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AJJ: Anthropology of Japan in Japan


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Title: AJJ: Anthropology of Japan in Japan

AJJAnthropologyof Japanin Japan
  • Saturday, November 17th, 2001  
  • Sophia University, Ichigaya Campus,
  • Tokyo, Japan

Medium, Message,
  • Semiologies of Japan

On behalf of AJJ,I wish to thank
the Department of Comparative Culture at Sophia
University for hosting us.
And particularly, David Slater, whose tireless
efforts made all that you see, feel and hear in
this setting possible.
T.J.M. Holden
Navigator and Commentator
  • Professor of Mediated Sociology
  • Graduate School of International Cultural Studies
  • Tohoku University
  • Sendai, Japan.

A Simple Introduction
Among the questions our (AJJ) membership asks are
  • Can there be an anthropology of Japan?
  • And, if so,
  • what would it look like?

  • Can such an anthropology be built of any social
  • - Or -
  • Is it only particular social content?

Stated Alternatively
  • Assume that there are multiple anthropologies of
  • Yet, are there some that are more privileged than
  • Is there a core of essential anthropologies?
  • And, whether there are or not
  • Can anthropologies be pieced together in a way
    that, once assembled, some larger, central truths
    about the ontology of Japan can be produced?

The Question of Essentialism
  • One concern in certain intellectual circles is
  • but for the phenomenon we are observing, the
    identity of the thing we wish it to apply to will
    be lost

  • Is what we want to claim about the nature of
    society actually just an artifact of what we are

Applied to Japan
  • Embodied in Nihonjinron the theory of Japanese
  • Essentialism has always been a cause for concern
  • As Befu demonstrated in his recent book, Hegemony
    of Homogeneity
  • A topic of interest for both Japanese and

No Escaping Essentialism
  • For the fact that this preoccupation exists
    doesnt make the fact of uniqueness any less
  • The belief EXISTS
  • And is often acted on (as if it exists)
  • Thereby bringing uniqueness even more fully
    into existence

  • Belief in a cultures unique ontology is not
    exclusive to Japan.
  • It is no less pervasive in other peoples or
    their national units
  • for instance, America, Britain, China, France
  • for instance, Jews, Ainus, Hopi Indians
  • The list goes on
  • Though the particulars (about uniqueness) differ
    for each group, they share similarity in their
    belief about difference.

Which is a way of saying
  • We take Japan to be a unique research object
  • If for no other reason that others have
    consistently taken Japan as a unique research

Beyond (the potential threat of) reification,
  • We assert that Japan has
  • a core,
  • an ontology,
  • an essence
  • This nature may be revealed in part by doing
  • It can be revealed to an even greater extent by
    piecing together multiple, grounded
    anthropologies in systematic fashion

We suggest that the following studies can achieve
just that
  • propaganda films of the 1940s
  • amateur singing contests
  • folklore
  • enka lyrics
  • historical images of nation
  • gender construction in an ad agency
  • interaction in foreigner-frequented pubs
  • The meaning of public and shared spaces, and
  • Differences in cultural understandings based on
    the creation of a local wildlife preserve

Whether an anthropology of Japan is built on
particular social content or not
  • Must such an anthropology be built of particular
    research strategies?

And if particular strategies
  • Which ones?

A Simple Premise
Underlying the work of this group is the view
  • Semiology
  • is one such strategy

Moreover, employing semiology
  • one can systematically study aspects of Japanese
  • and come to some conclusions about certain
    patterns and contours of Japanese culture

Some Simple Conclusions
  • and in this way,
  • work toward the development of
  • an anthropology of Japan

About Us
  • The group we have convened is disparate.
  • Most, though not all, answering to the moniker
    anthropology. Among us
  • A couple of theorists
  • A few interested in popular culture
  • Others attending to interaction
  • Nationalism
  • Space
  • Nearly all of us grounded in specific contexts,
    exploring focused research questions.

For instance
  • How Japanese symbols, rituals and rites were
    used by the Japanese wartime government in
    official newsreels to create an imagined
    community of Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity.

For instance
  • How the images used in enka
  • normativizes a certain discourse of men and
    women, and
  • naturalizes the sexual division of labor
  • not only lived by enka aficionados, but
    widespread throughout Japanese society.

For instance
  • How the designatation of one- fifth of Yakushima
    as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1993
    precipitated a clash of symbolic cultures
    (western and Japanese).
  • The impacts of this clash on residents help
    uncover central ideas about the structure and
    rhythm of life in Japan.

