Organizer: Heather Bowen-Struyk, University of Michigan
Chair: Kyoko Omori, Ohio State University
Discussant: William J. Tyler, Ohio State University
The 1920s in Japan witnessed a growth of mass communication and a revitalization of urban landscape, catalyzed in part by the Great Kanto Earthquake that leveled Tokyo in September 1923. As architects and planners rebuilt Tokyos infrastructure, writers rebuilt its superstructure, thereby recreating the identity of Tokyo and its citizens through its public spheres. This panel will open up a dialogue about literature and a 1920s Japanese reading public by thinking of literature as a public sphere in which writers and readers met to redefine themselves in relation to their changing world.
Evelyn Schultz will investigate these issues in the late 1920s Hanjoki, or Accounts of Prosperity. If writers found themselves to be disappointed with the new, different Tokyo and longing for the older, pre-earthquake Tokyo as Schultz will discuss, still at the same time others must have found that the rupture in ideology wrought by the earthquake had opened up new spaces for an emerging populace.
The rapid rise of taishu bungei, or popular literature, in such journals as Shinseinen announced the appearance of an increasingly self-conscious mass readership. Kyoko Omoris paper will look at response of one writer, Tani Joji, to the changing literary landscape, and she will challenge the hallowed distinctions between high-brow art and popular culture. Proletarian literature arose as a movement, ironically, in contrast to the proliferation of popular culture. Proletarian writers tried to overcome this infelicitous opposition by re-imagining the taishu readershipthe massesand the taishu protagonist as the pre-conscious, pre-revolutionary proletariat, as we will see in Heather Bowen-Struyks paper on Tokunaga Sunaos Taiyo no mai machi (The Sunless Street).
Searching Traces of the Past: Images of Tokyo in Dai Tokyo hanjoki
Evelyn Schulz, University of Zurich
Hanjoki is a genre of urban guidebook which was very popular from the late 1830s to the 1930s. Hanjo means prosperity and relates to the urban sphere of life in material, social, and cultural terms.
In 1927 the newspaper company Tokyo nichinichi shinbunsha commissioned 17 well-known writers such as Akutagawa Ryunosuke, Izumi Kyoka, and Kitahara Hakushu to report on Tokyos state in the wake of the earthquake. In 1928 these texts were entitled Dai Tokyo hanjoki and combined into two volumes; the first reports on Shitamachi, and the second on Yama no te thus encompassing a large part of Tokyo. Here, images of the city are completely different from those the reader would expect due to the title "accounts of prosperity."
Since the Meiji Restoration in the official discourse on Tokyo the emphasis has been on building the nations capital. In contrast to this, here Tokyo mostly is signified through representations that are outside the realm of Japans national project of modernity. The authors contrast the state of the city in their childhood and youth with the devastated area left behind by the earthquake. Urban space is, to a large extent, described "as it once had been." Driven by feelings of loss and hopelessness, meaning and identity are only to be found in the past; to walk through the city is a means of rediscovering and remembering it.
Popularizing the Avant-Garde: Shinseinen and Tani Joji
Kyoko Omori, Ohio State University
Raymond Williams argues that "the late nineteenth century was the occasion for the greatest changes ever seen in the media of cultural production" in the West. Japanese society experienced the same drastic changes in the early twentieth century, especially the 1920s. The importance of the 1920s in Japanese cultural history, however, has yet to be fully appreciated. During this period, Japan witnessed radical changes in both the mechanisms and contours of culture. The appearance of radio, phonographs, mass printing, film, and photography not only provided new expressive means, but they brought with them new cultural forms such as jazz, Western fashion and behavioral customs. This change affected society from the elite to the man and woman on the street. For young people, such magazines as Shinseinen, Bungaku jidai and Modan Nihon generated interest in Western cultural products, while at the same time, changing from a didactic mode for disseminating culture to an advertising/consumerist approach.
In particular, Shinseinen writer Tani Joji (19001935) introduced urban life in the U.S. to Japanese youth through the experiences of what he termed "meriken jappu" (literally the American Japanese). Presented as transitory and eminently consumable, his stories describe ethnic interactions between lower- and middle-class people through such techniques as the transliteration of American slang, disjointed narration to convey the rhythm of life in a machine age, and a cinematic perspective on narrative. The uses of such high-cultural, modernist techniques for popular/low-brow magazine stories problematizes any simple distinction between "popular" and "pure" literature in early twentieth-century Japanese culture.
From Taishu to Proletariat, Tokunaga Sunaos Taiyo no nai machi
Heather Bowen-Struyk, University of Michigan
Tokunaga Sunaos Taiyo no nai machi (The Sunless Street, 1929) opens up with a cinematographic sweep over one of Tokyos working-class streets, called the sunless street because the sun does not reach down into the valley were the workers live. The nearby streets are in chaos as buses, bicycles, cars, and trains have all come to a crashing halt, waiting, it turns out, for the Emperor to pass. He pauses in his parade to cast his eyes over towards the sunless street and inquire about it, but to the relief of his guards he continues on without further ado. It was a close-call indeed, as at that same moment workers from the printing factory of the sunless street were busy taking advantage of the mob formed by the Emperors presence to distribute pamphlets about their strike. The novel shifts its focus from the opening mob to a collection of popular novel-style protagonists who transform before the readers eyes into class-conscious workers coming to realize that they need to band together into a proletariat.
Tokunagas novel was well-received as the successful popularization of proletarian literature. But the problems were not so easily resolved, and we will step back to look at the context of the debate over the popularization problem in proletarian literature as we consider how Tokunaga utilized the discourses of popular literature to re-imagine a proletariat.