soldiers in America’s empire engage with US military masculinity, this paper examines how other masculinities in the empire affect American troops. Using ethnographic and textual analyses of courses and publications on Japanese culture at American bases throughout Japan, I argue that the US military in Japan conceptualizes and appropriates Japanese masculinity for imperialist ends. On the one hand, base cultural orientations and materials present typical Orientalist narratives about a passive nation with an effeminate culture, where local women are readily available and local men offer no competition for them. However, the very “soft sessions” that teach troops about Japanese culture also infantilize those troops by harping on their helplessness in the face of a foreign culture. Furthermore, base culture and language instructors—usually Japanese women—treat troops like schoolchildren, effectively feminizing them even as the courses feminize the culture. On the other hand, many bases depict US troops as heirs to the samurai, using (an American fantasy of) Japanese masculinity to reaffirm that of the Americans while simultaneously erasing Japan’s own military males, the men of the Japan Self Defense Forces. Following Belkin (2012), I contend that the US military’s contradictory applications of Japanese masculinity assist troops in the maintenance of empire by both naturalizing US deployment to Japan and framing troops’ encounters with local people and culture in gendered hierarchies that discourage personal connections.