Homosexuality, Orientalism, and Japan
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An intensely personal yet jaggedly polytextual account of the AIDS panic that swept through Japan in the mid 1980s. While on sabbatical to write a book about the literature of the atomic bomb, Treat, a homosexual and an assistant professor of Asian languages and literature at the University of Washington, Seattle, runs smack into the AIDS epidemic, which he had imagined that he had left behind in the US. His account of the Japanese reaction to this tragedy is related in a complex narrative that deals with issues of sexual orientation, Orientalism, and the allure of Japan to the Western scholar. On one level this work is a very conventional, almost chatty memoir of a gay man exploring another culture. Treat takes us with him on a tour of Japan’s homosexual underground and explicitly describes his encounters with both local men and fellow tourists. Major themes here are his coming of age as a homosexual, his tenuous relationship with a lover in Seattle, and his growing sense of dread about his own health. This relatively straightforward narrative is constantly shattered, however, by intrusive bits of text gathered from a wide range of sources. The hypocrisy of the Japanese government’s response to the AIDS crisis, for example, is revealed in frequent bulletin-like bursts of quotations from official sources. First it is denied that Japan has any homosexuals at all, later that Japanese homosexuals participate in hardcore sex, use drugs, or are promiscuous. As the epidemic progresses, the government is forced to recognize its existence but becomes increasingly xenophobic and describes the disease as a foreign threat. The personal narrative is further splintered by the insertion of texts from such disparate sources as Thomas Mann, Ruth Benedict, Roland Barthes, and Julia Kristeva, which explore the relationship between Western scholars and the East. Should attract those interested in gay studies, Orientalism, or Japan, and who have a high tolerance for what Treat terms his “wilful meanderings” of style.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-19-510923-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999