When you mentioned Bobby Ologun in class today I immediately thought of another entertainer who seems to parallel Ologun very closely named Bob Sapp. Sapp is a massive black fighter who has quite a mediocre record but was very popular in Japan when Mixed Martial Arts was popular there in the 90s and early 2000s and he still is something of a celebrity there, I think. His main drawing power came from his imposing physique (he is MASSIVE), brute-like fighting style and his very goofy, "simple" demeanor, which strikes me as very similar to that of Bobby Ologun.
Commercials featuring Sapp
Anyway I just thought I'd bring this to your attention if you weren't aware of him--my guess is probably there are more than just these two as well as I'm sure you know better than I. This trend of huge, black simpletons would seem to bespeak a pretty profoundly racist view towards blacks in Japan, if I am not overreaching...
After today's discussion I was thinking about how I have seen Japan in American media. I remembered a music video by Selena Gomez which came out earlier this year. It starts in a karaoke bar in Japan and later on has some of the lyrics printed in Japanese. My friend showed it to me when it first came out and I just thought that it was weird how she was portraying Japan and Japanese things in that way. However, now I realize that it is not that abnormal.
Friday, November 4th at 3:15 pm:
Professor of Comparative Literature
"The Imperial I/Eye and the Imperial Subject:
Traces of Imperial Modernity in Shiga Naoya’s An’ya koro (A Dark Night’s Passing)"
301 Wilson Hall
Critics of modern Japanese literature do not typically consider Shiga Naoya (1883-1971), author of shi-shōsetsu, or fiction centering around the “I,” as either linked ideologically with the Japanese imperialism that developed from the late nineteenth century or representing it in artistic fashion in his works. Yet the period of composition of Shiga’s only novel-length work, the 400-some page An’ya kōro, coincides significantly with the period during which Japan built up its colonial rule in Korea (annexed 1910), made attempts at developing an empire in China, and gained control of large parts of Manchuria, setting up the puppet ruler of its colony Manchukuo, in 1932. Shiga first began to put together fictional works focusing on the later hero of An’ya kōro, Tokitō Kensaku, from the late Meiji period (1868-1912); he published the first half of the novel in 1921, in the mid-Taishō period (1912-1926); and he made the last addition to the novel in 1937, the year of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which began a war with China and eventually led to the Pacific War. It is not surprising, then, that Shiga’s text shows traces of Japanese imperialism, in particular, in two related episodes: one depicting the adventures over about one year and a half of Kensaku’s foster mother and the earlier object of his affection and lust, Oei, in China, Manchuria, and Korea; and the other depicting the brief journey that Kensaku himself makes to Korea near the end of the novel to bring Oei safely back to Japan. Moreover, both characters see empire in the course of their travels, manifesting different forms of the imperial gaze. By articulating the intertwined destinies of these two Japanese citizens who willingly, in the case of Oei, and reluctantly, in the case of Kensaku, participated in empire, Shiga’s text constructs two imperial subjects. Finally, the narrator brings imperialism as experience into the flow of experiences of the “I” that is the focus of his novel.
Friday, October 28th at 3:15 pm:
"China, U.S. and East Asian Integration"
125 Minor Hall
As the largest and most influential country in the region, China has long promoted East Asian integration, and is arguably the most important internal factor for it. Similarly, but as a geographically non-East Asian country, the U.S. has extensive interest and tremendous influence in East Asia; this can be said to be the most important external factor in integration. Both the U.S. and China are indispensable to integration, and have large influence on its progress. With the U.S. joining East Asia Summit, these two powers will have more opportunities to discuss the issue. What are the concerns, points of agreement and disagreement concerning EA integration? What should be done to promote EA integration?
October 19, 2011
From: David H. Slater
Today, youth in Japan are more active than they have been in many years (and as we have pointed out before, there have not been more demonstrations since the 1960's and 70's). The recessionary image of politically disaffected and economically alienated--the "lazy freeter" image--- has to be reevaluated. In fact, it is in the context of a political system that seems to show little concern for the situation of this generation of young people (and now, not so young) and a labor market that still does not provide meaningful work, job security or a living wage to many, lots of young people are recently quite engaged.
