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Session 92: Japan’s Dreamworld "Asia"

Organizer: Christine R. Yano, University of Hawaii, Manoa

Chair: Merry I. White, Boston University

Discussants: Kosaku Yoshino, University of Tokyo; Marilyn J. Ivy, Columbia University

In late twentieth-century Japan, a new Asianism has emerged centered around the economics of rapidly growing markets for Japanese products in Asia. At the same time, global capital flows bring elements of "Asia" into Japan to be packaged and consumed. These form a kind of dreamworld of mass consumption in which what is consumed is, in part, "Asia" itself. Papers in this panel address these various flows, as well as the meanings given them as they center in, around, and through Japan. We look at the flows not as center-periphery voyages, but as often uneven, unequal interchanges of desire within a global marketplace. That desire becomes fixed upon particular constructions of Asia. We examine the seductiveness of "Asia" in Japan as it kindles the popular imagination by analyzing elements of the consumerist quotidian: advertisements, television, music, books, goods. In doing so, we problematize the very boundaries by which these dreamworlds have been established.


Shifting Desires: Asian Singers on the Japanese Popular Music Stage

Christine R. Yano, University of Hawaii, Manoa

Since the 1980s, singers from Korea and Taiwan have taken to the Japanese popular music stage in growing numbers. They come to Japan to sing, among other things, enka, sentimental ballads considered to be the most "Japanese" of popular song genres. This paper analyzes this phenomenon within the context of both historical colonial relationships between Japan and other Asian countries in the first half of the century, as well as an emergent post-colonial Asianism in the late twentieth century.

These imported singers of enka take the stage alongside other hidden Asians whose non-Japanese identities have been obscured by long years of Japanese names and "passing" within a society which continually withholds citizen rights from them. The juxtaposition of these two forms of Asian singers deeply ironicizes the enka stage, at least from an outsider’s perspective. The slipperiness with which past colonial relations are forgotten and then reconfigured in lucrative forms creates a dreamworld of consumption and desire. These singers may be taken as texts which inscribe and reinscribe the boundaries between "Asia" and "Japan." On the one hand, they confirm a brand of Asianism which centers on purported common ground of popular music, aesthetics, values, and emotions. However, as the ground shifts, these singers are recast as tidbits of "Asian" chic, performing Japanese songs amidst a glass ceiling of accomplishment. The enka stage becomes a site of refracted Asianism which keeps "Asia" at bay.


In Dialogue with "Pop Asia": Japan’s Consumption of "Asian" Popular Culture

Koichi Iwabuchi, University of Western Sydney, Nepean

This paper addresses Japan’s ambivalent desire for a dreamworld called "Asia" through ethnographic and textual analyses of popular consumption of "Asia" in Japan. This "pop Asia" includes Ajia-bon (Asia-related books), pop music celebrity Dick Lee, and Hong Kong movie stars. Although popular culture still tends to flow from Japan to other parts of Asia, the reverse direction is slowly gaining momentum, particularly among youth. Asian popular culture captures the attention of many younger people in Japan, as Japanese popular culture often does with other Asian youth. For the first time, Japanese youth have developed a sense of coevalness with youth in other parts of Asia through popular culture, which is admittedly highly commercialized and media-driven.

This unprecedented influx of Asian pop culture is accompanied by a new but familiar Asianism in Japan in the 1990s. Amidst Japan’s ambivalent relationship with "Asia," many Japanese audiences cultivate a narcissistic sense of nostalgia for what Japan has lost in the course of economic development. Unlike typical mainstream Asianism discourse, however, "pop Asia" is not simply exploited as an inferior other to be cannibalized by Japan’s claim to sameness as and superiority to "Asia." Instead, "pop Asia" also fascinates, because it represents different modes of non-Western modernity, negotiating with the West and cultural hybridization on equal terms.


From Aesthetics to Mass Culture: Asianism in the Age of Global Capital

Leo Ching, Duke University

In this paper, I analyze the latest phase of Asianism through a cultural-historical perspective. Firstly, I am interested in the renewed interest in Asianism in relation to the increasingly transnational forms of mass culture, especially those that are associated with Japanese mass culture. Secondly, I want to place today’s Asianism in contradistinction with an earlier form of Asianism to better demonstrate the variable continuities and discontinuities within Asianism itself and their respective conditions of possibility. I want to suggest that whereas late nineteenth-century Asianism is substantiated by "aesthetics" (great religions, philosophies, art, etc.), it is Japanese mass culture (melodrama, animation, pop music) that conjures a sense of commonality and resonance within Asia in the late twentieth century. The shift from aesthetics to mass culture is significant not only in terms of mapping out the historical transition in the geopolitical configuration of "Asia" in the world system, but is also important in delineating the organizational and conceptual frameworks that make the regionalist imaginary thinkable in the first place. I argue that instead of construing the shift as merely reflecting evolution in the material base, the shift in discursive strategy regarding Asianism should be apprehended as an ideological formation that, in the last instance, signals the impossibility of the thing itself. In short, as soon as the commodity-image-sound of mass culture becomes the fundamental form in which Asianism is imagined, its historical contradiction is suppressed for commensurability within the global distribution of cultural power.