WMU News

New book explores Japanese culture

April 16, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- A Western Michigan University anthropologist hit the gym to conduct research and get a unique perspective on Japanese culture.

The result is "Working Out in Japan," a book by Dr. Laura Spielvogel, assistant professor of anthropology at WMU. The new release explores contemporary Japanese popular culture from a perspective rarely examined and reveals how beauty, body image, health and leisure are understood and experienced in Japanese culture.

"Working Out in Japan" integrates concepts from a range of disciplines, as Spielvogel addresses issues of interest to those in such fields as international culture, recreation and entertainment, body image and eating disorders, gender inequities, the anthropology of work and leisure, socioeconomics, and the effects of mass media. In her book, Spielvogel points out the many cultural discrepancies she observed while conducting fieldwork as an aerobics instructor in Japan for two years.

"After spending a few hours at a Japanese fitness club, the cultural differences become very apparent," she says. "They serve beer and ice cream, and smoke in the clubs or just outside."

Although many Japanese institutions still impose behaviors and roles on the basis of gender, Spielvogel notes that many Japanese fitness instructors are taking a stand against the cultural expectations of women in their society. She says the female instructors are positioned to uniquely challenge gender roles by demonstrating traditionally masculine behavior, such as smoking, drinking, and using expansive gestures and loud speech.

Spielvogel's investigation offers insight into Japanese culture and its changing dynamics. "Working Out in Japan," published by Duke University Press, will be available at bookstores in late April.

Media contact: Tonya Hernandez, 269 387-8400, tonya.hernandez@wmich.edu

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