Publication Details

“Kissing Is a Symbol of Democracy!” Dating, Democracy and Romance in Occupied Japan 1945-1952, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 19(3), September 2010, 508-35.


Japan’s defeat at the end of its fifteen years’ war in 1945 saw widespread changes to the family and gender system. Women were given political rights for the first time and were recognised as independent agents at work, in the home and in their romantic relationships. Whereas war-time ideology had brought about the “death of romance” in popular culture, with the relaxation of censorship at the war’s end, there was a sudden proliferation in discussion about the qualities of the “new” or “modern” couple and the popular press saw the rise of an eclectic range of “experts” offering advice on the proper conduct of romance between the sexes. Sexologists, medical practitioners, film critics and professors of European literature all vied with each other to proffer advice on the “democratic” conduct of male-female relations. Rather than censor this new discourse of love and sex, in an attempt to encourage Japanese men to be more chivalrous toward women, the Occupation authorities required film-makers to develop romantic story lines (featuring hand-holding, kissing and “dating” couples) and Hollywood and European movies were promoted as scripts for the conduct of heterosexual romance. This paper looks at the impact of the Occupation on Japanese ideas about heterosexual courtship and romance through an analysis of a range of popular culture texts published in Japan between 1946 and 1952 and questions whether this discursive shift was entirely rhetorical or whether we can discern a shift in the conduct of relations between the sexes.



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