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ASCJ Executive Committee

Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181

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Summer 2000 ASCJ Conference Details

11.    Envisioning Modern Japan

 Organizer:  Bruce Suttmeier, Stanford University.


      This panel explores aspects of visual culture in modern Japan.  In papers ranging from the mid-1870s to the mid-1960s, with subjects including popular religion and journalism, "views" of the metropolis and "photographic" theories of literature, we examine various constitutions of visual perception.  Vision, as our papers will demonstrate, is never just an immediate, simple, unproblematic presentation of the phenomenon and experience of seeing.  Seeing is not just a biological endowment.  It is also a capacity, formed in large part through cultural life, that tends in most cases to "see the world" as prescribed by the dominant discourses of the day.  Put on somewhat more familiar theoretical ground, our approach requires that we understand viewers as "subjects," formed in part through what and how they see.  And yet, we acknowledge that seeing possesses the potential to shape "culture" as well.   As such, our approach not only includes the analysis and interpretation of images, spectacles and other visual phenomena that people encounter in the world, it also encompasses the question of spectatorship (subjective responses to and interactions with the visual environment).  The notion of spectatorship, in particular, requires we understand the historicity of perception; it requires understanding vision as shaped by sets of beliefs and desires, by technologies and generic apparatuses.  Despite their differences in period and subject matter, all our papers attempt to elucidate this historicity, drawing out the complex manifestations and processes that constitute the act of seeing. 

Paper 1.  Shu Kuge, Stanford University.  "Toward Photography: Seeing as Writing."

     My paper is a close reading of Tayama Katai's theory of writing, namely, heimen byoha (flat depiction).  I particularly focus on the notion of "photography" encrypted in this theory.  Katai aspires to transform writing into a photograph; indeed it is an impossible project from the outset.  But I would like to examine the very motivation of this effort.  First of all, what does it mean to be photographic?

   A careful reading reveals the following:  (1) Katai resists the conventional "realism" founded by his predecessors; (2) Katai believes that the photographic writing exorcises the prevalent morality from the space of writing.  His theory is in fact ethically/politically motivated.  Nonetheless, this theory of Katai, in order to be actualized, must deny the opacity of language itself.  What does this denial signify?  It reveals the most dominant epistemology surrounding literature in Modern Japan:  the subordination of language to "reality."  It is rather ironic that heimen byoha, which is initially conceived as an antidote against realism, in fact has the deepest faith in "reality," as if one ever had a direct access to it.  Katai's theory in the end demonstrates the heart of the paradox in the practice of realism.

Paper 2.  Miri Nakamura, Stanford University.  "The Imagined Metropolis:  The Representation of Tokyo in Tokyo shinhanjoki."

      My paper examines Hattori Busho's (1842-1908) Tokyo shinhanjoki (New Account of the Flourishing City of Tokyo, 1874-1876), one of the bestsellers of nineteenth-century Japan.  This text presents an image of the new, modernized Tokyo of the early Meiji period.  Widely read by students in the countryside, the text shaped their imagination of the modern metropolis.  What kind of a cityscape does the text construct?  What connections can we draw between this image of Tokyo and the ideologies of the early Meiji period?   My position as I read the text is that this "Tokyo" is none other than a discursive construct.  Inscribed within this textual representation are the forces that drove Meiji Japan to establish itself as a modern nation state.  Accordingly, the gaze through which this image is constructed is shaped by the existence of the new Other, the West.  The signs of modernity--railroads, Western architecture, etc.--are the major players of this landscape.  The text constructs the Westernized Ginza district as its new center.  Is the reason behind this phenomenon just a matter of Western  "influence," or are there other underlying sources?

    I will also inquire into the deployment of the visually-oriented rhetoric in the narrative and how the narrator of the text often acts as a voyeur to the new landscape. The text emphasizes the act of  "seeing" and ascribes to it certain didactic qualities.  The Western peep shows, the new buildings, the numerous schools--these signs of the modern metropolis all demand a specific beholder.  My presentation will attempt to elucidate the relationship between this emphasis on visualization and the political ideologies of the time.

Paper 3)  Nancy Stalker, Stanford University.  "Seeing is Believing: Proselytization and  Visual Technologies in Pre-war Japan"

     In the Taisho and early Showa periods, the popular religious group Omoto attracted hundreds of thousands of followers in Japan and abroad.  Its popularity threatened the imperial state such that it was twice brutally suppressed during this period.  Western scholarship on Omoto has focused either on state oppression or on Deguchi Nao, the female foundress, but has not yet explained how and why Omoto was able to attract a large and diverse following.  This paper will discuss the use of visual technologies including art exhibitions, expositions, publicity-oriented photography and feature films as a key component of Omoto proselytization.

    Regional exhibitions showcased works of calligraphy, ink painting and ceramics by Omoto's charismatic, entrepreneurial leader Deguchi Onisaburo.  Expositions in major cities featured Omoto's internationalist activities and, after 1931, panoramas of and artifacts from Manchuria and Mongolia, capitalizing both on Onisaburo's notorious 1924 exploits there and on high public interest in the area following the Manchurian incident.  Photography and film enabled Onisaburo to disseminate an image of himself as divine, garbed and surrounded by the iconography of a heterogeneous complex of codes of Japanese sacrality.

    Thus, Omoto's multi-faceted productions of visual culture contained both an epiphanic vision of national identity, based not on state-controlled social formations but on shared aesthetic values and notions of the sacred, and a realistic trumpeting of growing international stature, which conflated Omoto and the Japanese state.  This intersection provided spectators with a physical and psychical representation of a modern national identity nonetheless grounded in "traditional" aesthetic and spiritual concerns.

Paper 4)  Bruce Suttmeier, Stanford University.  "Dying for a Picture: A Contemporary Critique of Graphic Imagery in Early 1965 Japanese Media."

     In the early months of 1965, images of graphic brutality began appearing in the Japanese print media with terrible regularity, images showing death and suffering, images the likes of which had been almost completely absent from main-stream magazines and newspapers during the first two decades of the post-war.  Most of this new explicitness documented the growing war in Vietnam, the first conflict in living memory that the Japanese media presented with such graphic accompaniment.

    My paper concerns one writer's critique of the changes this influx produced in media spectatorship, in effect describing how he linked the change in what viewers were seeing to how they were seeing it.  This writer, Kaika Takeshi, wrote of vision's active role in both creating meaning and shaping subjectivity, he wrote of vision's operations (the interaction between viewer and viewed object) as the key to its moral qualities.  All of these elements are contained in the specific episode I take up in this paper: Kaika's description of a public execution, an event he originally witnessed as a special correspondent for the popular weekly magazine Shukan Asahi (and, it should be noted, an event that the magazine printed widely-acclaimed pictures of in its February 12, 1965 edition).  Kaika's articulation of vision, I contend, not only raises questions of media production and reception in the post-Olympic, high-economic growth period of the mid-1960s, but also speaks to Japan's uneasy confrontation with its own wartime past, a confrontation intensified by images of the Vietnam War that flooded Japanese newspapers on the 20th anniversary of WW II's end.