About Our Process
  • A Simple Question underlying the works presented
    in this workshop is
  • Can semiology be used as a means for developing
    an anthropology of Japan.

What is Semiology?Some Background
  • Semiology (also known as semiotics) relies on
  • the systematic analysis
  • of symbolic content
  • to decode the deeper ideational and behavioral
    structures of a society.

Making Distinctions
  • Semiotics
  • The study of signs, themselves
  • Semiosis
  • The study of the production of signs

In the work presented today, we find examples of
  • For instance
  • Deconstructing Enka, Folklore and Interactions
    in a Gajin Bar are examples of semiotics
  • Greater Co-Prosperity Newsreels, Nodojiman and
    Venus Under Construction are examples of semiosis.

A Simple History
  • Suggested by Saussure
  • In that form, heavily Structuralist
  • Developed by Barthes
  • In his books Mythologies (1957) and The Elements
    of Semiology (1968)
  • Heavily cultural and political
  • Emphasized social reproduction
  • Attended to the environment
  • Recognized social action

From Saussure
Signifier (Physical
embodiment) Sign
(object / concept) Signified (Mental
(External reality)
1. Signifier
2. Signified
3. Sign I. Signifier
II. Signified
III. Sign
In Barthes System
  • Chains of signification were built of multiple
    signs, systematically drawn from the currents of
    everyday life
  • By piecing together such chains, the deeper
    nature of society (ontology, or what he called
    myth ) would be revealed

Depends heavily on social agreement
  • What Berger and Luckmann would call social
    construction of reality
  • While cultural studies likes to point to
    polysemyto multiple realities
  • the construction of a semiology of anything
    presupposes some lowest common denominator accord
    about any prevailing reality under contemplation.

A Simple Example
  • In an ad for Suntory wine a packed auditorium
    becomes silent as two Japanese celebrities hoist
    wine in toast.
  • A man, sporting a vibrant red tuxedo, displays a
  • A woman, in shimmering white floor-length gown,
    extends a chardonnay.
  • Nudging between them a transvestite, dressed in
    pink, demurely clutches a rosé.

  • the surface appearance of the object that is

The actors on stage
The color of their clothes
Denotation Arises in the simple act of an ad
reader recognizing that
  • There are 3 actors standing on stage a man, a
    woman and a man who looks like a woman or else a
    woman who sort of looks like a man
  • A hue named red is the color of the hosts coat
    and white is the shade of the hostesss gown

  • the underlying meanings that arise in the mind
    of the reader

The resemblance to Kohaku
The color of their clothes
Based on the words they utter
  • the underlying meanings that arise in the mind
    of the reader

The issue of a third sex
The kind of wine (a third option) s/he holds
Based on the color of the man/womans dress
Signification vs. Myth
  • Signs like the red of the mans coat, the white
    of the womans gown and the pink dress of the
    transvestite work to connote
  • beverage options
  • Teams in a competition,
  • gender choice

These are mere significations
Signification vs. Myth
  • It takes the systematic collection of
    significations in which men continually dress as
    women or are associated with pink and display
    assorted other behaviors, to arrive at a finding
    of gender/myth.

The Communication of Myth
  • In most social worlds this symbolic content is
    often loaded in and flows through cultural forms
  • Everything from folklore to language to
    educational institutions to popular songs to
    public facilities.
  • Thus mediated, its reception in concrete contexts
    works to re/produce cultural values and practices
    and, in this way, societal structure.

Applied to our Project
  • Three substantive aspects are implicated in the
    contemporary study of semiology
  • communication forms
  • (medium through which signs travel),
  • their content
  • (message that signs combine to form) and
  • the symbolic context
  • (milieu which gives birth or shape to these

The Difficulty of Separating the Three
  • Each of these elements interpenetrate and
    buttress one another
  • We should not go to too great a length to impose
    bounds of separation betwixt them.
  • Medium, Message and Milieu are implicated in the
    activity of one another are dependent upon one
    another and their borders are quite porous,
    their engagements very fluid.

For Example
  • In the Kohaku example before,
  • the ad runs on television (a medium)
  • its messages are multiple (about wine
    consumption, about popular culture, about a
    traditional annual Japanese event, about
  • its images flow into, play off, and even buttress
    much larger commercial, social, cultural and
    political environments (milieu).

