AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 367

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Session 367: Contemporary Japan

„Coolness“ in Japan – a literary motif and historical discourse based investigation
Elena Giannoulis, Freie Universitat, Germany

The concept of “cool” or “coolness” comes to mind immediately when speaking of present-day Japan, as it is part of a national branding since the early 2000s, especially in the context of the manifold manifestations of Japanese popular culture and its globalizing strategies. ‘Cool Japan’, as the slogan goes, for all its topicality, arbitrariness and superficiality, has even grown into an object of study for Japanese Studies, but this is not the approach that I have in mind. Perhaps there is another hetero-stereotype which lies closer to the aspects of emotional and affective control that is associated with “coolness”. It is the observation by – mostly Western – foreigners of extreme Japanese self-control, mask-like facial expression and suppression of emotion in social contacts and even in situations of existential relevance. Calm composure in face of extreme endangerment, a smile on the face of a person who is in deep sorrow, these manifestations of the Japanese virtue of self-control have led some observers to characterize Japanese culture as marked by codes of ‘cool’. One thinks of Japanese-Western contacts in the early modern period, when intellectuals in close exchange with the outside world, e.g. Nitobe Inazo who had studied at Johns Hopkins in 1884 and Bonn University in 1888, attempted to devise an ‘explanation’ of the “Soul of Japan” with his book on “Bushido” of 1899. This book, claiming samurai rules as representing Japanese morality, has been extremely influential in forming Japan’s international image, but also its auto-stereotypes and is just one example for the complex interactions of ‘Japanese’ and ‘Western’ auto- and hetero-stereotypes. Against the backdrop of intensive Japanese-Western contacts since the late 19th century, the issue of ‘coolness’ may, admittedly, form only one aspect in the discourses about Japanese culture and personality, but nevertheless it seems worthwhile to explore its diverse manifestations in Japanese tradition and in contemporary society. There is no single Japanese term – except, of course, for the ubiquitous loanword kūru in contemporary Japan – that could stand for the notion of “coolness”, but there are a number of culturally specific notions implying “coolness” in various eras of Japanese history. On a diachronical axis, we might, e.g., refer to the aesthetical concept of “coolness” in Heian period Japan in the 8th through 12th centuries, where restraint, elegance, and refinement served as a distancing strategy of the aristocratic class. The aesthetic principles of this form of “coolness” retained their canonic nature for many artistic genres through later centuries. In Japan’s contacts with the West since the so-called opening of the country in the second half of the 19th century, “coolness” served as a distancing and strategy of self-assertion against the ‘West’. Again, it was conceived as an aesthetic concept with reminiscences of the pre-modern, and set against authenticity and kokoro or “Herzlichkeit”. Modern and contemporary Japan’s cultural influences have shifted from Europe towards North America, and we might well posit a new phase of “coolness” in Japan after World War II with its intensive reception of American popular, youth and subculture on which this paper will focus. By analyzing literature by Murakami Ryū, Yamada Eimi, Machida Kō, Abe Kazushige and for example Kanehara Hitomi the paper examines Japanese notions of “coolness” in respect to following points: 1. “Coolness” as a form of performative affect and emotional control 2. “Coolness” as a communication mode 3. “Coolness” as a strategy of self-assertion and self-defiance 4. “Coolness” and consideration 5. “Coolness” and erotic

In-between Japan and Korea: Reading Yi Yang-ji’s Nabi t’aryong from a postcolonial perspective
Nadeschda (Lisa) Bachem, SOAS, University of London, Germany

In 1989, Yi Yang-ji was the first female writer of the Korean minority in Japan to receive the prestigious Akutagawa-award. Her literature stands in stark contrast to the works of her exclusively male resident Korean predecessors and tackles questions of ethnic belonging and gender in a new way which can be understood as paradigmatic for the authors that came after her. When she died in 1992 at age 37, she left a legacy of ten pieces of fiction, most of which deal with the protagonists‘ complicated relationship to Japan on the one hand and their perceived home country Korea on the other. In her debut novel Nabi t’aryŏng [A Butterfly’s Lament] Yi Yang-ji depicts the protagonist Aiko’s pain inflicted on her by a peculiar sense of exclusion from the Japanese nation-family. However, when she flees to Seoul in search for her ethnic roots, she yet again feels estranged and realizes how she is intertwined with Japan as well. In my paper, I take up the concept of identity advanced by postcolonial theory to examine the protagonist’s conflict-laden process of identification and elaborate on how her crisis is triggered by a normative conception concerning ethnic (collective) identity as well as femininity. Moreover, I will look at how her relation to the novel’s other characters, which is marked by a multilayered play of repulsion and colonial desire, further condemn her to one identity-role and how, through this, she is caught in a hybrid space in-between the two cultures.

