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1/4/2007

AHA Blogging Day One: Between Naps

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:20 pm Print
They call it a "red eye flight" for a reason. I really hope that none of the panelists at "Unstable Bodies, Unsettled Movements: Sport, Performance and Nation in Japan" took my nodding off personally: I really did want to hear what they had to say. (If anyone went to the Historians in Public roundtable and wants to share, I'd be grateful, by the way: that was my second choice.)

Aside from hearing the panelists, I got to meet not one, but two of my fellow Frog-bloggers: Dennis Frost, who was on the panel, and Michael Wert, who was in the audience with me. Tomorrow I get to hang out with Cliopatriots (being emeritoid, myself) and find out who won the Clios for last year! I love it.

The panel really was interesting, more so than I -- who can be a bit skeptical of cultural studies type topics -- was expecting. Our own Dr. Frost (congratulations!) talked about the remarkably career and tragic death of Kinue Hitomi, and how public discourse around her career and death both highlighted "woman problem" anxieties and also gave a huge boost to sports medicine, and to the medicalization of women's issues. The incompetence and perfidy of her Mainichi Shinbun boss and supposed sports doctor Kinoshita deserves special mention: it takes a huge dose of chutzpah to claim on the one hand that there was no medical connection between Kinue's competitions, her gender, and her death, and on the other that what's needed for women athletes is more sports medicine (in spite of the fact that having a doctor along didn't help her one bit).

Following the theme of self-contradicting dicta, Rebecca Nickerson talked about women's physical education scholar and advocate Fujimura Toyo, who apparently blamed the poor health and posture of her contemporaries (she was active in the Taisho era, mostly) on bunmei (civilization) and incompetent physical education programs. She was particularly down on tight-obi'd kimono -- which she considered an aspect of a distinctively Japanese modernity, along with physical education and compulsory classroom attendance -- arguing that the Genroku-style loose obi and a healthy rural lifestyle -- Ainu were considered very healthy, apparently -- were the key to proper posture and health. Looser, western style clothes and moderate western style calisthenics were her keys to a uniquely Japanese healthy women's lifestyle..... I was struck by the parallels to the agrarian nationalists of the same time period, who create a sort of fantastical idyllic, authentic and pre-modern past, then invoke the instruments of modernity and Westernization to try to force society back into that shape.

Paul Droubie's talk on the scientification of athletic training in the run up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics raised all kinds of great issues. That the program was partially successful (16 golds, but blanks in track and swimming) raised hackles, mostly by those who were in favor of better and more "scientific" methods. He argued that application of those technical methods of improvement to normal people would be sharply resisted, but athletes, in their capacity as national representatives, do not entirely own their bodies and as such were "fair game."

Finally, Valerie Barske presented a great wealth of material on the use and abuse of Ryukyuan dance to construct Okinawan identity, from the Edo period up to the "Wakanatsu Kokutai" event celebrating the reversion of Okinawa (half of it, anyway) to Japanese control in 1973. The most surprising section, to me, was the way in which the US admnistration in Okinawa used (and dramatically altered) Ryukyuan dances to bolster Ryukyuan identity, presumably to reduce the sense of connection to Japan and create a stronger case for continued stewardship. The Okinawans then turned that around in 1973 to use their traditional and modernized dances to present themselves as politically unified and equal to the rest of Japan, while culturally and ethnically distinct.

At least, I'm pretty sure that's what they were talking about! Any errors I'll chalk up to jet-lag, and my co-bloggers can correct me (and fill me in on the post-paper discussion, which I missed entirely) at their leisure. I rounded out the day with Fish and Chips (They were fantastic, but I better get some BBQ soon!), and now it's time to rest up for tomorrow's adventures.

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