I’ve been absent from Frog in a Well for some time for reasons I explain here, so feel a bit rusty at this. But I was inspired by my receipt of the new University of Hawai’i Press catalog in Japanese studies (pdf) to write something. Full disclosure: I have published two books with the UH Press and hope to publish more, so mine is by no means an unbiased opinion, but I was really impressed by the depth of the offerings. I’m used to seeing interesting literature and cultural history books. For 2011, a number of historians of premodern Japan publish books that many of us have been anticipating for years. Andrew Goble‘s book Confluences of Medicine in Medieval Japan: Buddhist Healing, Chinese Knowledge, Islamic Formulas, and Wounds of War arrives this year, the first comprehensive exploration of medical history in medieval Japan. My sempai Haruko Wakabayashi publishes Tengu and the Rhetoric of Legitimacy in Medieval Japanese Buddhism, another book I’ve been looking forward to for years. In a similar vein is Hank Glassman‘s much anticipated The Face of Jizô: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism. Another sempai, Luke Roberts, has a new book out as well: Performing the Great Peace: Political Space and Open Secrets in Tokugawa Japan, a study of “spatial autonomy, ritual submission, and informal negotiation” in Tokugawa politics. Some similarly exciting offerings in early modern Japanese studies include Phil Brown‘s Cultivating Commons: Joint Ownership of Arable Land in Early Modern Japan and Timon Screech‘s Obtaining Images: Art, Production, and Display in Edo Japan. Many more titles can be found on modern subjects, including shôjô manga, girl’s culture, Ainu spirits, Western painting in Japan, Buddhist clerical marriage, parks, the Burakumin, Okinawa, and The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. This is just one slice of the various layers of our field, but its richness is encouraging.
Postings by Morgan Pitelka
Contact: morgan [at] froginawell.net
The recent victory of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in the Lower House, just two years after its surprise victory in the Upper House, is only slightly less exciting than the news that the new First Lady of Japan has traveled, in an out-of-body experience, to the planet Venus. This unusual turn of affairs, predicted by authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Heinlein, C. S. Lewis, Frederick Pohl, Isaac Asimov, and Paul Anderson, will not, we can only hope, influence Japan’s foreign affairs in the years ahead. Critics allege that Hatoyama Miyuki’s claim is nothing more than a stunt in which she hopes to attain the high-standing of American political wives like Nancy Reagan, who of course is a devout believer in Astrology, or even former president Jimmy Carter, who saw a UFO while Governor of Georgia (pdf). At the very least she is as “interesting” a figure in politics as Carla Bruni or Sarah Palin. And we shouldn’t let her oddities distract us from the very real and significant participation of women politicians in the DPJ strategy of attacking LDP strongholds. In the end, 54 women won seats in the Lower House.
The DPJ emerged from the late-night 1998 union, no doubt fueled by many Suntory whiskies, of the Democratic Reform Party, the New Fraternity Party, the Democratic Party, and the Good Governance Party. (Why didn’t they go with the much more compelling English name “The Good Fraternity Party”? Now that’s a name American politicians could understand.)
The leader of the DPJ in its period of frenetic activity between 2006 and May of 2009 was Ozawa Ichiro. Elected to the presidency of his party as a reformer, Ozawa was in fact first elected to office as a member of the LDP in 1969. His mentor was Tanaka Kakuei, who became Prime Minister in 1972 on a wave of overwhelming popularity but then was implicated in numerous scandals within a year of taking office. Ozawa survived this crisis and became LDP Secretary General in 1989. As recently as 1999, he was still closely aligned with the leaders of the LDP. This experience proved valuable. More than any member of the DPJ, Ozawa can be credited with the party’s rise, and although he stepped down in May because of allegations of scandal (surprise!), he was a central figure in the election strategy that knocked the LDP out of power for just the second time since the 50s, and will likely assume the new post of Secretary General.
The current leader of the DPJ and the new Prime Minister of Japan (as well as the lucky husband of one of the few women to visit Venus. Venus! Imagine!) is Hatoyama Yukio. Following in the proud, reformist tradition established by Koizumi Jun’ichiro, Hatoyama has awesome hair. Like many graduates of Stanford University (Ph.D. 1976), Hatoyama comes from humble origins: his great-grandfather was Speaker of the House and President of Waseda University; his grandfather was Prime Minister; his father was Foreign Minister; and his mother is considered to be one of the most influential political donors in Japan. (The family even has an English-language scholarly monograph dedicated to them; it’s available on KINDLE!) Hatoyama was only with the LDP for seven years from 1986 to 1993, giving him slightly better credentials as a reformist than Ozawa.
