Monday, September 9, 2013

Week 1: Videogames and Cultural Stereotypes: From Geisha and Samurai to the Land of Tomorrow

Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword provides an interesting and insightful glimpse into Japanese culture through a discussion of “on,” “giri,” and the hierarchal formation of Japanese society. The most entertaining (and humorous) topic that is discussed, I think, is the Japanese love for sleep (See 180). Benedict describes sleep as “one of the most accomplished art of the Japanese” (180). To be honest, I nod in approval to this claim, as I recall witnessing tired salary men and women sleeping—standing—in a crowded train as they head to work. I guess, as a Japanese, I still need to perfect my skills in the art of sleep and being able to “rela[x] a in any position, and under circumstance  [of] sheer impossibilities” (180). All jokes aside, considering the time that The Chrysanthemum and the Sword was written, I find Benedict's writing style modest and humble as she tries rationalize and make sense of a culture and its people that is foreign to her, albeit from the comfort of her own homeland. She is conscientious of her role as the cultural outsider and draws attention to the limitations and implications of her project as well as its potentialities. (See “Assignment Japan”). Ian Buruma, writes in the Forward, “this book could not possibly offend a Japanese reader” (xii) and I partially agree with this statement. On the one hand, I can appreciate Benedict's attempt to remain politically neutral through her tone/language such as when she is comparing Japanese values to American ones (ie. Japanese notions of aggression (173), and suicide (166)) without ever privileging one culture over the other. While on the other hand, she does point out cultural differences in a way so that “Japanese-ness” is understood specifically in Western terms.  Moreover, according to Benedict, Japan is represented as a singular nation and she fails to capture the nuance of Japanese values and traditions. Also, as mentioned in the article by Sonia Ryang, Benedict’s study of Japanese culture and history is anything but complete as it omits Japan’s “role as the colonial empire” (9) which is incredibly significant!!!
 In relation to Ryang’s article, she provides a useful overview of the reception of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword in Japan and I find the critical debates that were spurred by Japanese scholars quite fascinating. Personally, I tend to agree with the Kawashima school (See section on Post War Reactions).

A word (or two) on the video game articles

The excerpt from Newman that was assigned was not very interesting, but useful in providing  a framework to begin interrogating (video) game culture in Japan. Like Manga Studies, (which is my area of research and interest), I feel that the study of games must also endure a process of justification in order for it to be taken with “serious, scholarly attention” (but is it really necessary?! Let us end the resistance to videogames and other forms of popular media!”) The excerpt from Prasol’s Modern Japan sheds light on the Japanese as re-inventors of things  rather than inventors of things. (Refer to 3 cycle model). Ig Noble Prize list is also amusing to read. [note to self: The significance of Adaptations]


Videogames and Cultural Stereotypes: From Geisha and Samurai to the Land of Tomorrow*

It has been a half a century since the publication of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, and since then Japan as undergone significant changes: from democratization, to urbanization, to becoming a technocratic state. While cultural stereotypes of the geisha and samurai, for example,  are still commonly used, reproduced and disseminated in both Japan and  the West, in an age of global and rapid technological advancement, new cultural stereotypes emerge, rendering the Far East as exotic, but in different ways than before (Japan is not a land of robots and electronic toilets). Drawing on the work of Bell hooks, Sara Ahmed in Strange Encounters explores the notion of the exotic.  Ahmed posits

Consumer culture involves the production of the stranger as a commodity fetish through representations of difference [. . .] hooks suggests that, ‘Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the full dish that is mainstream white culture’ (qtd in 1992: 21). In other words, ethnicity becomes constructed as ‘the exotic’ through an analogy with food: black people are spicy and different. The white consuming subject is invited to eat the other: to take it in, digest it, and shit out the waste. The exotic and strange foods are incorporated into the bodies of Western consumers as that which is different but assimilable. This incorporation allows ‘difference’ to be associated with something that simply livens up the ordinary or mainstream diet. Of course, some differences cannot be assimilated…”  (117)

 If we substitute hooks’ idea of food with videogames, then, I wonder to what extent cultural difference is assimilated through Japanese videogames. (Before you discovered that Nintendo, for example, was a Japanese product what did you “know” of Japan?”).  



[I realise the transition to the next paragraph is not as strong as it could be... But I would like to explore ideas of nation, identity, and game culture. . .anyway **\(^o^)/**]


Given Japan’s history, as a powerful imperial nation suddenly subjugated by a 20th century war, it is not surprising that scholars of Japanese cultural studies have identified an inherent paradox in Japanese culture. Critics such as Jennifer Robertson, Nishihara Daisuke  and Richard Minear, are but three of those interested in examining “Japanese orientalism” which they see as different from the general definition of orientalism used in the West subsequent to Edward Said’s definition of that term given the fact that Japan can be positioned simultaneously as both a coloniser and a “colonised” nation. In the words of Robertson, Japanese orientalism deviates from Said’s orientalist thinking because Said insists upon the ways in which  the “presentation of the ‘Other’ (the non-West) [is] absolutely different from the West” (98).  Such revisionary orientalist argues that orientalism is not homogenous, but nuanced in different cultures. For example, Japan blurs the cultural boundaries between the ‘Empire’ and ‘subaltern’ because its history encompasses both. Minear argues that Japan demonstrates “Orientalist attitudes even in the absence of  a [long-standing] domination” (515), suggesting the country’s inferiority complex as a driving force to be more like the West even as it struggles to be different from it. This idea reflects Nishihara’s proposition that “[t]here is no doubt that the country (Japan) is geographically situated in what is known as the Orient, but in a political sense it has tried to  become a “Western” nation” (244). In effect, Japan’s identity is threefold, and built upon tiers of  contradictory dispositions made manifest in its conflicted identity as ‘Asian’ and ‘Western’ while trying to maintain its ‘Japanese-ness’.  (Okabe  9-10) 

Has Japan achieved equal standing as the West through its technological developments? Or has Japan found alternative ways of resurrecting and promoting its colonial enterprise by selling game consoles?  In what ways have (video) games redefined a Japanese cultural identity and how does it, if at all, affect discourses of nation and identity?  Of course, over the course of this semester I hope to explore some of these questions since they are rather broad and generic, but nonetheless, important, when conducting a cross-cultural examination of Japan’s relationship with the West.
*Reference to the Simpsons episode. lol.







Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality. London: Routledge,

2000. Print.

Benedict, Ruth. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. Boston:

Mariner Books, 1946. Print.

Miner, Richard H. “Orientalism and the Study of Japan.” Journal of Asian Studies. 39. 3. (1980).

     JSTOR.Web. 12 June. 2012. Print.

Nishihara, Daisuke. “Said, Orientalism, and Japan.” Journal of Comparative Poetics. 25 (2005):

     241-253. JSTOR. Web. 12 June. 2012.

Okabe, Tsugumi. “From Sherlock Holmes to “Heisei” Holmes: Counter Orientalism and Post

      Modern Parody in Aoyama Gosho’s Detective Conan Manga Series” (2012) Collection of Brock University, St. Catharines.

Robertson, Jennifer. “East Asian Bouquet: Ethnicity and Gender in the Wartime Japanese Revue   

    Theater.” Internationalizing Cultural Studies an Anthology. Eds. Ackbar Abbas and John  

    Nguyet Erni. 117-31. Print.

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