AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 571

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Session 571: The Politics of Culture: Cultural Policy and the Modern Japanese Nation State

Organizer: Tze M. Loo, University of Richmond, USA

Discussant: Noriko Aso, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA

Since Joseph Nye coined the term, “soft power” is now recognized as an important currency of power in international affairs. Japanese popular culture has been a significant component of Japan’s soft power for several decades; however this is not only the most visible form of the Japanese state’s use of “culture” as foreign policy, it is also only its most recent. Japan’s use of culture in the service of various political aims has a much longer history that parallels the evolution of the modern Japanese state. Beginning in the early Meiji period, the Japanese state disciplined, regulated, and deployed cultural forms in fashioning its national identity. At the same time, these attempts to define a sense of “Japaneseness” were part of larger processes of negotiation to imagine Japan’s place in, its potential contributions to, and the basis of its power within the international order vis-à-vis Western and other Asian nations. This panel offers four perspectives into the history of Japanese cultural policy. By examining the Japanese state’s management of four specific cultural forms – national treasures, music, folk performing arts, and popular culture – we explore Japan’s continuing use of cultural policy as a part of the state’s political strategies over time, and consider the domestic and international effects of these efforts.

Creating an Archive: Prewar Japan’s National Treasure System
Tze M. Loo, University of Richmond, USA

By 1940, the Japanese nation state was confidently deploying a discourse of culture in which material objects, designated as “national treasures,” were regarded not only as evidence of Japan’s long history of cultural achievement and civilizational superiority, but were also overdetermined in other important political ways. Japanese officials understood and articulated these objects as representing the Japanese nation state itself. They regarded these objects as gesturing at the spiritual life of the Japanese people, and which were living connections for Japanese people to their land and history. The preservation of national treasures was thus not only about heritage preservation, but also about protecting “Japaneseness” itself. But what made this particular use of material objects possible in the first place was Japan’s “national treasure system” itself. This paper discusses how the Japanese state began to develop a system of heritage preservation soon after the Meiji Restoration that resulted in an archive of “national treasures.” It suggests that the problem the Meiji state confronted at the time was not a lack of the objects that could be designated as “national treasures,” but rather the absence of a systematic, regular, predictable mechanism that could survey, inventory, locate, recognize, and designate objects that already existed. Finally, it examines the impact of early Meiji attempts to create these mechanisms on existing material objects as they were brought into the view of the nation state as national treasures.

Problematically Japanese: The Cultural Politics of Music in Wartime Japan
Hiromu Nagahara, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Since the Meiji period, the Japanese state saw the Western classical tradition as the standard of a truly civilized music necessary for the modern nation state. Despite their efforts to promote it through educational and cultural institutions, however, Western music largely remained the province of the educated , urban elite. The rapid growth of the record industry during the early Showa period gave new hope to those who sought to popularize Western music among the broader population. However, the rise of popular songs that featured a more syncretic musical idiom, as typified by the works of Nakayama Shinpei, disappointed many of them who branded these songs as "vulgar" and "melancholic." Implicit in these critiques were the sense that the musical syncretism in these songs introduced a form of Japaneseness" that was less than desirable. This paper explores how the tension between the state-sponsored promotion of Western music and the growing popularity of "Japanese-style" popular songs came to head in the course of the 1930s, as Japan was increasingly mired in military conflicts abroad. While the cultural politics of this period has tended to be characterized by historians as one marked by the increasing pursuit of Japaneseness and the rejection of all things Western, things were not quite that simple for the members of Japan's musical establishment, many of whom occupied key government positions as the state sought to co-opt music for the war effort. For these individuals, the war seemingly provided another opportunity to establish "true" musical culture in Japan.

Japan’s Promotion of Cultural Policy in the Era of High-Speed Growth
Sang Mi Park, University of Tokyo, Japan

After emerging from U.S. Occupation in 1952, Japan enjoyed decades of rapid economic growth from the mid-1950s to the 1970s as Japanese manufactured goods became highly sought after in international markets. The “Japan boom” around the world is said to have persuaded the Japanese populace that they were no longer a defeated nation, and had even become a world economic leader. This renewed confidence, however, did not arise spontaneously in step with increased international attention to Japanese affluence. Rather, this distinct historical experience derived in part from sustained efforts to remobilize nationalism by attributing Japan’s accomplishments to its cultural power. It was no mere coincidence that successive economic booms were hailed as the “Jimmu boom,” “Iwato boom,” and “Izanagi boom,” directly linking economic prowess with neo-nationalistic imagery of Japan’s divine origins. The paper investigates the Japanese government’s promotion of cultural policy as a strategy to facilitate economic expansion internationally and political stability at home, within the context of the Cold War. Japan did not portray itself a world power but instead proposed a more ambiguous role as an intermediary between developed Western and developing Asian nations. I demonstrate how Japan’s attempts at cultural propaganda toward the United States and Asia, particularly in the field of popular culture, relied on collaboration between producers, consumers, and the state, and were thus highly interdependent with the populace’s nationalistic perceptions of their own culture at a time when national energies were increasingly turning from ideological disputes toward a new culture of mass consumerism.

The Folk Performing Arts and Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary Japan
Yoko Nagao, Wako University, Japan

The folk performing arts had never been a conspicuous object of cultural policy in Japan. They were designated “intangible cultural properties” only when the Cultural Properties Protection Law was revised in 1975, whereas the Law has been in effect since 1950. The 1975 revision brought the folk performing arts into the regulatory sphere of cultural administration. The 1970s marked the end of the era of rapid economic growth. As Yoshino (1997) has observed, the revision also coincided with the rise of cultural nationalism, or Nihonjinron, the discourse that theorized and articulated Japanese uniqueness. A second turning point was reached in 1992 when the so-called Festival Law was enacted. In contrast to the principle of preserving cultural properties as encoded in the Cultural Properties Protection Law, the Festival Law advocates drawing on regional traditional performing arts to revitalize regional economies through tourism. There has been a growing awareness that the Festival Law is not only an explicit attempt by the Japanese government to commodify folk performing arts, but also a manifestation of their re-contextualizion as cultural “policy”, a much broader concept than cultural “administration” that assumes more private and civil involvement. Critics argue that the influence of global agricultural policy under the WTO regime and Japan’s ratification of the World Heritage Convention have added new dimensions to Japan’s cultural policy since the 1990s. This paper attempts to elucidate the nature of cultural nationalism as manifested in the legislation concerning the folk performing arts and related activities.