Let me note two different and seemingly distant, but I think potentially
complementary forms of youth engagement.
As Tohoku Volunteers
Young people are the ones who have been primarily behind the huge influx of
volunteers in Tohoku. It was young people (esp. if you consider "youth"
going all the way to 32 years old) that constituted the main source of
volunteers since 3.11. These were the barely employed who cut back their
hours at the 7/11 (or quit the jobs altogether) and went up to dig. There
were also all sorts of other, older, foreign folks, etc, but both as
manual laborers and as innovative volunteer entrepreneurs, finding ways to
get information out and needed supplies into Tohoku, young Japanese
As Anti-nuke Activists
The other group, much more visible today, are the networkers and street
activists of the ant-nuke movement. This group includes those who have been
organizing grassroots (digitally reconstituted) for years, and those others
who have only now turned out to march, dance, sing, play, yell, demand and
protest more recently in such huge numbers. They have mobilized resources
and media in the crafting of a message of industrial and political
indifference to widespread environmental and civic danger, of the need to
struggle, even for survival, against a threat that is almost as
frightening as a tsunami, and significantly, perceived as much more of a
threat to the rest of the urban population--nuclear power (and to some
extent, nuclear weapons and the industry as a whole).
Splitting the Differences
While both groups of young people share much the same economic conditions of
precarious labor, they are often looking in different directions
politically. Mud diggers do not often march--and look down to the Tokyo
protests and ask themselves--"If they are so concerned, maybe they should
come up to Tohoku to dig." In fact, to dig you have to be somewhat sanguine
about the danger of radiation, even to the point of assuring yourself and
others it is "safe" in Tohoku, as a way to showing solidarity with local
residents who do not or cannot leave, and as a way to recruit more
volunteers to dig. On the other hand, little of the anti-nuke message
includes appeals to go up and volunteer, a job that looks so big to many as
to be in vain (a perspective that is in fact shared by many of us who do
Common Ground in "Occupy Tokyo"? For those who are not following it, this weekend Tokyo was full of "Occupy Tokyo" (links below) protests, smaller than the 60,000 participants earlier, but still a start. This deserves an entry itself, but it is rather early to understand their effects. Still, that these protests should show up in Japan at a point when the volunteers from Tohoku and the anti-nuke demonstrators are mobilized, open, active, relatively optimistic, seems like a moment of opportunity in Japan.
If these two groups--diggers and marchers--can see the mobilization of the
other as another form of legitimate and meaningful activism, another way of
being committed and engaged, that will be a significant step forward,
expanding the base of activists in new directions. This seems to be the
challenge of the current movement today--to find a way craft a message that
links these diverse, but clearly connected, concerns and constituencies. Not
sure if "Occupy Tokyo" will do that, despite the shared economic instability
of both groups, and many others in society.
Friday, October 21st at 1:00 pm in Brooks Hall:
Department of Anthropology
University of Pittsburgh
"Dreamwork: Cell Phone Novelists, Politics and Labor in Contemporary Japan"
Brooks Hall, Department of Anthropology, 2nd Fl Lecture Hall
Co-Sponsored by the Department of Anthropology
In 2007, the number of cell phone novels posted on the popular portal, maho no i-rando, reached one million—a figure that has puzzled observers worldwide. Critics claim that young women write these novels in transit and in transition; these women merely translate their feelings of boredom and lack of spirit into an escapist pastime. By contrast, Lukacs analyzes the cell phone novel phenomenon as one that reveals how young people respond to their incorporation into a precarious labor regime and to their exclusion from collectivities (e.g., workplace and family) that offered their parents key resources for self-determination.
Friday, October 14th at 3:15 pm:
Regents Professor, Department of History and Philosophy
Montana State University, Bozeman
"THE TOXIC ARCHIPELAGO: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan"
Co-Sponsored by Science, Technology, and Society (STS)
Brett Walker’s lecture, “The Toxic Archipelago: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan,” explores startling case studies of industrial pollution – such as killer pollution caused by chlorinated hydrocarbon and organophosphate insecticide saturations; horrific poisonings from copper, zinc, and lead mines; monstrous birth deformities caused by methyl-mercury effluent; and debilitating lung disease from asbestos – to demonstrate that industrial toxins that flow through engineered Earth and its technological and ecological systems render useless academic ruminations on the differences between wilderness areas and cities, organic and inorganic, nonhuman and human, biology and technology, or even nature and artifice. Industrial toxins, when finding their way to human bodies, reject such boundaries – even placental boundaries – and so it makes sense that we should, too, when tracing them.