In the beginning Medium
  • Each element is important in
  • understanding the nature of social reality
  • in seeing how signs are created, organized,
    communicated, and fit into significatory chains
  • in constructing an anthropology of Japan

About this First Segment
  • In piecing together the semiologies that might
    reveal the logic, rhythms and contours of
    Japanese society, this segment focuses on the
    seminal dimension medium

About the Presenters
Mariko Hara
  • The Creation of a Japanese National Identity in
    the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere as
    Portrayed in the Japanese Wartime Newsreels

Mariko Hara
  • is a part-time lecturer at both Keio and Tokyo
    Keizai Universities.
  • She has an M.Litt. degree from Cambridge
  • Her thesis was titled The war on the screen
    Japanese Nationalism and wartime newsreel.
  • Before embarking on an academic career, she
    worked as a presenter and producer for TV Asahi
    in Tokyo and the BBC World Service Radio in

Shuhei Hosokawa
  • Nodojiman and the Mediated Grassroots Nationalism

Shuhei Hosokawa
  • Was born in Osaka.
  • He is an Associate Professor in the Department of
    Humanities and Social Sciences at the Tokyo
    Institute of Technology.
  • His publications include the books The Aesthetics
    of Recorded Sound and Enka in the Country of
    Samba (in Japanese)
  • as well as the articles "The Walkman Effect" and
    "Salsa no tiene frontera Orquesta de la Luz and
    the Globalization of Popular Music" (in English).

Scott Davis
Transformational Fields in Japanese Folk
Scott Davis
  • obtained his Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from
    Harvard University in 1992.
  • It was based partially on field work with spirit
    mediums in Taiwan.
  • He has conducted post-doctoral research at the
    Contemporary China Centre, Australian National
    University, and the Institute of Chinese
    Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica.
  • He has been an Assistant Professor of
    Anthropology at Miyazaki International College
    since 1998.
  • His interests include the Yijing (Book of
    Changes), ancient China, and East Asian mythology
    and folk religion.

We begin with Professor Hara
(No Transcript)
(No Transcript)
Some Commentsand Discussion
Media StudiesKuhnian Cycles and Essentially
Contested Terrain
Kuhnian Cycles the wane of the Effects
paradigm, the wax of the meaning paradigm
Or the eternal battle of antinomies?
Media are Meaningful
  • Between the 1920s and 1960s media were perceived
    as powerful.
  • Viewed in terms of effect.
  • Correlated with the American dominance in
    communication science
  • The emphasis was on organizations and large
    structures that presumably influenced people
    through the transmission of messages.

Ineffective Media
  • Failure to find persuasion or impact was
    attributed to factors in the environment.
  • Antecedents that inoculated message recipients
  • noise that interfered with full, complete or
    accurate transmission of the message
  • Prior experiences or social connections
  • competing messages in the information context.

Meaning over Media
  • But by the 1960s there was a retreat from the
    view of Media as powerful.
  • Led by developments in British sociology and what
    came to be known as cultural studies
  • A paradigm shift from message transmission and
    institutional power to localized studies of
    people and their media use.
  • A move from outcome to uses of media and the
    meanings made by those receiving the messages.

A Return to Effect
  • The move toward meaning has been positive and
  • YET, it has deflected attention from the powers
    inherent in media. Namely
  • Institutional power, and
  • The ubiquity and proliferation of media
  • The widespread dissemination of messages and
    their use in everyday life
  • These are also media effects

Points of Rapprochement
  • Rapprochement between the two traditions is
    possible in the understanding that
  • media are effective,
  • but only if viewed within a defined context
  • a space constructed and shaped by message
    producers AND recipients,
  • Negotiating the use and meanings of signs and
    their significations.

  • What are media?

Medium a definiton
  • A simple definition is means of communication
  • Thus, traditional devices such as movies, TV,
    Internet and telephone qualify.
  • But so, too, do karaoke, games, public
    performances and shared spaces.
  • These latter move us toward the more complex and
    controversial definition forwarded by Marshall
    McLuhan (1964).

  • We live in an age in which media forms are
    proliferating, where their ubiquity, immediacy
    and increasing usage in daily life are hallmarks.
  • Therefore, they are increasingly exerting effect
  • They are more and more McLuhans extensions of
  • To the point of becoming environments, of
    themselves (as we shall see in the following 2
    segments today).
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