One welcome trend of recent years in my field is the wave of new translations that finally make available to English-language readers the history of Marxist and anarchist culture in modern Japan. With a few notable exceptions, Japan’s long and remarkable traditions of proletarian literature, leftist cultural activism, and Marxist philosophy were largely ignored by Japan Studies specialists.
In part, this was a matter of scholars and translators’ personal preferences. But it was also a structural bias: as a Cold War form, Japan Studies arose as part of an ideological campaign to situate Japan as a poster-boy for successful modernization without revolution. The ‘Japan’ that this discourse created as its object was inherently adverse to Marxism, and any Japanese writer who partook of it was by definition inauthentic.
This tendency generated a distorted canon of modern Japanese literature and thought that is only now being rectified. One of the most important new publications is For Dignity, Justice, and Revolution: An Anthology of Japanese Proletarian Literature (University of Chicago Press, 2015), a remarkably ambitious anthology edited by Norma Field and Heather Bowen-Struyk. It includes a wide range of pieces, including fiction, essays, and children’s literature.
Combined with Zeljko Cipris’s recent translations of Kuroshima Denji, Kobayashi Takiji and others, the sampling of Japanese proletarian literature available in English has expanded enormously.
On top of that, the past several years have brought new English-language versions of the work of a number of Marxist literary and social theorists. Tosaka Jun: A Critical Reader (Cornell East Asia Series, 2013), edited by Ken C. Kawashima, Fabian Schaefer, and Robert Stolz, includes a number of essays and excerpts from one of the most interesting Marxist theorists active anywhere in the first half of the twentieth century. Abe Kobo has long been familiar to Western readers as a writer of surreal existentialist fiction, but his career as a cultural theorist for the Japan Communist Party has always been underplayed–until now, with the publication of The Frontier Within: Essays by Abe Kōbō (Columbia University Press, 2013), edited and translated by Richard F. Calichman.
More translations are in the pipeline, too: a collection of essays from the early postwar “Politics and Literature” debate should be out from Lexington Books next year, while other scholars are working on new translations of seminal theorist Uno Kozo. I’ve made my own modest contributions to this new tendency: my translation of Karatani Kojin’s The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange (Duke University Press, 2014) presented the author’s most ambitious attempt to rethink Marxist theory in tandem with anarchism (more English translations of Karatani’s works are also forthcoming), and I tried my hand at one of Kuroshima Denji’s early proletarian literature short stories.
The way we in the Anglophone world study Japanese literature is changing and as a result the object of our studies is acquiring new layers and angles. The exotic and apolitical Japanese literature generated during the Cold War is being supplemented with something new that is actually something old. And this something old may well end up contributing something else that is new, as we struggle around the globe to figure out what comes after the failed doctrine of neo-liberalism.
My translation of a 1926 short story by the proletarian literature author Kuroshima Denji (1898-1943) has just appeared online at The Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.
The Two-Sen Copper Coin
It was when spinning tops were all the rage. Tōji dug up an old top his older brother Kenkichi had used and gripped the three-centimeter nail pounded in to form its stem between his left and right palms to make it spin. His hands were still not very strong, so the top only stayed spinning for a little while before it toppled over. Since early childhood, Kenkichi had been the sort to get obsessed over things. He had polished the top and replaced the slender, wire-like stem it came with using the three-centimeter nail. It spun better that way, so it was a strong competitor in top battles. It was already some twelve or thirteen years since he had used it, but the top was still sturdy, shiny black, and it was heavy, as if it were made of good hard wood. It was well oiled and coated with wax. The quality of its wood and everything else were completely different from the sort they sell in stores nowadays.
The top was so heavy that Tōji had trouble making it spin. He spent half a day trying to make it spin on the floorboard of the doorframe without any success.
“Ma, buy me a top string,” he begged his mother.
“Ask Pa if it’s okay to buy one.”
“He said it’s fine.”
His mother was the sort to make a fuss about everything. In part, this was due to their strained household budget. Even after it was decided that they would buy it, she made a point of first looking through the storage room, to make sure that they didn’t have an old string used by Kenkichi.
Read more here.
There’s an unsettling moment in Sasaki Kuni‘s novel, Bonjinden (The Life of a Mediocrity、1929-30). Sasaki (1883-1964) was a celebrated humor writer, as well as a translator of Mark Twain, Cervantes, and others. I’m not aware of any English translations of his work. When I read earlier this year that Kondansha had brought out a bunkobon (pocketbook) edition of Bonjinden, I picked up a copy.