Everything on Earth, living or otherwise, is integrated into one interconnected, buffer-less web that is neither artifice nor nature. Some agencies are naturally occurring, others are anthropogenic: both remain relevant to understanding how industrial toxins function, sicken bodies, and cause pain. Walker argues that with the birth of the Industrial Age came the advent of Homo sapiens industrialis, a new breed of human utterly penetrated, engulfed, and transformed, often at the molecular level, by the engineering, industrializing, and poisoning of the environment in and around them. “The Toxic Archipelago” is the story of Japan’s place in this human transformation.
I highly recommend the content -- so far, so good -- and later in the semester we’ll be reading articles from their older, printed version, called “Japan Echo.”
Friday, September 30 at 3:15 pm:
Professor of Japanese Art and Culture, Harvard University
"A National Treasure: Japan’s Twelfth-century Genji Scrolls"
Co-Sponsored by The Art Department
Often called the world’s first psychological novel, The Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu occupies a well-earned spot among the most important works of world literature. Less known outside of Japan, however, is the rich tradition of Genji illustrations that have been continuously produced for a millennium. This talk will provide a general introduction to the pictorial history of Japan’s most celebrated narrative and a close look at the twelfth-century scrolls, the oldest extant example of Genji paintings. The scrolls elicit modes of reading and viewing that differ radically from our own and reveal new insights into how the tale was interpreted in its own day.
Here is an article from The New Yorker in 2008 about cell phone novels in Japan. Dr. Lukacs will certainly have a more complicated read of the trend, but this will introduce the genre she’ll be discussing.
On Friday, October 21, I will be happy to give extra credit to any students who are able to attend Gabriella Lukacs’ talk in the Anthropology Department (Brooks Hall). We will read some of her work from this book, although she’ll be speaking on a new topic. Here is the title and abstract of her talk:
Dreamwork: Cell Phone Novelists, Labor, and Politics in Contemporary Japan
University of Pittsburgh
Department of Anthropology
In 2007, the number of cell phone novels posted on the popular portal, maho no i-rando, reached one million—a figure that has puzzled observers worldwide. Critics claim that young women write these novels in transit and in transition; these women merely translate their feelings of boredom and lack of spirit into an escapist pastime. By contrast, I analyze the cell phone novel phenomenon as a site that reveals how young people respond to their incorporation into a precarious labor regime and to their exclusion from collectivities (e.g., workplace and family) that offered their parents key resources for self-determination. More specifically, I make three arguments in my presentation. First, I posit that the cell phone novel phenomenon sheds light on transformations in the meanings and forms of work. I argue that affective labor—as performed by cell phone novelists—has become a valorized form of labor because it couples in a virtuous liaison the intensifying demand for workers to invest their humanity in the work process and the growing desire of workers for self-fulfilling work. Second, I suggest that the cell phone novel phenomenon discloses how digital media technologies enable young people to experiment with new modes of political engagement. I argue that by drawing on the dynamics of capillary communication, the writers and readers of cell phone novels produced a conjuncture at which they were able to develop critical insights about work, solidarity, and future. Lastly, I propose a new approach to understanding the shifting place of youth on the Japanese labor market. Critics blame young Japanese people for having a diminished sense of commitment to work. Others interpret the historical heights in youth unemployment as an effect of a volatile economy’s ever growing demand for flexible labor. I aim to point a way beyond the stalemate of these polarized analyses by examining the production of cell phone novels as a practice that reveals how young people actively seek ways to move forward.
As with all example essays posted on this site, the paper have been made anonymous or not reflecting the author’s wishes.
