Friday, September 20, 2013

Week 3: はい、チーズ! (Say Cheese!)

         Chalfen and Marui’s “Print club Photography in Japan” provides an overview of the culture of purikura since its emergence (in arcades) in the 90s to its influence and popularity up to the twentieth century. It is worth noting that some of the purikura machines that Chalfen and Marui refer to are rather outdated and many new developments have been made since the 90s.  In particular, machines that enlarge the look of eyes (doe-like effect), brighten skin complexion, and give you the illusion  of  weight loss, are perhaps what girls seek  when they take a purikura (Achieving cuteness has never been so effortless!). Nowadays, you can play games on the screen while you wait for your photo stickers to develop and some machines even dispense an omake (an extra something) such as a set of false lashes!  You can even send purikura striaght to your phone and share them on FB or anyother social networking outlets.

What I find most interesting in the article is Chalfen and Marui’s discussion on the relationship between shojo culture and purikura in relation to discourses of female agency and empowerment. As Chalfen and Marui point out, “the success story of Print Club is based on adolescents adopting these ma-chines for their own uses, and, in a very real sense, re-inventing Print Club for themselves and, in turn, driving the market in their direction”  (64-65). However,  scholars such as Sharon Kinsella seem to be critical of the emergence of shojo and its association to ideas of cuteness: “Adolescent women (shojo) provide the exclusive model for cute culture ... and have been transformed into an abstract concept and a sign for consumption in the Japanese mass-media and modern intellectual discourse” (qtd in “Print club Photography in Japan” 65). Here, Kinsella draws attention to how cute culture renders shojo or girls within the realm of the abstract—shojo are not “real” girls—invoking what Simon de Beauvoir has referred to as “the myth of woman” (See Second Sex). To some degree, Kinsella suggests that shojo contribute to their own marginal stance within society by upholding patriarchal standards of femininity. She expresses her concerns for the ways in which shojo are represented as recyclable commodities that can be bought, sold, and replaced. BUT! I wonder how patriarchal definitions of femininity can be renegotiated through cute/shojo culture in ways that could possibly empower women.

David Plotz’s “Pachinko Nation” offers less of a critical response and examination of the social and cultural implications of pachinko culture.  The article begins by narrating a “very sad story” of Koji Furukawa and his gambling addiction, evoking the reader’s sympathy. And in drawing attention to the ambivalent laws about gambling in Japan, Furukawa is rendered as a victim rather than being held responsible for his own suffering. While Plotz sheds light on the paradox of gambling in Japanese society, he simplifies this issue, which I think is far more complicated (both culturally and politically) than he suggests.  His comparisons between Japanese and American systems of gambling seem to reify, however in subtle ways, an “orientalising discourse” that suggests the backwardness of Japanese politics. He is more sensitive and attentive, though, to cross-cultural religious discourses when interrogating issues of morality and gambling.
Both articles draw attention to potential problems that emerge from games at both an individual level such as in Furukawa’s case, and at a collective or social level (that is, if you only see shojo as passive consumers of a material culture).

A few words on Erik Eickhorst’s MA dissertation.
         I finally figured out how to navigate through the school library system and found the dissertation (-_-;)  Eickhorst offers a very resourceful and informative study of game centers and otaku culture and I really appreciate the extensive research that is invested in his work. In Eickhorst’s definition of game centers (See page 10) he includes pachinko machines, but there is no mention of purikura. I found this slightly striking since Chalfen and Marui discuss the pervasiveness of purikura machines in Japan and it raises the question, for me at least, to what extent are purikura  games? I really found the section on otaku culture and its influence in evolving game culture a fascinating phenomenon. Eickhorst provides several definitions of otaku (See 66 onward), but I wonder what “otaku” means for a Japanese cultural audience because it seems to me that otaku culture is more socially acceptable or embraced and even celebrated in the West than in Japan. Popular images of otaku, in Japanese anime and manga, carries with it certain social stigmas so when Eickhorst posits that “It is not much of a stretch to say that modern Japanese culture is otaku culture” (74) I wonder how many Japanese people would actually agree with this statement and identity themselves with an otaku culture?

I have attached a picture of one of many purikuras that I took while I was in Japan. This was taken in Shibuya three years ago.


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