Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle: The Rules of Scandal in Japan and the United States

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A leader of a global superpower is betrayed by his mistress, who makes public the sordid details of their secret affair. His wife stands by as he denies the charges. Debates over definitions of moral leadership ensue. Sound familiar? If you guessed Clinton and Lewinsky, try again. This incident involved former Japanese prime minister Sosuke Uno and a geisha.

In Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle, Mark D. West organizes the seemingly random worlds of Japanese and American scandal—from corporate fraud to baseball cheaters, political corruption to celebrity sexcapades—to explore well-ingrained similarities and contrasts in law and society. In Japan and the United States, legal and organizational rules tell us what kind of behavior is considered scandalous. When Japanese and American scandal stories differ, those rules—rules that define what’s public and what’s private, rules that protect injuries to dignity and honor, and rules about sex, to name a few—often help explain the differences. In the cases of Clinton and Uno, the rules help explain why the media didn’t cover Uno’s affair, why Uno’s wife apologized on her husband’s behalf, and why Uno—and not Clinton—resigned.

Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle offers a novel approach to viewing the phenomenon of scandal—one that will be applauded by anyone who has obsessed over (or ridiculed) these public episodes.

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Editorial Reviews

Eric Feldman
“This is a wonderful, original, erudite, interesting, creative, and insightful book. Making equal use of quantitative methods and television kitsch, Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle examines the mixture of legal and social norms that play a role in the emergence and resolution of scandals in the U.S. and Japan. Some passages are laugh-out loud funny, others head-scratchingly profound. It will create stir, become the subject of debate, be imitated and admired, subject to careful criticism and bountiful praise.”
James Q. Whitman
“An insider’s knowledge and an outsider’s ironic detachment: this book has it all. Mark West has written a book that is both fun to read and a fundamental contribution to our understanding of law and society in Japan. Not just for Japanologists, Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle is a model of how to understand the underside of modern societies.”—James Q. Whitman, Yale Law School
William Johnston
“This original comparative study of national scandals in Japan and the United States highlights the dynamic relationships that exist between the law, news media, and cultural values in these two countries. West brushes aside many of the usual ‘cultural’ arguments about Japan and the United States, thereby avoiding the tired clichés of  'Japaneseness' so many writers put at the center of studies of cultural difference. What emerges instead is an important and pathbreaking examination of the players who create scandal, the institutions that make up the playing ground, and the rules that control the various scandal ‘games.’”—William Johnston, Wesleyan University


Law & Society Review - Ari Adut
"Secret, Sex, and Spectacle stands out by its lively style, lucidity, and erudition. It should appeal to anyone interested in scandal, Japan, or the interaction of society, culture, and law in norm enforcement. In West's engaging book, scandal both reveals the inner logic of Japanese society and plays a central role in its public life."
Journal of Japanese Studies - Frank K. Upham
"West is . . . encyclopedic in his knowledge of popular culture in both countries and clearly enjoys sharing the juicy parts. . . . [The book] provides intriguing if idiosyncratic portraits of Japanese and American behavior by combining analytic perspectives that are rarely related to each other."
American Journal of Sociology - Mark D. Jacobs
"This contribution to the comparative study of law in everyday life is richly detailed, entertaining, and insightful."
Law & Society Review

"Secret, Sex, and Spectacle stands out by its lively style, lucidity, and erudition. It should appeal to anyone interested in scandal, Japan, or the interaction of society, culture, and law in norm enforcement. In West's engaging book, scandal both reveals the inner logic of Japanese society and plays a central role in its public life."—Ari Adut, Law & Society Review

— Ari Adut

Journal of Japanese Studies

"West is . . . encyclopedic in his knowledge of popular culture in both countries and clearly enjoys sharing the juicy parts. . . . [The book] provides intriguing if idiosyncratic portraits of Japanese and American behavior by combining analytic perspectives that are rarely related to each other."—Fran K. Upham, Journal of Japanese Studies

— Frank K. Upham

American Journal of Sociology

"This contribution to the comparative study of law in everyday life is richly detailed, entertaining, and insightful."—Mark d. Jacobs, American Journal of Socilogy

— Mark D. Jacobs

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226894089
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 1/15/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark D. West is the Nippon Life Professor of Law, director of the Center for Japanese Studies, and director of the Center for International and Comparative Law at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Law in Everyday Japan: Sex, Sumo, Suicide, and Statutes, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Read an Excerpt

Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle The Rules of Scandal in Japan and the United States
By Mark D. West
The University of Chicago Press Copyright © 2006 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-89408-9



Oh what a scandal it was, what a delicious tragedy to befall the leader of a world power. She betrayed him, revealing steamy secrets of their clandestine affair. The press reported the minutiae relentlessly. The wife stood by her man, at least initially. Apologies, public backlash, debates over moral leadership, and outrage in the legislature all played their roles in the drama.