Example essay 1
Example essay 2
Example essay 3
3.11 POLITICS IN DISASTER JAPAN: FEAR AND ANGER, POSSIBILITY AND HOPE Guest Editor: David Slater (Faculty of Liberal Arts, Sophia University, Tokyo)
On March 11th, 2011, the largest recorded earthquake in Japan’s history rocked the country. Within minutes, a tsunami that reached 30 meters in places was heading to the northeast coast into Tohoku. Boats, building and whole towns were wiped out in a matter of minutes. More than 23,000 people have been reported dead or are still missing, and as many as 40,000 are displaced, living in shelters or temporary housing. Among the effects is the destabilization of the nuclear reactors. Since March, the danger zones have progressively been expanded to as far away from the reactor as 25 miles, and although new areas are being added even today, many claim that the Japanese government is underestimating the danger. Today, it is unclear if and when broad segments of Tohoku will ever be safe.
The horrific experience of natural crisis has been compounded by repeated political failures—to gather, analyze and release relevant information; to provide relief response for those victims in Tohoku in a timely and effective way; and to insure that the danger of radiation containment and leakage has been accurately and fully represented. In fact, it has been the threat of radiation that has allowed many to mount the critique of the handling of earthquake and tsunami, to see the political expediency and the often grotesque protection of capitalism in the face of everyday needs of the people.
These failures have given rise to a critique from a citizenry that is often thought of as passive, if not always content. The scope of the disaster in Tohoku and the threat of radiation to the rest of the Japan, and even outside of its borders, have provided a platform for many voices and positions to find common ground and to speak in collective voices. Emerging are themes of shared concern such as ecological sustainability, corporate and state responsibility, and the survival of citizens and society in times of increasing precariousness for everyone, not just those in Tohoku. This convergence has brought together Fukushima farmers and Tokyo housewives, school children and senior citizens from the ‘old left,’ leaders from industry and the government but also labor unions and activism. At the center are “autonomous” activists—young, dispersed, do-it-yourselfers—who had been dismissed by the country as too inward-looking and self-absorbed: the same young people who have been at the forefront of much of the relief and volunteer efforts. In Japan, a country with a history of leftist fragmentation in the face of a dominant and fully-entrenched conservative right, the range and momentum of this moment is a remarkable turn. That this had to come from such tragedy is as sad as it is surprising.
As with all example essays posted on this site, the paper have been made anonymous or not reflecting the author’s wishes.
An unruly market may undo the work of a giant cartel and of an inspired, decades-long ad campaign
By EDWARD JAY EPSTEIN
The diamond invention—the creation of the idea that diamonds are rare and valuable, and are essential signs of esteem—is a relatively recent development in the history of the diamond trade. Until the late nineteenth century, diamonds were found only in a few riverbeds in India and in the jungles of Brazil, and the entire world production of gem diamonds amounted to a few pounds a year. In 1870, however, huge diamond mines were discovered near the Orange River, in South Africa, where diamonds were soon being scooped out by the ton. Suddenly, the market was deluged with diamonds. The British financiers who had organized the South African mines quickly realized that their investment was endangered; diamonds had little intrinsic value—and their price depended almost entirely on their scarcity. The financiers feared that when new mines were developed in South Africa, diamonds would become at best only semiprecious gems.
… Link here...
Journal of Social History
Vol. 32, No. 4 (Summer, 1999), pp. 773-789
Published by: Peter N. Stearns
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3789891
Pilgrims and Progress: How Magazines Made Thanksgiving
Anne Blue Wills
William Bradford wrote, at the beginning of his history Of Plymouth Plantation, “I must begin at the very root and rise” of the story, setting events down “in a plain style, with singular regard unto the simple truth in all things.” He intended to produce an accurate and clear account of the way the Plymouth settlers' lives unfolded. Readers after postmodernism may note with skepticism the governor's claim that his portrayal set down only the perfectly discoverable truth of the matter. Yet certain sparely depicted moments in his history lead us to accept the description “the simple truth” as the only one appropriate to his work.
From the newest Zatoichi film starring Kitano (Beat) Takeshi here:
Humor, more generally, is something we'll be talking and thinking a lot about, because Japan seems so, well, funny, in so many situations. What's this humor about? Why is this funny? I'll be very interested to hear your thoughts.
