井の中の蛙

7/31/2005

Nostalgia and Representations of Asia in Japan

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:07 am

Last year I wrote an article entitled Losing the Soul of Japan which was posted on the excellent weblog Chanpon. In the article I made some comments on the topic of nostalgia in Japan for an authentic Japanese culture. This has been widely written about (perhaps the most important work on this in English is Marilyn Ivy’s Discourses of the Vanishing) but my own motivation in this earlier article was to explore the use of foreigners in campaigns to create a sense of shame amongst Japanese over the loss of their own “pure” selves. I added more thoughts on this topic in another posting here. As a student of Japanese history, I think this phenomena is an especially useful portal through which to approach the far more complex and powerful images of cultural loss, nostalgia, and authenticity which inform the ideologies of nationalism prominent during Japan’s imperial age.

I just recently read another article related to this topic which also touches on these issues, “Nostalgia for a (Different) Asian Modernity: Media Consumption of ‘Asia’ in Japan” by Iwabuchi Koichi (Positions 10:3, Winter, 2002), that makes a number of interesting arguments about Japan’s nostalgia in representations of Asia and in particular, media consumption amongst Japanese for Hong Kong products.

At the risk of oversimplifying a complex argument, let me see if I can describe what he is getting at. Iwabuchi begins by discussing existing work on nostalgia, and especially a feeling of mournful loss which is expressed through descriptions of other cultures. This, “Politics of the transnational evocation of nostalgia is highlighted when it is employed to confirm a frozen temporal lag between two cultures, when ‘our’ past and memory are found in ‘their’ present.” (549) Iwabuchi notes that quite often, what is missing in these portrayals of Asia is any appreciation for the cultural specificity and innovation in these other locations. However, after confirming these trends in Japanese postwar representations of Asia and connecting it to a critique of a (in the words of Renato Rosaldo, who he cites), “a particular kind of nostalgia, often found under imperialism, where people mourn the passing of what they themselves have transformed,” (quoted 550, forgive me for not confirming the original) Iwabuchi goes on to explore an interesting twist on this theme in the case of Hong Kong media consumption amongst Japanese fans…
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