Negotiating “Japan”: Transnational Assemblages in Text and Media

Title: 1365 | Negotiating “Japan”: Transnational Assemblages in Text and Media
Area: Border Crossing and Inter-Area
Stream: Literature
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Xavi Sawada, Yale University, United States (organizer, presenter)
Joelle Nazzicone, Harvard University, United States (chair, discussant)
Ajjana Thairungroj, Princeton University, United States (presenter)
Yusung Kim, Harvard University, United States (presenter)
Takuya Maeda, Brown University, United States (presenter)


This panel critically examines ongoing negotiations of Japanese national identity across borders. In particular, it explores how texts, spaces, and images come to be imbued with geopolitical significance and sentiment — while simultaneously providing the means of disrupting such hegemonic structures through their movements across national boundaries. In exploring these materials’ movements, form, and reception, the presenters cast light on the performance of race, gender, and class in an array of restlessly mobile literary, visual, and material genres. We contend that examining these materials specifically in their cross-cultural contexts permits greater insight into the nuances and contingencies underwriting the nation and its attendant narratives. Takuya Maeda explores how the “floating city” came to be seen as a panacea to the problems confronted by both Japan and the United States as they forged a new postwar transpacific order; Yusung Kim challenges monolithic Cold War narratives by interrogating the scientific and technological dreams of the future in Japanese and Korean science fiction and youth magazines; Ajjana Thairungroj rereads Yoshioka Shinobu’s Nihonjin gokko as a de-territorializing negotiation of gender and Thai-Japanese identity at a moment of Japan’s pronounced economic precedence in Southeast Asia; and Xavi Sawada analyzes Hasegawa Kaitarō’s forgotten writings that construct a transnational, multi-lingual Japanese masculinity by evoking his experiences as an immigrant to the United States in the 1920’s. By placing these diverse and vivid materials in conversation, the panel probes into the ways border-transgressing aesthetic practices have historically articulated post-national subjectivities in Japan.

Panel Abstracts:
Modernism and Transnational Subjectivity in Interwar Émigré Literature
Hasegawa Kaitarō (1930-35) was an extremely popular and financially successful writer in early 1930’s Japan. His professional writing career lasted only ten years, but this gave readers enough time to avidly consume his hundreds of short stories, embellished travelogues, and opinion essays before his premature death in 1935. Some of Hasegawa’s characters, such as the cagey swordsman Tange Sazen (protagonist of a series published under the pseudonym Hayashi Fubō), rose to cult status in the postwar owing to their interpretation in cinema by the most prestigious jidaigeki actors. Hasegawa’s status as a mass fiction writer has, however, contributed to unfair amnesia of his more experimental pre-1929 writings that focus on his life as an immigrant in the United States between 1920 and 1924. This presentation examines Hasegawa’s experiences as a student, worker, and self-styled “wanderer” in the U.S. of the Roaring Twenties, and evaluates how the literary form of his earlier writings helps bring to life an idealized, transnational Japanese-American male subjectivity. The goal of this presentation is to test the extent to which both the particular kind of Japanese-American masculinity Hasegawa depicts, as well as his idiosyncratic use of a combined Japanese and English vernacular, work towards constructing a unique vision of transnational Japanese identity that challenges assumptions of a linguistically and ethnically undivided nation. Both Hasegawa’s modernist style and the repeated appearances of a particular kind of Japanese-American subject (whom he calls the “Meriken Jappu”) distinguish his works from the dominant trends in émigré writing from this period.