The first example, a scene from News Radio, a show broadcast in the 1990s, uses Japaneseness in a pretty standard way. As you'll see a character translates his book into Japanese and then translates it back, ending up, of course, with something that sounds like bad subtitles from a World War II battle movie crossed with a video game. Here, to me, it seems like what's funny is the confusing randomness of things translated from Japanese -- things like VCR instructions. (Remember VCRs? Ha ha ha.)
The second is a more recent clip from Saturday Night Live, in which the British actor who starred in the UK "original" of The Office, talks about how the real original actually came from Japan. This clip was interesting to me for at least a couple reasons. First, lots of people sent it to me, demanding to know what they're saying in Japanese. What's interesting is that they're not saying anything special -- literally they are just having basic office chatter, saying "good morning," to each other, having a basic conversation. Yet, and importantly, it still seems funny. (Or does it? Is this skit funny to you?) The point seems to be that anything in Japanese is funny. Secondly, it struck me that the Japanese version is getting described as the "original." As we'll talk about in class, Japan and Japanese people are stereotypically represented (in the US as least, but other places as well) as copiers, as a culture that takes things and makes them into Japanese versions, but doesn't care about the context from which it comes. So, unusually, this seems to be one example in which the "Japanese version" (as fictional as it is) is represented as the "real" and "authentic" one.
Or is it as simple as Ricky Gervias says at the end -- "It's funny because it's racist"?
For information about this email hoax, click here. The question remains - why does this kookiness make so much immediate sense to people? Why is it so easy for people to believe this happens in Japan? Why are they (we?) so reluctant to, ahem, see through this hoax?
Full text is here.
Kanye's (2007) video for "Stronger" is full of Japan and relatively non-sensical Japanese. The full video is here.
Hanzi Smatter -- a blog that says it is dedicated to the "misuse" of Chinese characters in Western cultures -- has a fantastic breakdown of the Japanese text printed on the screen here.
Matt Kaufman pointed out that there is a lot going on in this video. Daft Punk released an album, “Discovery” with a DVD movie “Intersellar 5555” that was a long anime. He says,“The whole DVD tells a story about an alien rock band that gets captured and brought to Earth, where the are enslaved to win Grammy type awards. Pretty trippy stuff, but the animation is pretty "cool," as we talked about in class today.”
Here are a couple clips from it, including the song that gets sampled in “Stronger.”
Here are a couple clips from it, including the song that gets sampled in “Stronger.”
Meanwhile, Kanye West has also been dropping Japaniness by using Murakami Takeshi’s art for his album covers, among other things.
Here’s an article about their relationship.
In this context, Gwen Stefani deserves her own post. As background to these videos, a good place to begin is "English as a Second Language" by Anne Ishii in the Village Voice. Ishii compares Gwen's "harajuku girls" with the geisha played by Zhang Ziyi in "Memoirs of a Geisha" -- or "Sayuri" as it was released in Japan.
... "But even if God's wrath upon the Asian denizens of Babel is broken Engrish, at least it's not total silence. The Harajuku Girls are a quartet of dancers (at least one of whom is from California) on Gwen Stefani's solo music tour. They pose as avatars of the Tokyo neighborhood famous for being a spectacle of fashion and consumerism. Rumor has it that they were contractually obliged by Gwen Stefani (or her PR gurus) not to speak English while on tour, despite being fluent in the language. Love, Angel, Music, and Baby are, like the geishas in Memoirs, simply empty roles of Asian women who aren't allowed to speak openly. I hope that there is no doubt, but just to be clear, silencing people is the epitome of taking away their autonomy and subjectivity, even if Gwen Stefani thinks her silent Japanese fashionistas are part of an awesome and empowering counterculture. This raises the question: Why would an American entertainer who presumably knows cultural diversity (Stefani hails from a part of the O.C. not 10 minutes from my own provenance, where— unlike in the TV show—close to half the population is nonwhite) make such stupid demands specifically for Asian roles? What would be so wrong with Asian women speaking normally?"...