The hook with which the novel begins is that, although we have countless biographies of great men, we have few of mediocrities. In a mode somewhat reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse, the first-person narrator launches into an account of his schooldays, first off in the provinces where he suffers abuse from classmates for the sin of being the headmaster’s son, and then at Meiji Gakuen, a Christian mission school in Tokyo. We follow the misadventures of our anti-hero and his chums, including their crises of faith–but it’s all played for laughs. References to actual historical events allow us to place the story at around the time of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-5.
The unsettling moment comes near the end. The hero is teaching at a school way out in the provinces where there is an elderly teacher who happens to bear the same family name as he–a telling detail. To avoid confusion, their colleagues call the protagonist “Young Kawahara” and his senior colleague “Old Kawahara.” Old Kawahara is a former soldier, a veteran of the internal warfare that erupted at the time of the Meiji Restoration. His junior colleagues at the school joke about his main claim to fame as a warrior: his heroic capture of the enemy commander’s leg.
Young Kawahara has heard his colleagues talk about this. One evening, he goes to visit Old Kawahara at his home and nudges him into telling his war stories. Old Kawahara obliges and relates how he came across the corpse of the enemy general on the battlefield. Somebody else had already taken the head, so he lopped off the leg. It’s a gruesome image, but the scene is played for laughs.
But then things get serious. Old Kawahara’s face grows dark, and he starts to tell of another battlefield incident, one that he’s never previously recounted for his colleagues. He was on patrol duty one night near Aizu, enforcing a curfew, when a beautiful young woman appeared in front of him. One of his fellow soldiers yelled out to Old Kawahara to cut her down. He tried to let the woman escape. But just as the woman turned to run away, his comrades saw what was happening and yelled out that he was a coward. In a moment of panic, Old Kawahara slashed out with his sword across the woman’s back. He later learned that it was all a misunderstanding, that the woman was an innocent bystander.
As she fell to the ground, the woman glanced back at Old Kawahara with a vengeful look that has haunted him his whole life. Decades later, he still has nightmares about the woman he killed. She was about twenty, Old Kawahara tells Young Kawahara. He’s certain that she is the reason both his own sons died at the age of twenty: she placed a curse on him so that none of the children in his family would live beyond the age of twenty.
It’s a chilling scene, unlike anything that has come before it in the novel. But soon the narrative shifts back into a comic mode. Old Kawahara has one child left, an unmarried girl who will soon turn twenty. He begs Young Kawahara to marry her immediately so that by the time she turns twenty, she will no longer be his daughter (her name will be shifted from the family registry of Old Kawahara to that of Young Kawahara) and hence will escape the curse. The whole story seems to have been a set up to trick Young Kawahara into marrying the daughter. In fact, Young Kawahara is only too willing to do so, and so the narrative reaches a happy ending.
In other words, this horrific story of traumatic war memories is used as a comic device. I can’t help but wonder how this sequence struck its original readers back in 1930. There were earlier fictional works in Japan that depicted the horrors of war, but almost always the violent scenes in them depict Japanese soldiers as the victims rather than the perpetrators of atrocities. By the late 1930s, and especially after 1945, we started to get many novels that depicted ugly battlefield incidents, including those committed by Japanese troops–but I can’t think of a work that puts such a scene to use for comic effect.
I suppose it makes a difference that the war depicted in Bonjinden is a civil war rather than a foreign war. But I still can’t quite get my mind around the way the scene is used in the novel. Did this sequence disturb readers in 1930 Japan, or did they simply fly past it without a second thought? Was the scene warning them about horrors to come, or was it preparing readers to laugh them off?
It’s become common these days for universities to videotape public lectures and make them available online. A few talks I’ve given in recent years are available for your viewing pleasure, should you be so inclined.
Last October at the University of Chicago’s Humanities Day, I spoke about the curious life and career of Kasai “George” Jiuji, UChicago Class of 1913, and how his example might help us rethink the meaning of the Cold War and Japan’s role in it:
A few months before that, I gave a talk at Boston University on “Misora Hibari and the Popular Music of Cold War Japan: Mimesis, Alterity, Cosmopolitanism.”
In addition, a 2013 talk at Penn State on Natsume Soseki and “Theorizing Literature from Japan, 1907” is available online.
Another 2011 talk I gave on “Psychology and Natsume Soseki’s Mon (The Gate)” at the University of Michigan is available here.