The DPJ has a lot to do. Their new Prime Minister, nicknamed “the Alien” by parliamentary colleagues for his protruding eyes and Stanford-like behavior, needs to answer the question: If women are from Venus, are men in fact from Mars? Will the DPJ adopt an increasingly belligerent tone toward North Korea, Japan’s most urgent international threat? Will Hatoyama champion environmental issues despite American recalcitrance? Will the new government revisit the issue of Article 9 in the constitution or spend its valuable political capital on continuing economic recovery instead? And will Japan establish a consulate on the second planet from the sun in the near future?
People inside and outside of Japan are genuinely excited to see if the DPJ will successfully reform the nation’s political system, shaped by decades of one-party dominance and widespread corruption. Or will the rule of Hatoyama, like the brief period of coalition rule in the 1990s, be nothing but a fleeting, out-of-body experience?
(Thanks to my former student Mathew Mikuni, a Diplomacy and World Affairs and Asian Studies double major who, in a marvelous 2009 senior thesis, taught me everything I know about the DPJ. Except for the inaccurate, snarky, and hypothetical stuff.)
The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco has been targeted by an anonymous artistic and political intervention that parodies the current Lords of the Samurai exhibition with a well designed website and a series of pamphlets distributed in San Francisco. The website is worth exploring, and becomes particularly interesting when paired with an interview with the anonymous critics on the 8Asians website.
Many in the museum world will feel that the parody is entirely unfair. The museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to education, and museum staff include many of Asian heritage as well as many respected scholars who have advanced degrees in Asian art history. In addition, some recent exhibitions at the museum have attempted to deal (not always very explicitly) with the history of Orientalism, such as the recent one on photographs of Asia, particularly South Asia.
One might also respond that at present museum exhibitions are not subject to the same kinds of peer review and scholarly criticism that help improve other forms of educational production. Other than the occasional newspaper review of a blockbuster exhibition, and the odd blog post by a volunteer scholar/critic, exhibitions and their catalogs rarely receive the kind of critical attention that they deserve. I have long argued that museums are probably the most important scholarly site in the world we live in for mass education about other nations and cultures. (TV and films reach more people, but are usually less grounded in scholarship and have less of a veneer of objectivity and authenticity.) A good specialty academic monograph might sell a few thousand copies. Many copies will go to academic libraries, where they might be read by multiple generations of students (we hope!). A big museum exhibition, on the other hand, might draw in 10s or even 100s of thousands of visitors. The AAMSF’s 2007 exhibition “Yoshitoshi’s Strange Tales,” for example, attracted almost 80,000 visitors, or approximately 931 per day according to The Art Newspaper‘s “Exhibition Attendance Figures,” 189 (March 2008) . Bigger Asian art exhibitions, such as the Freer Gallery of Art’s exhibition “East of Eden: Gardens in Asian Art” brought in well more than 200,000 visitors.
Most museum professionals are entirely aware of the incredible responsibility they have in putting on exhibitions that often substitute for a nation’s entire history. Curators know that visitors might feel that having visited a show on the samurai, they have in effect visited Japan itself. This is the wonderful power and also the great danger of the museum; it reduces social and cultural complexity, not to mention historical variation and diversity, to a few beautiful objects.
Topics like the samurai and the geisha are certainly valid subjects for museum exhibitions, and in these difficult financial times, must be attractive themes as guarantees of significant visitor traffic. But why not call attention to the problematic mythologization of these figures, as the Pacific Asia Museum’s 2009 exhibition “The Samurai Re-Imagined: From Ukiyo-e to Anime” did? Why not, as the parody of AAMSF’s exhibition suggests, pay attention to less well known aspects of samurai culture and history, whether that be sexuality, the reality of war, Japanese aggression in Korea, or modern wartime appropriations of the samurai image? Or why not, as the interview suggestions, highlight the more nuanced scholarship of Tom Conlon or Hal Bolitho instead of the work of Thomas Cleary? These are valid and important questions, and the controversy illustrates the need for more scholarly and critical attention to the politics of display of Japanese art.
One of my students is doing a summer research project on the Japanese financial crisis of the 1990s and we just looked at Jon Woronoff’s book The Japanese Economic Crisis (1992) which was originally published as Japan, the Coming Economic Crisis (1979). Woronoff, who was at one point a correspondent for the journal “Asian Business” and still writes about East Asian economies, was apparently widely panned at the time for being a Japanophobe or maybe just a hater in general, but I was very struck by how many of the issues he raises–banking problems, too much reliance on exports and protectionism, widening social inequalities, insecurity for the elderly, the massive generation gap of the late 20th century, collapse of the company loyalty ethic–became widely acknowledged and commented-upon social and economic problems after the collapse of the bubble. Didn’t he turn out to be right about a lot of things? Has he gotten any credit? This is not my field. My understanding of postwar economic issues is thin (Is MITI a college at M.I.T?). But the many ways in which Japan’s response to its crisis of two decades ago resonate with both the global and Japanese situation today make this feel worth revisiting.
