Reviving Masculinity in Postwar Japan
¯Emergent Bodybuilding Culture As a Form of Male Physical Culture¯
On September 2, 1945, when the Instrument of Surrender was signed, Japan became a defeated and occupied country. Inflation and the extreme post-war lack of commodities resulted in near-starvation among the Japanese public. Under such circumstances, the Japanese people’s first impression of the U.S. occupation army was not of wartime “devils”, but of people who were "gentlemanly", with “a good physique”, and “an abundance of high-quality goods". Japan was consumed by humiliation and envy toward the United States, and these emotions guided its efforts to revive Japan after the war.
One sub-culture that emerged during these efforts was bodybuilding culture. Having been defeated, Japanese men set out to obtain Western physiques to reconstruct their own national consciousness through bodybuilding. Indeed, Body Building magazine, which was first published with the establishment of the Japanese Bodybuilding Association, opened as follows, “Promotion of bodybuilding should be seriously considered as a means of remodeling the bodies of the Japanese race. It is not some passing whim, it is a concerted movement to remodel the bodies of the Japanese people, in whom an ethnic consciousness is seriously lacking”. (Body Building, December 1955)
The bodybuilding culture resulting from the post-war humiliation and envy felt toward the United States seemed to involve a dynamic referred to as "postcolonial muscle" by Douglas Brown (2013). That is, the bodybuilding culture healed a national identity broken by the U.S. occupation, allowing a new national masculinity to arise. We could consider the “reviving masculinity” that emerged in this way as one aspect of the new masculinity apparent in postwar Japan.