If you prefer listening to watching me, a 2012 segment on Japanese popular music that I did for the public radio program “To the Best of Our Knowledge” is archived here. And if you want to hear what I sounded like as a callow lad of 19, you can hear the recently unearthed recording of a January 1981 interview with The Replacements (probably the band’s first-ever radio interview), back when I was a deejay for WMCN, Macalester College’s radio station.
On the whole, though, the printed word remains my medium of choice.
Thanks to all who turned out for last Friday’s concert at International House, University of Chicago, by Hayakawa Yoshio and Sakuma Masahide. It was the keynote performance for the 2013 Association for Japanese Literary Studies Annual Meeting. The theme of the conference was “Performance and Japanese Literature,” and the concert turned into a powerful instance of performance in all of its aspects: ephemeral, emotional, communal. Many in the audience ended up in tears, including those who spoke no Japanese and were responding solely to the music itself. The concert ended with three standing ovations and two encores.
In the weeks leading up to the event I wrote a series of blog entries here and on the conference website, introducing the performers and their music. I found it a struggle all along: song lyrics never submit willingly to translation, and I often found myself flailing as I tried to find apt words to convey what the pieces were doing. For example, I described Hayakawa’s composition “Tosan e no tegami” (Letter to my father) as an act of musical mourning. That never felt quite right, but I couldn’t find better words to name the performance the song carries out.
Watching it and the other pieces being played last Friday night, though, it hit me. The songs aren’t about mourning; they are about the struggle that art mounts against death. I didn’t feel it was my place to announce here or in introducing the band that Sakuma has been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and that this could turn out to be one his final live performances (Sakuma has himself been very frank about his illness on his own blog, where he writes movingly about the difficulties he has faced since the discovery of a brain tumor this past summer: often his hands won’t move the way he wants them to along the neck of his guitar). But Hayakawa mentioned the illness from the stage on Friday evening and turned the concert into a tribute to his longtime collaborator.
Suddenly, the songs took on a new hue. That magnificent coda in ”Karada to uta dake no kankei” (The direct relation between body and song), a cover of a song originally done by hi-posis but that Hayakawa has very much made his own, never felt so powerful. The pounding, repetitive music of the early verses, with their overtly sexual lyrics depicting music almost as a kind of animal rutting, suddenly shifts to a sweet, soaring melodic line, and Hayakawa sings with passion “Uta dake ｇa nokoru” (only the song remains: in other words, the only thing that will get out alive is the music itself). It’s always a cathartic moment, but under the circumstances on Friday it became unforgettable. Watching Hayakawa’s face as he sung and Sakuma’s hands as he played, the message was clear: we will all die soon enough, but as long as we are playing music, we’re still alive. And even after death wins out over us individually, the music will live on as a trace of our struggle.
It’s a theme Hayakawa returns to over and over in his compositions, especially in those from the years since his 1994 return to music. Art and eros are our only flimsy weapons in the fight to hold death at bay. Death will surely win in the end, but we will continue singing until then, and if we are lucky the song will persist after we are gone. It’s a simple message and not a particularly new one. Yet on Friday night, we could feel its truthfulness in our flesh, in the goosebumps and tears that the music summoned up.
The set list:
1) 「ひまわりの花」(Himawari no hana; Sunflowers): title song from Hayakawa’s 1995 solo album
2) 「赤色のワンピース」 (Akairo no wanpiisu; Red dress)
3) 「堕天使ロック」(Datenshi rokku; Fallen angel rock): one of two JACKS’ songs in the set
4) 「サルビアの花」 (Sarubia no hana: Salvia Flowers): Hayakawa’s best-known composition
5) 「Ｈ」 (H=Japanese slang for sexual desire)
6) 「躁と鬱の間で」(So to utsu no aida de; Between sadness and melancholy)
7) 「父さんへの手紙」 (Tosan e no tegami; Letter to my father)
8) 「身体と歌だけの関係」(Karada to uta dake no kankei; The direct relation between body and song)
9) 「青い月」（Aoi tsuki, Blue moon): a new song.
10) 「いつか」 (Itsuka; Sometime)
11) 「からっぽの世界」 (Karappo no sekai; Vacant world): JACKS’s debut single from 1968
「この世で一番キレイなもの」(Kono yo de ichiban kirei na mono; The most beautiful thing in the world): title track from Hayakawa’s 1994 comeback solo album
「君でなくちゃだめさ」(Kimi de nakucha dame sa; Nobody but you)
(In anticipation of the October 18, 2013 concert by Hayakawa Yoshio and Sakuma Masahide at the University of Chicago, over the next few weeks I will be posting a series of entries here introducing Hayakawa’s music. More information about the concert, which is free and open to the public, is available here.)