How very American, some groaned, all this fuss about a little sex. But alas, our actors are not Clinton and Lewinsky. With apologies for the bait-and-switch, I'm referring to the 1989 scandal that beset Japanese prime minister Sosuke Uno and his paramour, geisha Mitsuko Nakanishi. The facts of that incident resemble the Clinton affair, but the resulting scandal was quite different. Clinton was outed by the Internet-based Drudge Report; Uno was outed by the Sunday Mainichi tabloid and the Washington Post. Clinton faced criminal charges; prosecutors could not have cared less about Uno. Clinton apologized; Uno did not-but his wife did. Clinton's sins were spelled out in enough detail to clog Internet adult-content filters; Uno's sins were never discussed explicitly. Clinton's party's reaction was mixed; Uno's party abandoned him. Clinton was front- page news even in Japan; Uno was page three at best in his own country until he resigned-something Clinton claimed never to have contemplated. And in the end, the lasting cultural impact of the two scandals differed dramatically: while Clinton left us with the blue dress, the I-did-not-have-sexual-relations-with-that-woman, "the inappropriate relationship," and Lewinsky as a verb, Uno left us, both Americans and Japanese, with a legacy as forgettable as last Tuesday's lunch.

Uno's is not the only Japanese scandal that parallels an American one. America has Richard Jewell, the former Atlanta Olympics security guard falsely accused of setting the bomb he discovered; Japan has Yoshiyuki Kono, the falsely accused victim of a gassing by the Aum Supreme Truth cult in Matsumoto who also reported the incident. America has Enron and WorldCom; Japan has Yamaichi Securities and Snow Brand. Michael Jackson and star-maker Johnny Kitagawa both were accused of illicit sex with boys. Résumé fraud plagues U.S. football coaches and Japanese politicians. America's scandal- plagued prophets are Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker; Japan's are Hogen Fukunaga, who read people's feet, and Koji Takahashi, who, with his followers, treated an ailing man by patting him on the head, even after his body had badly decomposed. America has the Texas cheerleader mom Wanda Holloway, who sought a hit man to kill her daughter's rival; Japan has Mitsuko Yamada, who murdered two-year-old Haruna Wakayama because she was accepted into a prestigious kindergarten and her own daughter was not. In each case, the underlying conduct is roughly comparable, but the ways in which the scandals developed and were perceived differ.

Some scandals have no parallels. Japan has no Jayson Williams, the basketball star accused of shooting his driver; its strict gun laws prevent those incidents, at least among sports stars if not gangsters. Japan has no disgraced Heidi "Hollywood Madam" Fleiss, perhaps because legal (or close enough) prostitutes are easy enough to find. Japan has no rape scandals like those of American boxer Mike Tyson or basketball star Kobe Bryant, as such cases in Japan are usually settled privately.

And what of America? Unlike Japan, America has no corporate scandals involving sokaiya, corporate rabble- rousers who are paid blackmail by corporate executives to keep secrets. America has no Kazuhide Uekusa, an economics professor and celebrity who was convicted of using a mirror to peer up a woman's skirt (which, as we shall see, is more common than you might think). And although America has disgraced politicians, it has no Kiyomi Tsujimoto, who campaigned postscandal (and under a suspended sentence) in a big white van emblazoned with the slogan "I'm sorry."

The differences and similarities between contemporary Japanese and American scandal and the search for patterns that underlie those differences and similarities are the focus of this book. Stated broadly, this book is a study of stories. By looking at Japan in comparison with America, I try to understand our choices of stories-a range of provocative, subversive, moving, maddening, amusing tales-and the forces and guardrails that bring those stories to our collective attention. I explore why scandal stories develop as they do, why in Japan:

Weekly magazines print libelous articles expecting to lose many of the defamation suits that they trigger. Celebrities and other wrongdoers are often exiled from the public as punishment for wrongdoing and can return only when others say so. Underage sex is often not a big deal-except when a teacher is involved. Celebrities hold lengthy press conferences to explain their divorces and philandering. People who are not directly blameworthy quit their jobs to take the rap for others; people who are directly blameworthy often are not punished if they show remorse.