Sacred transgression and desecration in Mishima Yukio's Homba (Runaway Horses)
Thomas Garcin, IETT, Université Lyon 3 Jean Moulin, France

Whereas he has just subjected himself to a shintô purification rite (misogi), Isao, the young fanatic nationalist of the novel Homba, commits a sacrilege (tokushin) : he spreads the blood of an animal (chapter 23). At the end of the novel another character, Kurahara, an influential politician, also commits a blunder qualified as tokushin : he stuffs himself with beef a few hours before witnessing a shintô ceremony at Ise. Though the sacrilege of their leader will not cause the slightest criticism, the young fanatics grouped around Isao regard Kurahara’s act as inexcusable. Significantly, Kurahara will be assassinated by Isao who precisely puts forward the profanation of the sanctuary of Ise when he plunges his dagger in the politician’s bowel. It is thus a sacrilegious hero who claims to repair the sacrilege. The object of our communication will be to untie and explain those apparent contradictions. By using in particular the concept of transgression in Georges Bataille’s Erotism, but also the dichotomy sacred/secular such as it is defined in the work of Mircea Eliade, and on the assumption of a “ambiguity of the sacred” developed by Roger Caillois, we can analyze the gesture of Isao as a form of sacred transgression, or, to use the same terms as Bataille, a “limited transgression” which object is not to remove but to indicate and support the forbidden which marks the limits of the sacred. The fact of voluntarily transgressing the rules of misogi paradoxically testifies in favour of Isao who crosses for being better subjected, exceeds to support. According to the same logic, the indifference of Kurahara appears like an additional criminal to the fanatic patriots.

Reading Murakami Haruki's Later Works: Beans Sprouting After Dark
Naomi Chiku, University of Auckland, New Zealand

The presentation examines how the trope of light is used and what the effects are in Murakami Haruki’s narratives. The recent works of Murakami are remarked by their focus on nightfall, lightning in the darkness and the moon rather than the Sun. The presentation will first explore how these tropes are employed in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore and his latest work 1Q84. I will argue that the moonlight appears to be the very powerful agent bringing the truth, rebirth and mercy to the characters in Murakami’s works. I will then situate their place within the parameters of contemporary culture theory. It seems that the emphasis of Murakami’s works on the moon and night (fall) is an attempt to subvert the worldview that the Sun is the origin of the world and the metaphor of the truth in the Western philosophical tradition, as well as in Japanese mythology – a critical perspective pointed out by Jacques Derrida in “White Mythology.” In fact, Murakami’s works appear to find their roots in early modern Japanese literature, particularly Ueda Akinari’s Tales of Moonlight and Rain, in which meaningful events take place in the moonlight. The moon is ultimately the light that enables to connect characters living in different times. As a character of “Barn Burning” reminds us, such synchronicity is a moral act to evoke the past events and regain the lost time.

Science Fiction, Empire, Japan: On the Literary-Historical Unconscious in The Skycrawlers
Baryon Tensor Posadas, University of Minnesota, USA

Science Fiction, Empire, Japan: On the Literary-Historical Unconscious in The Skycrawlers To date, critical examinations of the genre of science fiction in Japan remain relatively uncommon. Where studies do exist, often, the genre itself tends to be taken as a fixed and stable a priori category, with scarce attention paid to the discursive contestations surrounding the historical emergence of the very notion of “science fiction” itself. Consequently, often overlooked is how the discursive formation of the genre (both in Japan and elsewhere) is indebted to the language and logic of colonial modernity. In my paper, I examine the impact of the genre's historical imbrication in the production of colonial discourses on the formation of science fiction in Japan. By historicizing its formation as a genre and its negotiations of its relations with Anglo-American science fiction, I will discuss how Japanese science fiction negotiates its complex intermediation with broader discourses of nation and empire on two levels: its positioning as an orientalized object of the fantasies of difference in Anglo-American texts and its engagement with the nation's own colonial past. To illustrate these points of discussion, I will take up The Skycrawlers (2001), a series of novels by Mori Hiroshi and subsequently adapted into an animated feature by Oshii Mamoru. Reading its alternate-history setting, its narrative structure of repetition, and its play on the politics of the spectacle as meta-commentary on the genre, I will highlight the how the literary-historical unconscious of Japanese science fiction plays out in the present.

Subverting Language: Social Critique in Yokomitsu Riichi’s Modernist Fiction
Arthur M. Mitchell, Macalester College, USA

During the Meiji and Taishō periods, the Genbun-itchi Movement spurred the development of a modern language that would by the 1920s become a site of convergence between the novel form, social language, and the ideologies of the nation. On the one hand, this language was forged by novelists who sought the capacity for objective description and the transparent communication of personal experience. Meanwhile, it was also imposed by the state on school curriculums and later an expanding industry of newspapers and mass magazines that embraced the new standards as a way to broaden readership. This pragmatic, communicative language however would ultimately support concepts of a stable national subject that would play an integral role in the ideological systems of the modernizing nation. This paper then examines how Yokomitsu Riichi’s modernist works employed formal strategies of language to simultaneously expose conventions surrounding the representation of the subject and undermine the language of society and social institutions. His experiments with stream-of-consciousness, personification, and de-centralized narration in stories like “Burei na machi” and “Hyōgenha no yakusha” not only flouted conventions of syntax and storytelling but disrupted an orthodox phenomenology that precluded the consciousness of plural selves and the awareness of a pluralistic society. Through linguistic techniques, Yokomitsu challenged national ideology by seeking to alter the sensibility of the reader toward what he saw as a more contemporary way of experiencing the world. This paper positions itself within larger debates concerning social critique in modernist fiction and the history of modernist literature in Japan.