Sunday, June 10, 2007

Representing Japan in American Culture

Attending the JAAS conference here at Rikkyo University in the Ikebukuro neighborhood of Tokyo has helped me focus my thinking on the talks I'm going to give at the Japan-America Society of Fukuoka on June 30 (“From Manifest Destiny to War in the Pacific: 1846-1945”), July 7 (“The End of the American Century in Japan? 1946-1995”), and July 14 (“What[’s] Next: The Past 25 Years and the Next”). The panel/workshop "Migrating Cultures" in particular has encouraged me to emphasize in my talks what has been a part of my Representing Japan course but not its main emphasis--the broader historical and political context in which American representations of Japan are produced, distributed, and consumed, as well as the overlaps and interarticulations of myths, stereotypes, ideologies, and discourses on Japan and the Japanese with those of other racialized places and groups within and outside the U.S.

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about here (and what I'm going to be talking about in Fukuoka). I start my first talk in 1846 with the Mexican War and the idea of American manifest destiny in order to emphasize that the first American-produced images of Japan--coming out of Commodore Perry's voyages to Japan in 1853 and 1854--were made possible and were part of a process of U.S. westward expansion, over both land and sea. Between the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 and the gold rush in 1849, the U.S. government had great incentives to turn their paper purchase of what is now the American Southwest into actual U.S.-controlled territory, so as to have a Pacific port for exploration, trade, and continuing expansion of U.S. military and strategic interests. White Americans' prior experiences with, and representations of, African Americans, American Indians, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and peoples of the south Pacific and Caribbean thus influenced their views of Japan and the Japanese people. After briefly examining some of those early images, I flash forward to the turn of the century and put American re-examinations of Japan in light of Meiji-era industrialization, modernization, and expansionism in the context of the U.S.'s own parallel processes (epitomized by the many Indian Wars of the late 19th C, the annexation of Hawaii, the Spanish-American War and the debates over immigration from Asia and from Southern and Eastern Europe). By contrasting Lafcadio Hearn's, Jack London's, and George Kennan's views of Japan, I show how Americans were in part debating their own society's imperial turn at the turn into the twentieth century. I then flash forward again to the 1930s and 1940s.

Seeing as I have to go to the last panel/workshop right now, this will have to be, as usual, continued....

No comments: