AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 207

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Session 207: Material Culture, Performance and National Belonging in Japan and Japanese America

Organizer: Sean H. McPherson, Bridgewater State University, USA

Discussant: Geroge J. Tanabe, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

This interdisciplinary panel analyzes the role of performance, material, and visual culture in reimagining notions of national belonging and cultural identity in modern Japan and Japanese America. The session explores how subversive, transformative and socially unifying practices of popular religious performance and material culture re-imagine and reframe the broader social contexts of modernization, diaspora, incarceration, and globalization. The panel papers focus on the diverse ways popular festivals (matsuri) and architecture have been used to inscribe, interrogate and reconceptualize notions of cultural identity and national belonging. By examining the multiple meanings and sources of architectural form and ornament in both Japanese-American Buddhist churches in Hawaii and the mobile architecture of festival floats in early 20th-century Japan, we seek to transcend a static notion of architecture as the study of discrete monuments. Our examination of architecture includes an analysis of the ways in which popular festivities were regulated by the spatial organization of Japanese-American internment camps in California and the modern urban landscape of early 20th and 21st-century Japan. By examining material culture and performative representations in popular religious and ritual practice in both Japan and America, we aim to contribute to recent scholarship by Azuma Eiichirō and others that seeks to integrate Asian Studies and Asian-American Studies. By analyzing visual, material, and performative culture through the lenses of Art and Architectural History, Performance Studies, Anthropology and Religion, we call attention to the multiple ways in which purportedly “traditional” practices and material culture have been used to reimagine notions of cultural identity.

The Harvest Festival Parade at Tule Lake Relocation Center
Lynne Horiuchi, University of California, Berkeley, USA

On Halloween 1942, Francis Stewart took photographs of participants in a Harvest Festival Parade at the Tule Lake Relocation Center located in Newell, California. A Farm Security Administration employee working for War Relocation Authority that administered the Japanese American concentration camps, he had been directed to represent the ideological narratives of Americanization and progress within the concentration camps, so the majority of these photographs must be examined with these controls in mind. Yet, in some cases, it is easier to imagine the scenes of the Harvest Festival taking place in Japan rather than in an American concentration camp holding suspect Japanese enemy aliens. The scenes in a number of the Stewart photographs must have transported Japanese immigrants back to their Japanese homelands, at least in their imagination. In one photograph, parade participants carrying a portable palanquin replicated Shinto Japanese religious festival (also matsuri) traditions of carrying the local godhead (mukoshi) or a talisman of a diety, in most cases a local one. The photograph conveys the movement and sounds of local matsuri festival, although the identity of the local Tule Lake diety has most likely been lost to history. Such evidence for the performance of hybrid traditional celebrations offers an opportunity to explore the creativity of Japanese and Japanese Americans in expressing their national identities within an American concentration camp. This paper will explore the meanings of such a festival within the context of a World War II site of mass incarceration, forced movement, racial segregation, and segregation according to assumed loyalties to Japan or the United States.

Festival Art and Nationalism in Modern Japan
Sean H. McPherson, Bridgewater State University, USA

This paper examines the architecture and sculpture of festival floats (dashi) in Tokoname City, Aichi, in order to uncover the discursive and material connections between local Shintō festivals (matsuri) and broader agendas of nationalism in modern Japan. The Chita peninsula in Aichi prefecture is famous for dashimatsuri, Shintō shrine festivals featuring the procession of huge, wheeled floats called dashi. I argue that the recurrent reinvention of festive material culture and ritual has reflected and influenced broader ideological and social transformations. As the religious historian Helen Hardacre has shown, the modern reconfiguration of religious ritual as part of the construction of State Shintō co-opted local practices into larger discourses of national cultural identity. Many studies of the art, architecture and ritual of dashi festivals view them as unchanging folk art and local practices that embody the cultural values of the merchant class of early modern (1600-1868) Japan. However, during Japan’s rapid modernization during the Meiji period (1868-1912), the material culture and ritual process of shrine festivals were stringently regulated by State Shintō guidelines. The ritual and doctrinal disciplining of matsuri through official programs of shrine consolidation, ritual standardization, and fiscal austerity transformed the cultural landscape of popular festivity in modern Japan. I argue that the vast majority of surviving dashimatsuri reflect their early 20th-century reinvention as local expressions of popular nationalism. As in many other areas of prewar Japan, the ritual process and sculptural iconography of festival floats on the Chita peninsula reflected and reinforced discourses of national cultural exceptionalism and colonialism.

Constructing Multiple Identities: A Cultural Typology of Japanese Buddhist Architecture in Hawaiʻi
Willa J. Tanabe, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

From the earliest temples built in the late nineteenth century to the present day, the architectural styles of Japanese Buddhist temples in Hawaiʻi reflect the Japanese immigrant's changing relationship to his ancestral country, to his American environment and to his understanding of Buddhism. This paper presents an overview of the five distinct styles of Japanese temple architecture and their relationship to changing views of their cultural identities. Temples undergo a transition and sometimes an abrupt disjuncture from a "plantation house style," to a more traditional Japanese design, followed by a simplification of traditional design, to a deliberate creation of an international style combining elements of India and the West, and finally to the contemporary, often mediocre, "house of worship" style. In the interior, the altar area of the inner sanctuary, in particular, retains a conservative orthodoxy in furnishings and arrangement. However the outer sanctuary undergoes striking adaptations to fit into an American context and the social hall becomes as prominent, if not more so, than the worship hall. The changes in architectural styles can be linked to circumstances of the congregation, influence of the sectarian headquarters, and specific architects. They also reveal the impact of labor strikes and immigration policies, Americanization, internationalization, the decline of sugar and pineapple plantations and the migration of fourth and fifth generation young people away from their temple communities. The temples as texts clearly reveal an on-going story of continuing adaptation in a search for a meaningful identity.

Local and National Identity in Japanese City Festivals: “Tradition” and Tourism in Asahikawa’s Natsu Matsuri
MaryAnn Young, University of Texas, Dallas, USA

Traditionally, the Japanese matsuri is seen as a festival related to a Shinto jinja (shrine); yet, the term matsuri applies to a variety of non-religious festivals ranging from school matsuri to city matsuri. Michael Ashkenazi identifies its complexities by defining matsuri as a manifestation of social phenomena involving a religious basis, public entertainment, organization and management, and reflecting radical changes in modern society. This multifaceted discussion of matsuri provides a framework for examining both shrine and non-shrine matsuri, but this focus on “religious basis” is troubling as this shrine/non-shrine distinction places these matsuri in an oppositional discourse. Scholarship beginning in the 1980s often addressed only shrine matsuri or discounted other festivals as merely supplementing “true matsuri”. It was not until Jennifer Robertson’s ethnography of the Kodaira shimin (citizen’s) matsuri that the authenticity and significance of city matsuri was no longer in question. Instead, Robertson presents a historical context of the dentō bunka būmu (traditional culture boom) in response to urbanization and domestic tourism, thus assessing that city matsuri are part of a “traditionalization of the novel” in which “place consciousness” and “place commitment” occur at the local and national level. This paper considers the invented traditions within city matsuri through a case-study of Asahikawa’s Natsu Matsuri, a three-day collection of matsuri organized by the Chamber of Commerce. After providing an overview of relevant ethnographic studies, this paper will address the balance of “tradition” and tourism in Asahikawa’s Natsu Matsuri vis-à-vis selected music occasions and the impact of this matsuri on the revitalization of both local and national cultural identity.