During the exploration, I hope to satisfy some diverse curiosities. Readers interested in Japan will find a new way of thinking about Japanese mass society. Readers interested in the academic side of things, especially in law, business, the social sciences, and media studies will find a new framework for examining scandal. Readers interested in pop culture will find a smorgasbord of movie star rivalries, clandestine love affairs, teenage boy bands, and swimsuit models. I doubt that I'll be able to please all readers at once, but I think that you'll find something interesting in this collision of worlds.

I examine scandal through a unique lens: comparative law. When I say "comparative law," I fear I'll conjure up a vision of green-visored legal wordsmiths poring over German codes for minute differences in wording from French codes. Comparative law once meant something like that to some specialists, but that's not my project. I'm eager to understand scandal better and examine law in context, not gaze at pretty statutes as if they were a collection of foreign stamps. So let me say a bit about what I mean by "comparative" and "law" and how each can help us understand scandal.

1. Comparative. In a 1986 essay entitled "Sex, Money, and Power," Anthony King proposed studying (in Latin that might make purists squirm) "scandology." Through a lively examination of political scandal in the United States and Britain, King constructed a "sketch- map that, with luck, will encourage other budding scandologists to explore further." But King, or at least his sketch-map, was out of luck. As Susan Pharr wrote more than a decade later, "King's call for research that would link issues of official misconduct with larger characteristics of political systems was met with a deafening silence punctuated only rarely by serious investigation."

Perhaps King's call has gone largely unheeded because analyzing another system is hard. Most of what we think we know about scandal comes from King's two targets: the conveniently mother-tongued United Kingdom and the United States. Pundits continue to make comparative gestures to the effect that "Britain has become the unofficial world capital of the salacious politico-sexual scandal." Maybe so. But without analysis of other people's scandals, how would we know?

If the true capital of politico-sexual scandal were Tokyo, Beijing, or Seoul, we might never know, for there is scant English literature on scandal, comparative or otherwise, in any non-Western context. Scandal abounds in Japan, but not the formal study of scandal-even in Japanese. As a Japanese magazine publisher put it in a semi-autobiographical essay, "There are basically no works on scandal in Japan. There are so few reference materials and documents that there might as well be none. To exaggerate a bit, studying scandal is like setting foot on land untouched by humans."

It is with only a small amount of hyperbole that I assert the same about the English-language literature on scandal. What exists is much like King's essay: it sometimes contains helpful insights but is narrow in scope. A handful of titles study political scandal but make no attempt to view it as part of a broader, identifiable concept. Media studies yield an edited volume on "media scandals" and some related works on tabloid journalism, none of which make a concerted effort to examine scandal across contexts and few of which are comparative in scope.

In this book I focus broadly on the so-called untouched land of Japanese scandal of all sorts and compare it with the more heavily traveled American ground. The United States is my baseline not because it is "normal"; America is rarely the best comparison for anything. I choose the United States not only because of familiarity but also because it has much in common structurally with Japan on factors that seem to matter for comparative scandal: a liberal democracy, a leading economy, a highly educated citizenry, active news media, and a dynamic popular culture that borrows from the other side of the Pacific. The legal systems also have much in common on scandal-related matters: Japan's whistleblower statute, prosecutorial institutions, corporate law (including recent corporate governance reforms), sexual harassment law, Constitution, and family law provisions on adultery all have American origins. Nevertheless, while similarities give us a nice starting point for comparison, the systems are hardly identical, and we'll glimpse differences throughout the book.

2. Law. Writing in the New York Times, Frank Rich decried a flap over a sexually charged television commercial starring actress Nicolette Sheridan and Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens as "a manufactured scandal, as over the top as a dinner theater production of 'The Crucible.'" But all scandals are more or less manufactured, and law often stars in the show. My initial salvo of Japanese differences-Jayson Williams and gun law, Kobe Bryant and rape law, Heidi Fleiss and prostitution law-are quick-and-dirty examples of the importance of the rules in shaping scandals, a connection that until now has been neglected.

Without a little lawyerly analysis, it's hard to understand scandal at all. Scandal was once a criminal charge equivalent to libel. Scandal is no longer a crime, but law remains central to the drama. In some scandals, prosecutors bring formal legal charges. In others, scandal plays out in the court of public opinion, which involves its own particular legal vocabulary and style of legal argument. More generally, because scandal is often about an allegation and not actual conduct, what matters is less the facts than their representation-also the realm of lawyers.