I just received Tools of Culture: Japan’s Cultural, Intellectual, Medical, and Technological Contacts in East Asia, 1000s-1500s, part of the Asia Past and Present book series. I hadn’t ordered a book from the AAS previously and didn’t know what to expect. A pamphlet? Something printed on a desktop? I was pleasantly surprised to see that this inexpensive paperback book (just $22.40 with the AAS member discount!) is a high quality product equal to anything you would see from a university press. I haven’t read the book, but the form is reassuring, and the blurbs by prominent premodern Japanese historians on the back also convince. This looks like an excellent publishing option. As it gets harder to publish with the usual suspects, alternatives such as the various East Asia Center presses (Harvard, Michigan, Cornell), the new PMJS Papers, and other options that I probably don’t know about yet become attactive and important ways of maintaining scholarly standards while still getting our work into print.
Just received this from friends at the Japanese American National Museum:
The Japanese American National Museum is accepting film & video submissions for their Second annual ID Film Festival, a series of films that challenge and celebrate what it means to be Asian.
To take place from October 1-3, ID Film Fest will showcase both shorts and features to be screened digitally in the Democracy Forum, a state of the art theater in downtown Los Angeles.
ID Film Fest welcomes film and video works of all lengths and genres that challenge and celebrate what it means to be Asian and/or Asian American. Please direct all inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
To see the films that we screened at last year’s festival, visit http://www.janm.org/events/2008/idfilmfest/films/
Please send a one-paged synopsis of the work along with contacts (e-mail, address and phone), a short biography of the filmmaker and a DVD screener to the:
Japanese American National Museum
Attention: Koji Steven Sakai
369 E. First St.
Los Angeles CA 90012
There is no submission fee and no entry form is required. Submission deadline is AUGUST 1, 2009.
Premodernists, particularly those who focus on history, sometimes feel gloomy about the state of premodern Japanese studies in the U.S., where a number of large graduate programs have shrunk, disappeared, or fundamentally changed in emphasis in the past two decades. Some of us have even been known to eulogize the field, as if the heart of our collective endeavors had already stopped beating. Is the field more like a rotting corpse, or perhaps a mummified one? Have we been subject to cremation, leaving behind only bone fragments to be buried in an urn? Or was the corpse of the field left lying on the banks of the river, food for the crows and source of anxiety for locals, known as “wind burial”? (Thanks, PMJS!)
Two upcoming events prove that the rumors of the death of medieval Japanese studies were greatly exaggerated.
A recent article in the Japan Times, pointed out to me by a resourceful student (thanks Lindsay!), shows that the future imagined in Ghost in the Shell and other works of Japanese popular culture is just over the horizon. It resonated for me because I’m currently rereading Anne Allison’s wonderful Millenial Monsters with my seminar students. The book grows increasingly familiar and spooky as my own kids start to develop interests in Pokemon and the other globalized Japanese toys that still dominate American (and many other countries’) consumer toy market. Ah well. At least they’ll know how to communicate with our robot overlords later in the century: “Pikachu, I choose you!”
The Bowers Museum in southern California opens a new exhibition this Sunday, “Art of the Samurai: Selections from the Tokyo National Museum.” In conjunction, the museum is hosting a range of samurai-related events. Sword fetishists, get ready!
All lectures are free to Members and with paid admission unless otherwise noted.
Sunday, April 19
OPENING DAY LECTURE: ART OF A WARLORD, SHOGUN, AND DEITY: TOKUGAWA IEYASU (1546-1616) AND THE POLITICS OF SAMURAI CULTURE
Dr. Morgan Pitelka, Chair of the Asian Studies Department at Occidental College and a cultural historian of pre-modern Japan, explores the art collecting, patronage, and memorialization of the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, the military regime that governed Japan from 1603 to 1868. Tokugawa Ieyasu was a collector of paintings and ceramics, a fan of the Noh theatere, a grudging participant in tea ritual, and a passionate devotee of falconry.
Walter Edwards of Tenri University reported in a message to H-Japan that the newest issue of “Noteworthy Archaeological Sites” is online. The report consists of a selection of items from 『発掘された日本列島２００８』, translated into English. The members of the Committee for International Relations of the Japanese Archaeological Association (JAA), who translate these and other materials on the JAA website, have carefully chosen at least one site from each major period in Japanese archaeological studies: paleolithic, Jomon, Yayoi, Kofun, antiquity, medieval, and “modern” (which seems to begin in the 16th century).