Interviews with Scholars of Japan about their New Books
Matjaz Ursic and Heide Imai, "Creativity in Tokyo: Revitalizing a Mature City" (Palgrave, 2020)
In Creativity in Tokyo: Revitalizing a Mature City (Palgrave, 2020), Heide Imai and Matjaz Ursic focues on overlooked contextual factors that constitute the urban creative climate or innovative urban milieu in contemporary cities. Filled with reflections based on interviews with a diverse range of creative actors in various local neighborhoods in Tokyo, it offers a rare glimpse into the complex set of elements that provide long-term, physical, and sociocultural support to urban creativity. The authors highlight the interplay between physical and soft (social) factors in the process of place-making and explore how a city’s creativity is influenced by financial support and accessible infrastructure, as well as the sets of informal networks, services, and tacit, locally embedded knowledge that provide the basic layers of stimuli needed for creativity to fully develop. The authors show how the future development of creativity and the overall development of a city depend not only on the (top-down) planning strategies of formal authorities, but also on the appropriate (bottom-up) inclusion of heterogeneous elements that are provided and embedded within the small, hidden context of city spaces.
Woojeong Joo, "Cinema of Ozu Yasujiro: Histories of the Everyday" (Edinburgh UP, 2017)
One of the most well regarded of non-Western film directors, responsible for acknowledged classics like Tokyo Story (1953), Ozu Yasujiro worked during a period of immense turbulence for Japan and its population. In The Cinema of Ozu Yasujiro: Histories of the Everyday (Edinburgh University Press, 2017), Woojeong Joo offers a new interpretation of Ozu's career, from his earliest work in the 1920s up to his death in 1963, focusing on Ozu's depiction of the everyday life and experiences of ordinary Japanese people during a time of depression, war and economic resurgence. Firmly situating him within the context of the Japanese film industry, Woojeong Joo examines Ozu's work as a studio director and his relation to sound cinema, and looks in-depth at his wartime experiences and his adaptation to post-war Japanese society. Drawing on Japanese materials not previously examined in western scholarship, this is a ground-breaking new study of a master of cinema.
In this interview, I asked Woojeong a series of questions concerning the operative notion of the "everyday" in the works of Ozu. It seems that the ordinary and oft-repetitive experience of the "present" enabled Ozu to create a space in which one could resist the nationalistic dictum of the "Japanese spirit" in 1930–40s Japan. Despite the fact that there is a certain continuity between his pre-war and post-war works (just like the works of the Kyoto School philosophers that the book cites), and despite the limitations Ozu's works inherently contain for a contemporary audience, his films are saturated with acute social commentaries, and offer insight into the emergence of different social "everday"s in modern Japan. Woojeong's interpretation of "feminity" in the works of Ozu also demonstrates his cross-cultural and cross-generational sensitivity, which is necessary for understanding the significance of "femininity" in the wider intellectual and historical context of feminist philosophy and Gender studies.
I ended with a question about Ozu's signature technique of the "low height" angle. Is there anything that we should know about this distinct technique? What did Ozu intend to achieve with this peculiar viewpoint? Woojeong's informed answer, just like this book, will no doubt make us feel like watching the Ozu films again.
Woojeong Joo received his PhD degree from University of Warwick. He has worked at the University of East Anglia as a postdoctoral research assistant for the AHRC-funded project "Manga to Movies" and is currently teaching in the Japan-in-Asia Cultural Studies Program at Nagoya University, Japan.
Takeshi Morisato is philosopher and sometimes academic. I specialize in comparative and Japanese philosophy but I am also interested in making Japan and philosophy accessible to a wider audience.
Gracia Liu-Farrer, "Immigrant Japan: Mobility and Belonging in an Ethno-nationalist Society" (Cornell UP, 2020)
Immigrant Japan? Sounds like a contradiction, but as Gracia Liu-Farrer shows in Immigrant Japan Mobility and Belonging in an Ethno-nationalist Society (Cornell University Press, 2020), millions of immigrants make their lives in Japan, dealing with the tensions between belonging and not belonging in this ethno-nationalist country. Why do people want to come to Japan? Where do immigrants with various resources and demographic profiles fit in the economic landscape? How do immigrants narrate belonging in an environment where they are "other" at a time when mobility is increasingly easy and belonging increasingly complex? Gracia Liu-Farrer illuminates the lives of these immigrants by bringing in sociological, geographical, and psychological theories—guiding the reader through life trajectories of migrants of diverse backgrounds while also going so far as to suggest that Japan is already an immigrant country.