I build my case on statutes, cases, and institutions and their internal rules-which I'll refer to collectively as "the rules." The rules have two important (and often overlapping) functions. First, sometimes rules tell us about the cause of scandal. Sometimes rules directly influence scandal occurrence and development; they can create incentives for people to behave either badly or conspicuously. Rules represent the supply forces in the scandal market, feeding the market with new scandal "goods."

The second function is subtler but significant. To understand scandal cross-culturally, we need some way of exploring people's beliefs about it. Rules tell us about the meaning of scandal, giving us clues about what chunk of human action is significant enough to make it "catch" as scandal in each nation. In this way, the rules also represent the demand forces in the scandal market, telling us about people's desires for the commodity of scandal.

Because I focus on the rules, much material in this book comes from statutes, regulations, and court opinions. But my broad scope requires that I draw from several additional sources. First, I often get basic facts form the U.S. and Japanese media, from highbrow periodicals to lowbrow tabloids, with a greater emphasis on the latter. Second, I take insights from interviews that I conducted with the plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses of scandal: celebrities, corporate executives, lawyers, judges, reporters, political insiders, and editors of newspapers and tabloids. Third, I glean information from two popular Japanese literary genres that usually are overlooked: commentary by Japanese entertainer-essayists, and tell-all exposés written by scandal subjects. These works provide invaluable glimpses into the minds of scandal participants, though of course they are unsystematic and understandably biased. Fourth, in a few cases, I rely on personal experience gained either as a lawyer or as an acquaintance of the participants. Finally, where relevant, I go beyond these texts to sources like statistics, surveys, advice columns, and stock return data.

In each case, I sift through multiple Rashomon-like accounts to get close to the truth. I might not always succeed. But because I am analyzing scandal and not the underlying malfeasance, my primary concern usually is the perception of truth-and for that, these accounts of scandal will do just fine.

But what is scandal? Definition is surprisingly difficult. Two studies have seriously attempted definition. Sociologists Harvey Molotch and Marilyn Lester argue that scandal "involves an occurrence which becomes an event through the intentional activity of individuals (we call them 'informers') who for one reason or another do not share the event-making strategies of the occurrence effectors." Molotch and Lester are onto something, but this is not a tight definition. It narrowly requires intentional disclosure, divergent strategies, and particular informers, but not reputational damage or any particular underlying conduct. "Involves" is vague, and "for one reason or another" doesn't add much. And what is an "occurrence effector"?

Political scientist John Thompson finds that scandal has five characteristics: the transgression of certain values, norms, or moral codes; secrecy; disapproval; public expression of disapproval; and, usually, reputational damage. This gets us closer to the popular conception of scandal that I have in mind, but it still is incomplete.

In this book scandal is an event in which the public revelation of an alleged private breach of a law or a norm results in significant social disapproval or debate and, usually, reputational damage. This description-and it's little more than that-has three advantages over previous approaches. First, it requires a public revelation, but no particular actor and no intentional allegation. Second, it requires only that the breach be alleged, not that it actually occur. Third, it requires that the allegation be one of a private (or concealed) breach of law, a feature necessary to exclude events like public genocide from the concept.

But it is not without problems. The words significant and usually are hedges. We need the former because a little social disapproval is insignificant for scandal, the latter because scandal sometimes enhances reputation. Moreover, some scandal-producing transgressions are not private. Heroin use by world leaders would likely be no less scandalous in public than in private. Still, the scandalous breach has a private component, because the implication would be that the leader had been hiding a private drug habit all along.

Finally, I exclude the use of the word scandal in the normative sense, as a disgraceful circumstance, event, or situation. We rightly refer to America's history of slavery as a scandal, but under my definition it would not have been a scandal among slave owners in the antebellum South because there was little or no social disapproval. An event becomes a scandal in this book only if the locals believe it to be one, not simply because a person wishes or proclaims it to be.


Excerpted from Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle by Mark D. West Copyright © 2006 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Author's Note
1. Introduction
The Geisha and the Intern
The Argument
2. Players
The Media
Scandal Professionals
3. Privacy and Honor
Informational Privacy
The Right to Privacy
4. Groups
Self-Governing Groups
Corporate Scandal
5. Individuals
Entertainment Celebrities
Sports Stars
Politicians and Bureaucrats
6. Sex
Gender and Family
Sex Scandals
7. Apology - The Rules
The Cases
8. Afterword

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