Monday, June 18, 2007

Shifting American Images of Japan

Still submerged in the non-bloggy writing process, so I'm going to do a cheap post today which excerpts my opening moves in my first of three lectures on shifting American images of Japan--it gives an overview of the lecture series, so should be of relatively general interest!

Thank you, Murahashi-san, for your generous and kind introduction. And thank you for the invitation to speak here once again--or rather, I should say, to follow up on my February talk with this “American Studies 101” lecture series. Its topic, “Shifting American Images of Japan,” has interested me for a long time, since I first became aware that a good deal of the popular culture I grew up on came from Japan or was influenced by Japanese culture, but I only started researching it in earnest two summers ago, back when I began working on my application for a Fulbright grant to teach American Studies in Japan. Having taught the course based on that research, “Representing Japan in American Culture,” to two classes of entering students in Kyushu University’s 21st Century Program this semester and last as a Fulbright Visiting Lecturer, I’m eager to share the results of my research and teaching with a wider audience. So thank you very much for inviting me back here and giving me the opportunity to do just that.

My talk today is entitled “From Manifest Destiny to War in the Pacific, 1846-1945,” but before I attempt to cover 99 years of American images of Japan in 33 minutes, I should say just a little bit more about the lecture series and the course it is based upon. I designed “Representing Japan in American Culture” as an introduction to American cultural studies for first-year undergraduate students in Japan. My goal was to offer a survey of changing American images of Japan, focusing on their form and structure, development and context, and effects and stakes. Along the way, I also emphasized the acquisition and development of certain interpretive methods and intellectual skills, such as close, contextual, and comparative reading and viewing and critical thinking, writing, and speaking. I wanted my students to be able, by the end of the course, to analyze any American image of Japan they happened to come across, from any time period, using a variety of approaches--but especially to consider how it relates to the history of American representations of Japan, what it reveals about American culture and society of its time, how it compares to Japanese self-representations, what it contributes to our understanding of present and future of U.S.-Japanese relations, and what it suggests about the possibilities and pitfalls of cross-cultural representation and intercultural communication. Through weekly readings, viewings, lectures, and discussions, a group presentation, and a final research paper, my students not only got many chances to practice these various analytical methods but also got to practice communicating their ideas and insights in a variety of fora and formats. In a sense, then, this lecture series is my own final exam: how well will I be able to do what I ask of my students? how effectively can I condense the flavor of my Representing Japan course?

Well, I want to start by commenting on one sentence from Murahashi-san’s preview flyer in particular: “By reviewing how America has observed Japan, the lectures will give a unique opportunity to see Japan in the reflections of American eyes and reflect on what those images reveal about American observers.” This language--of image and imagery, viewing and reviewing, vision and revision, reflecting and reflection, sight and insight, eyes and Is, observers and observed--should call to mind a variety of associations, from the inevitable distortions of any reflection to the necessity of perspective to the eyes as the mirror of the soul. It should call our attention to the relations between objectivity and subjectivity, perceptions and ideas, the material and the visual/discursive, and more. But we shouldn’t allow the richness of this language to lead us to assume that U.S.-Japanese representations and relations should be studied in isolation, as if the two countries were alone in the world, endlessly mirroring one another.

To counter this assumption, my goal in these three talks is to introduce you to the broader historical and political contexts in which American representations of Japan are created, circulated, and consumed. By demonstrating how American images of Japan borrow from and are in dialogue with representations of other countries and cultures, I aim to encourage you to look at American and Japanese history differently.

Today, then, I focus on representations of Japan from three time periods--the mid-nineteenth century, the turn into the twentieth century, and the mid-twentieth century--in order to recontextualize the War in the Pacific. My talk is divided into three sections--“Westward Expansion, Manifest Destiny, and the ‘Opening’ of Japan,” “Modernization, Imperialism, and the Debate over Japan,” and “Militarization, Propaganda, and the War in the Pacific”--that look in turn at key patterns in and examples from American images of Japan in the 1840s and 1850s, the 1890s and 1900s, and the 1930s and 1940s.


So what do you think? Let me know before June 30th!

1 comment:

Daniel Gall said...

I like that opening move -

“Westward Expansion, Manifest Destiny, and the ‘Opening’ of Japan,”

- do you plan to take off on that westward expansion (if at all) in California or in Washington?