From Kantia Asayot to ‘Yūko’: Cross-Cultural Racial Performativity in Yoshioka Shinobu's Nihonjin Gokko
The 1970s and 1980s saw Japan’s rise as an economic power and increased financial investment in ASEAN countries. As one of the countries in which Japan significantly invested, Thailand saw a rapid influx of Japanese manufactured goods and popular media. This presentation examines the notion of cross-cultural performativity via Yoshioka Shinobu’s literary nonfiction work Nihonjin gokko (1989), an inquiry into the transforming boundaries of identity and citizenship within this epistemic moment. Based on a real Thai media event in 1986 covered in the nationwide newspaper Thairath, Nihonjin gokko provides its own interpretation of a performative transnational subjectivity amidst the context of Japan’s rising economic precedence in 1980s Thailand. Yoshioka’s literary reportage traces the story of Kantia Asayot, a Thai girl from Chiang Rai province who traverses the increasingly ‘Japanized’ Bangkok landscape while pretending to be the daughter of the Japanese Ambassador. Naming herself ‘Yūko’ after Oshin actress Tanaka Yūko, Kantia forges for herself a new transnational identity from assemblages of Japanese news articles and popular media culture. Through its documentary-style writing, the text explores questions of race, class, and subjectivity in context of the mounting social tensions that come with Japan’s rising power over the Thai economy. Its inquiry into the notion of performativity allows exploration of questions such as what it means to be ‘Japanese’ or ‘Thai’ in Thailand during this historical moment. Ultimately, this presentation hopes to evaluate how Nihonjin gokko may be read as a gesture towards de-territorializing static understandings of categories such as identity and nationality.

Popular Images of Science and Technology in Cold War Japan and South Korea
This paper comparatively examines how popular images of science and technology were used as the foundation for dreams of the future in 1960s-1970s Japan and South Korea, focusing primarily on science fiction, as well as youth and children’s magazines, published in those countries at the time. The Cold War is commonly understood as an era of competition between the two superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, that respectively represented capitalism and communism. The apocalyptic and/or utopian discourses of nuclear war and space development generated dramatic images in popular culture symbolizing these nations’ powers, which generated an ambivalent public attitude towards science. However, in Japan and South Korea, images of science and technology involved more complex layers rooted in the entangled geopolitics of East Asia. I argue that while the two countries were seen as a unified bulwark protecting the East Asian capitalist community under the US umbrella, they nevertheless cultivated very distinct images of science and technology in their respective popular imaginations. In particular, while scientific and technological advancement had distinctly changed everyday life in Japanese society under high economic growth, images of science and technology nevertheless incubated latent fear and anxiety over military defeat and nuclear disaster, promoting relatively restrained environments for military science/technology. In contrast, South Korea, in post-war competition with North Korea, saw science and technology as a means not only of reconstructing the nation, but also of triumphing over the enemy, all the while harboring both admiration and jealousy for Japan’s consumer culture.

The Many Lives of the “Floating City”: Transpacific Collusions and Anxieties between Japan and the United States
The centerpiece of Expo ’75, the world’s fair held in Okinawa, Japan was a floating city created by the architect Kikutake Kiyonori, called Aquapolis. Expo ’75 was a celebration of the reversion of Okinawa after nearly two decades of American control and Aquapolis was seen as the foremost demonstration of postwar Japan’s economic and technological prowess. Yet Kikutake’s ambitious project would have been impossible without the research conducted under the auspices of an earlier program, University of Hawaii’s Floating City Project. Led by a U.S. Navy scientist, the program had brought in Kikutake in 1971 as it sought a floating city for its own celebrations, the bicentennial of American independence (1976) and Captain Cook’s “discovery” of the Hawaiian Islands (1978). In fact, there were plans for Kikutake’s floating city to be towed from Okinawa to Hawaii at the conclusion of Expo ’75. As such, in this paper I explore the ways in which Aquapolis came to be imbued with the desires and anxieties of both nations. For the United States, Aquapolis represented a human-engineered terra nullius, a frictionless space absented of indigenous claims and Hawaiian land politics. For Japan, Aquapolis inaugurated not only the opening of Okinawa to development by mainland capital, but of a new frontier, the ocean, amidst postwar anxieties about the “loss” of national territory. In this transpacific traversal, these visions became entangled as Aquapolis became a transnational laboratory and enforcement mechanism for new notions of territoriality, sovereignty, and our relationship to land and ocean

This panel is on Tuesday - Session 01 - Room 1
This panel is not available on Catch-Up

Go to Room 1