Margaret Cho had a fantastic short piece reacting to the Harajuku girls on her blog but it seem to have been removed. I'll do what I can to find the original, but for now here's a choice quote:
"I want to like [the Harajuku girls], and I want to think they are great, but I am not sure if I can. I mean, racial stereotypes are really cute sometimes, and I don't want to bum everyone out by pointing out the minstrel show. I think it is totally acceptable to enjoy the Harajuku girls, because there are not that many other Asian people out there in the media really, so we have to take whatever we can get. Amos 'n Andy had lots of fans, didn't they? At least it is a measure of visibility, which is much better than invisibility. I am so sick of not existing, that I would settle for following any white person around with an umbrella just so I could say I was there."
An interviewer for Entertainment Weekly asked Gwen Stefani specifically about Margaret Cho's piece -- and she was surely not the only one to write and think along these lines. Gwen seems to completely miss the point that it is quite possible to think that Japanese culture, and even Japanese people, are fun and still turn them into, to use Cho's evocative phrasing, "a silent minstrel show."
''She didn't do her research!'' spits Stefani, who says she's been a fan of Japan and its mix-and-match fashion sense since first visiting the country with No Doubt in the mid-'90s. ''The truth is that I basically was saying how great that culture is. It pisses me off that [Cho] would not do the research and then talk out like that. It's just so embarrassing for her. The Harajuku Girls is an art project. It's fun!''
In the same article, the author included Cho's reaction to this quote, which is perhaps the best sarcasm I've read in a long time:
Cho responded via e-mail, ''I absolutely agree! I didn't do any research! I realize the Harajuku Girls rule!!! How embarrassing for me!!! I was just jealous that I didn't get to be one -- I dance really good!!!''
A few videos for your consideration -- with her the Japan doesn't end at a quick name-drop, either:
"Hollaback Girl" (2004). Apparently, the camera she uses at the opening of the video was sold as a limited edition "Harajuku Lovers" version by HP. Incidentally, what she says to the four women is "super cawaii" -- "cawaii" meaning "cute" in Japanese.
"Rich Girl" (2005) -- where the women start as girls playing with dolls
"Wind it Up" (2005) -- where the newly blond "Harajuku girls" seem to have become dolls themselves
Gwen's HP commercial, seemingly shot in Japan (2005)
Sweet Escape (2006) -- with Akon and only two of the "Harajuku girls," though four return in the following live performance of the same song.
Finally, this is live performance I mentioned in class where the "girls" have been choreographed to, again, look like dolls and also seem to be worshiping Gwen, particularly at the beginning.
Michael and Janet Jackson “Scream”
Lil’ Mama, Chris Brown, and T-Pain “Shawty Get Loose”
I'd be happy to post additional examples -- please send me your songs and your analysis of what's going on. More examples will be wonderful fodder when we return to pop-culture topics later in the semester.
In the order as presented in lecture.... listen for the Japan-dropping.
"Give it to Me," Timbaland, Nelly Furtado, Justin Timberlake (2007):
When timbo is in the party everybody put up their hands
I get a half a mill for my beats you get a couple grand-d-d-d-d
Never gonna see the day that I ain't got the upper hand
I'm respected from californ.i.a. way down to Japan
I'm a real producer and you just the piano man
Your song gonna top the charts, I heard em, I'm not a fan-n-n-n-n
"Are you that Somebody?" Aaliyah with Timbaland (1998):
Don't you know I am the man
Rock shows here to Japan
Have people shaking-shaking my hand
Baby girl, better known as Aaliyah
Give me hives, corns, and high fevers
"My Love" Justin Timberlake with Timbaland and T.I. (2007):
Shorty, cool as a fan
On the new once again
But still has fans from Peru to Japan
Listen baby, I don't wanna ruin your plan
But if you got a man, try to lose him if you can
Cause your girls real wild throw your hands up high
Wanna come kick it wit a stand up guy
"Fantasty" Mariah Carey remix featuring ODB (1995):
Yo, New York in the house
Is Brooklyn in the house
Uptown in the house
Charlotte are ya in da house
Boogie Down are you in the house
Sacramento in the house
Atlanta, Georgia are you in the house
West Coast are you in the house
Japan are you in da house
Everybody are you in the house
Baby, baby c'mon, baby c'mon, baby c'mon