AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 457

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Session 457: Nation Envisioned: State, Media and Popular Culture

Organizer: Kukhee Choo, Sophia University, USA

Chair: Michael John Raine, Western University, Canada

Discussant: Michal Daliot-Bul, University of Haifa, Israel

The Japanese state has utilized various media forms to govern national subjects as well as secure its national identity throughout the 20th century. Enter the 21st century, governmental policies to promote popular culture and media raise critical issues regarding relations between state governance and popular culture. This proposed panel aims to investigate the multifaceted relationship of the Japanese state, media and popular culture from the wartime period to the 21st century. There are four papers in this panel. One is a study on wartime training documentaries and how film media functioned as a mobilizing technology for the total war by the Japanese empire; another examines Japan’s popular culture during the Cold War period that both subverted and conformed to the nationhood of Japan; the third investigates the urban reform of Akihabara and its governance in the midst of the recent Japanese government’s global promotion of anime; and the fourth is an overview of the interplay between Orientalism and Occidentalism in the national promotion and global consumption of Japanese popular culture such as manga and anime. The goal of this panel is to bring together scholars from various disciplines, including sociology, cinema, media studies, and cultural studies, to better conceptualize and historicize the Japanese state’s dynamic relations with media and popular culture in a broader framework and to lay out the genealogy of how “Japan” has been envisioned in popular culture during different periods and by different agencies.

Re-inventing Japan through “the West”: Occidentalism, Cool Japan and "Moe" Nation Anthropomorphism
Toshio Miyake, University of Venice, Italy

The main aim of this paper is to investigate the hegemonic range of Occidentalism in contemporary Japan. It will address the re-negotiation and re-articulation of cultural identity in relation to the imagined geography of “the West” as induced by the imperatives of neo-liberal and inter-national globalization. Institutional governance, mass media, and popular cultures are contributing to a new nation-ness as could be seen in the intertwined process of the nation branding of Cool Japan, the increasing diffusion of historical revisionism, the nationalized and racialized stereotyping in comics and animation. Inspired by Gramsci’s notion of hegemony, this process will be analyzed by referring to the inter-relational dynamic of Occidentalism, Orientalism and Self-Orientalism; the cumulative intersectionality of identifying paradigms (civilization, nation, race, gender, age, class, etc.) and the resulting strategic positionality of the different actors involved in this process. Particular attention will be paid to the so-called moe nation anthropomorphism, the playful rendering of nations as cute and sexualized girls/boys, which has become highly popular in both male-oriented otaku and female-oriented fujoshi subcultures. This paper suggests that the underlying obsession for “Japan” and for “the West” in these subcultures and their relation to the mangaesque aesthetic of main stream manga, anime and videogames (Berndt, 2007) plays a crucial role in the re-invention of Japan. The mangaesque has become not only the main target of governmental promotion in the Cool Japan campaign, but also the main perceptual frame through which “Japan” is popularized both internally as well as among international J-culture fandom.

Scientific Wonder in Wartime Training Documentaries
Michael John Raine, Western University, Canada

The young Japanese airmen who attacked Hawaii 70 years ago were lionized in officially sponsored books, manga, and feature films, while a special genre of training documentaries revealed the sources of their skills and encouraged a new generation to volunteer for pilot training. One striking feature of those training documentaries is their emphasis on scientific testing and training, presented not for maximum clarity but in a mode of “visual wonder.” Drawing on Mizuno Hiroshi’s history of the relation between science and wonder in imperial Japan, this presentation introduces widely viewed training documentaries such as Youth Corps of the Sky (Sora no shonenhei, 1942) and Foundation of Victory (Shori no ishizue, 1942), and in particular the short addressed to adolescent boys Can You Become a Pilot? (Kimi wa sojusha ni nareru ka, 1942). It argues that after the start of the Pacific War state policy increasingly made cinema itself an “optical weapon” (kogaku heiki) for the mobilization of citizens for total war across the expanded Japanese empire. That promotion of wartime science and technology in the mode of visual wonder has clear connections to postwar popular culture, even the hyper-mediated forms we see today.

Humanism and Resistance in Japanese Popular Culture during the Cold War
Tomoko Shimizu, University of Tsukuba, Japan

The memory of Cold War in Japan has been deeply connected with the Cold War settlement of liberal pluralism by US. On the one hand, "the popular" had been regarded as "Anglo-American", but on the other hand, Japanese popular media such as Japanese animation, TV drama and manga had participated in this decade by seeking to broaden the way in which the Japanese nation is imagined and to draw attention to the ethnic and cultural hegemony within Japan. This, however, is a contradictory process insofar as the liberal middle class does not guarantee a subversion of the traditional national framework. By looking at some cultural policy on popular media both US and Japan during the Cold War period, this paper examines the ways in which Japanese popular culture, through the image of American liberal democracy during the Cold War, both subvert and conform to dominant notions of the Japanese nation and also considers the effect on contemporary Japanese popular culture, especially focusing on animation.

Envisioning the “Great Nation”: Ubiquitous society and anime
Kukhee Choo, Sophia University, USA

This paper will present how the rapid urban reform of Akihabara during the first decade of the 21st century, along side the Japanese government’s policy on promotion Cool Japan in the global market, has been envisioned under the new direction of becoming a “ubiquitous society”. From the postwar period when Akihabara became the techno-gadgetry hub of Tokyo, into the 21st century where it transforms itself into the Mecca of anime and video games, Akihabara has become the embodiment of national hope and technological future. After Kato Tomohiro’s murderous rampage in Akihabara in 2008, there were numerous CCTVs installed in order to safely secure the neighborhood and the news was reported around the world. This form of ubiquitous governance has been already imagined in anime such as Dennō Koiru (Coil-A circle of children), which was broadcast on NHK in 2007. With the Japanese government’s concentrated international promotion of anime into the global market and the urban development project of Akihabara, the production of Coil at that juncture in time presents an interesting foreshadowing of the developments to come. This study will examine the notion of ubiquitous society in Coil and situate its production against the socio-political governance of Japan in the 21st century.