Akiko Takeyama - Department of Anthropology, University of Kansas
This talk highlights the underground world of Japan’s increasingly popular host club scene, where mostly young, working-class men “sell” romance, love, and sometimes sex to indulge their female clients’ fantasy, often for exorbitant sums of money. I explore this commercialization of feelings, emotions, and romantic relationships - what I call “affect economy”- in the context of Japan’s recent socioeconomic restructuring, a reaction to globalization that is reshaping the nation’s labor and commodity forms. Based on ethnographic fieldwork I conducted in Tokyo between 2003 and 2005, I argue that selfhood, lifestyles, and social relationships have become commodifiable at the intersection of Japan’s postindustrial consumer culture and neoliberal globalization. For my talk I intend to illustrate how hosts and their clients mutually seduce one another to foster a commodified form of romance whereby both parties seek alternative lives and cultivate their desirable selves - potentially successful entrepreneurial men and sexually attractive women - while simultaneously masking gender subordination, social inequality, and the exploitative nature of the affect economy in Japan. In so doing, I illuminate how mutual seduction between hosts and their clients intertwines with Japan’s neoliberal policymaking and governance that similarly capitalizes on and mobilizes individual hopes, dreams, and self-motivations to satisfy both their own and national interests. In turn, I theorize seduction as a form of power that entails suggestive speech and bodily acts employed to entice the other person(s) into acting for both the seducer’s and the seducee(s)’ ends. Thus, seduction is, I argue, neither a mere sexual temptation nor a sinful deception, but a ubiquitous yet unstructured tactic that institutions and individuals alike employ to manipulate the other and shape power dynamics. In essence, the art of seduction is a form of social governance-at-a-distance and also a means of speculative accumulation of capital.