In this interview we talked about what has contributed to the formation of "ethno-nationalism" in the history of modern Japan and how the growing population of immigrants and the complex reality of their lives offer us a more comprehensive understanding of "belonging" and "displacement" in contemporary Japanese society. After discussing the problems that prevent us from clearly seeing Japan as an immigrant country I asked Gracia two questions about the present and the future of this country:
"Does the COVID19 pandemic introduce any new problems that fall outside the purview of this book, or does the book provide any new insights into current situation?"
"What could people do to create a robust sense of belonging that is inclusive of everyone in Japan?"
Her answers were as insightful and salient as her analysis of the relationship between migration and belonging in Japan.
Gracia Liu-Farrer is Professor of Sociology at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, and Director of Institute of Asian Migrations, Waseda University, Japan. She is the author of Labor Migration from China to Japan and coeditor of the Routledge Handbook of Asian Migrations.
William C. Hedberg, "The Japanese Discovery of Chinese Fiction: The Water Margin and the Making of a National Canon" (Columbia UP, 2019)
The classic Chinese novel The Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan) tells the story of a band of outlaws in twelfth-century China and their insurrection against the corrupt imperial court. Imported into Japan in the early seventeenth century, it became a ubiquitous source of inspiration for translations, adaptations, parodies, and illustrated woodblock prints. There is no work of Chinese fiction more important to both the development of early modern Japanese literature and the Japanese imagination of China than The Water Margin.
In The Japanese Discovery of Chinese Fiction: The Water Margin and the Making of a National Canon (Columbia UP, 2019), William C. Hedberg investigates the reception of The Water Margin in a variety of early modern and modern Japanese contexts, from eighteenth-century Confucian scholarship and literary exegesis to early twentieth-century colonial ethnography. He examines the ways Japanese interest in Chinese texts contributed to new ideas about literary canons and national character. By constructing an account of Japanese literature through the lens of The Water Margin’s literary afterlives, Hedberg offers an alternative history of East Asian textual culture: one that focuses on the transregional dimensions of Japanese literary history and helps us rethink the definition and boundaries of Japanese literature itself.
Jingyi Li is a PhD Candidate in Japanese Cultural and Literary History, University of Arizona
William W. Kelly, "The Sportsworld of the Hanshin Tigers: Professional Baseball in Modern Japan" (University of California Press, 2018)
Baseball has been Japan's most popular sport for over a century. In The Sportsworld of the Hanshin Tigers: Professional Baseball in Modern Japan (University of California Press, 2018), anthropologist William Kelly analyzes Japanese baseball ethnographically by focusing on a single professional team, the Hanshin Tigers. For over fifty years, the Tigers have been the one of the country’s most watched and talked-about professional baseball teams, second only to their powerful rivals, the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. Despite a largely losing record, perennial frustration, and infighting among players, the Tigers remain overwhelming sentimental favorites in many parts of the country.
This book analyzes the Hanshin Tiger phenomenon, and offers an account of why it has long been so compelling and instructive. Professor Kelly argues that the Tigers represent what he calls a sportsworld —a collective product of the actions of players, coaching staff, management, media, and millions of passionate fans. The team has come to symbolize a powerful counter-narrative to idealized notions of Japanese workplace relations. The Tigers are savored as a melodramatic representation of real corporate life, rife with rivalries and office politics familiar to every Japanese worker. And playing in a historic stadium on the edge of Osaka, they carry the hopes and frustrations of Japan’s second city against the all-powerful capital.
John W. Traphagan, Ph.D. is Professor and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Fellow in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor in the Program in Human Dimensions of Organizations.
Kelly A. Hammond, "China's Muslims and Japan's Empire: Centering Islam in World War II" (UNC Press, 2020)
The 1930s-40s expansion of the Japanese empire was marked by significant interest among Japan-based scholars and policy-makers in China’s Muslim population and how best to write them into a new pan-Asian story. At the very same time, as Kelly Hammond shows in China's Muslims and Japan's Empire: Centering Islam in World War II (UNC Press, 2020), members of this longstanding community of Sino-Muslims were themselves engaged in numerous complex debates over culture and identity, and their place in an emerging post-dynastic China and a wider Islamic world. Choosing to reciprocate Japanese interest was thus just one possible path.
Expertly navigating the multi-layered, transnational concerns which are brought into focus by the twentieth-century encounter between Japanese Empire, Chinese Nationalism and Sino-Muslims, Hammond reframes our understanding of wartime East Asia. From global developments stretching as far afield as Central Asia, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to the more intimate everyday experiences of Sino-Muslims caught between imperial spaces, the author offers a rich and little-told account of a particularly febrile period of recent history, as well as charting developments which continue to resonate in international relations and domestic minority policies to this day.
Ed Pulford is a Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.