Organizer and Chair: Kären Wigen, Duke University
Discussants: Kären Wigen, Duke University; William Kelly, Yale University
The participants in this panel are among a growing number of foreign scholars who have chosen to pursue historical, ethnographic, or literary research in mountainous Nagano Prefecture. Most of us came to Nagano in search of a paradigmatic place rather than a distinctive one. But a dawning recognition of the importance of location challenges us to pay more overt attention to what is particular about Naganos position, both in Japan and in the world.
As a marginal place in the very heart of the Japanese archipelago, Nagano presents an anomalous object for spatial analysis. Politically, the prefecture has served as both a strategic staging ground for state power and a hotbed of subversive movements. Culturally, it is both an archetype of rusticity and a place of cosmopolitan artistic production. And economically, it presents the paradox of a privileged periphery: disadvantaged in the domestic division of labor, yet clearly part of the global capitalist core.
This panel convenes a handful of scholars to think collectively about these paradoxes. Our aim is to create an opportunity for an urgently needed conversation across disciplines, not only about Naganos complex location, but more abstractly about "marginality" as a keyword in contemporary area-studies research, in hopes of producing a more supple and sophisticated vocabulary for spatial analysis. By confronting our disciplinary differences around a single conceptual rubric, we further hope to demonstrate that local studies, like trans-national studies, can serve as a fruitful site for border-crossings at the turn of the century.
Drawing Connections: Kiso Stories and the Big Scheme of Things
Jordan Sand, Georgetown University
Where is Kiso in the big scheme of things? Geographically and economically, it is marginal within Naganountil recently, the poorest and most "backward" region of the prefecture. Culturally, on the other hand, it is not marginal, linked to the capital before Meiji by the bakufu-controlled highway that ran through it. Kiso is also famous as the setting for Shimazaki Tôsons famous historical novel Before the Dawn.
The valley town of Kiso Fukushima has long been the central place in a micro-region of scattered mountain villages. This micro-region encompasses countless smaller networks, linked through kin, business relationships, schools and other institutional cohorts. Individual life histories have maps of their own. How do these trajectories in space and time relate to the flows of regional economies, population movements, macro-regional or national cultural formations?
My starting point is the life of a woman named Chizuyo, born in Kiso Fukushima in 1915, propreitress of a rice-malt business, "sensei" to a local tanka verse club, and activist in the Agriculture Ministrys "Daily Life Reform" program. Her activities reveal in miniature the location of Kiso Fukushima itself in the region, as market, source of metropolitan culture and local administrative center. A finely-grained social geography emerges from her life story and those of people around her. Chizuyos rice-malt business, the tanka club, and the "Daily Life Reform" movement suggest a range of different ways in which individual lives and local cultures interact with developments at the national and global level.
The Postmodern Village: Reconfiguring Rural Nagano in a Transnational Era
Karen Kelsky, University of Oregon
The farming villages of Naganos mountains have long epitomized, for Japanese and foreigners alike, Japans rural heartland, repositories of stability and tradition against the hyper-modernity of the ever expanding urban megalopolis. At the same time, in the national imagination, these villages are signifiers of inevitable decline, a perpetually "vanishing" premodern (Ivy, 1995) marked by the tragic spectre of "depopulation" (kasoka).
In the face of these twin discourses of changelessness and decay, however, some villages in Nagano have seen an unexpected influx of population: disenchanted urbanites, both Japanese and foreign, who lay claim to entire hamlets of abandoned farmhouses, creating communities based on organic subsistence farming and an alternative lifestyle that combines Japanese traditional cultural practices with a global subcultural style, connected to similar "alternative" communities in the United States, Europe, Southeast Asia, and India. These newcomers (sometimes known as "ohige-san," or "the bearded ones") bring vitally-needed energy to the aging villages, but also disruptive values and a nonconformist spirit (not to mention at times a fondness for illicit substances and a dislike of bathing).
What are the implications of this unexpected emergence of the global in the local (and vice-versa), this transnationalization of the Japanese "heartland"? This paper will situate this phenomenon within larger trends of transnationalism in Japan and elsewhere, and analyze the resulting hybrid cultural forms as they defy long-standing binaries of rural and urban, traditional and modern, reconfiguring the meaning of the margin in an era of permeable borders and global communities.
The Local as Sacred: Celebrating Nagano Villages in the 1998 Olympic Games
Sandra Collins, University of Chicago
In this paper, I will analyze how the idea of the local was displayed in the most spectacular of global capital extravaganzas, the Olympic Games. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 1998 Nagano Games were choreographed to include many traditional ceremonies of local villages from Nagano prefecture. In contrast to the more (post)modern aspects of the Ceremonies, such as Seiji Ozawas conducting Beethovens Ninth Symphony via satellite-linked locations, these local ceremonies provided an alternative reading of Japan for both the national and global gaze.
Comparing NHK and CBS coverage of the Ceremonies, I will argue that the Nagano village ceremonies were strategically incorporated to represent the culture of Japan as standing outside of history. While NHK broadcasters continually doubted foreigners ability to "comprehend" Japanese culture and tradition, CBS responded with an excess of detail demonstrating these ceremonies as uniquely "Japanese." For audience viewers within and outside of Japan, then, these ceremonies were no longer historically specific practices of a specific place, but reified as an archetype of "furusato [hometown] for all of Japan. Mirroring continuing discussions of the exceptional nature of Japanese capitalism, the localhere, local villagesbecomes an unchanging anchor of the exceptional experience of Japan in an age of global capital: a sacred space of cultural authenticity that demarcates Japans difference. This paper will analyze how the local in these Olympic Ceremonies becomes associated with the sacred, as a promise that difference can remain intact in an age of globalization that risks reducing everything to the tyranny of the same.