“Love Generation” (「ラブ・ゼネレーション」) with lyrics and music by Hayakawa, was a stand-out track on Vacant World [Jakkusu no sekai, 1968], the celebrated debut album by The Jacks, Hayakawa’s 1960s folk-rock group. With Hayakawa’s searing vocals, Mizuhashi Haruo’s psychedelic guitar, Tanino Hitoshi’s fluid bass, and Kida Takasuke’s jazz-influenced drumming, the original recording is an excellent example of the dark, moody style of The Jacks that captivated audiences on the underground music scene of late 1960s Japan.
Okabayashi Nobuyasu, the “God of Japanese Folk Music,” recorded a cover version of “Love Generation” on his classic 1970 album, Leap Before You Look (Miru mae ni tobe). Hayakawa himself has also revisited this composition repeatedly during his solo career. In addition, the song provided the title for Hayakawa’s first book, a lively collection of essays first published in 1972 and still in print today.
The original Jacks’ recording of “Love Generation”:
Hayakawa’s cover of the song from his 1995 solo album Sunflower [Himawari no hana]:
(Lyrics and music by Hayakawa Yoshio)
English translation by Michael Bourdaghs
When we want to start something
We don’t want to fake being alive
So sometimes we fake being dead
That’s right: we fake being dead.
If you want to, you can fly through the sky
The swelling of joy when you feel that way
We cry as we exchange cups of a saké you can’t drink
That’s right: we exchange cups of a sake you can’t drink
It’s those things everyone says are true because they want to believe
It’s all those lofty things: those are the things you should question
Adults are supposed to be better than this
You’ll find the real adults among the children
It’s because I want to be alone
That I talk with so many people, like a fool
But deep in our words, the love—
But deep in our words, the love—
Bokura wa nani ka o shihajimeyō to
Ikiteru furi o shitakunai tame ni
Toki ni wa shinda furi o shite miseru
Toki ni wa shinda furi o shite miseru no da.
Shiyō to omoeba sora datte toberu
Sō omoeru toki ureshisa no amari
Nakinagara nomenai sake o kawasu
Nakinagara nomenai sake o kawasu no da.
Shinjitai tame ni tadashii to omowarete iru mono koso
Subete arayuru ōkina mono o utagau no da
Otonnatte iu no wa motto suteki nan da
Kodomo no naka ni otona wa ikiten da
Jitsu wa hitori ni naritai yue ni
Baka mitai ni takusan no hito to hanasu no da
Bokura no kotoba no oku ni wa ai ga
Bokura no kotoba no oku ni wa ai ga
Last week in Tokyo I visited the ongoing “Natsume Soseki and the World of Art” (夏目漱石の美術世界展） exhibit at the Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku Bijutsukan, near Ueno Park. The show continues through July 7 and is well worth your while. The exhibition website (Japanese language only) is here and includes many images from the show.
It’s a big exhibit–over 200 pieces arranged across eight different rooms. The first room, “Preface,” centers on Hashiguchi Goyo’s striking Art Nouveau style illustrations and cover designs for the first edition of I Am A Cat (Wagahai wa neko de aru, 1905-6). I’ve seen most of them before, but having them displayed together alongside early sketches really brings out their wonderful strangeness.
“Chapter One” focuses on mostly European-style painting, including a number of works discussed in Soseki’s early fiction. “Chapter Two” turns its gaze on East Asian pieces, including some mentioned in various novels and stories. “Chapter Three” includes 42 works connected to the novels Kusamakura (1906), Sanshiro (1908), And Then (Sore kara, 1909) and The Gate (Mon, 1910). It includes, for example, John William Waterhouse’s 1901 oil painting “The Mermaid,” which Sanshiro and Minako encounter and discuss in Sanshiro. This room includes one painting especially created for the exhibit: Sato Eisuke’s reconstruction of “Mori no onna,” the portrait of Minako that Sanshiro gazes at in the closing pages of the novel. The style of Sato’s rendering matches my mental image of the painting described in the novel, but it seemed much too small: reading Soseki’s description of the work, I imagine an enormous panel-sized painting, but Sato’s version is less than one meter tall, I think. Here’s a video snippet:
“Chapter Four” explores Soseki’s relations with contemporary artists. The organizers have assembled a large number of works that were displayed at the 1912 “Bunten” exhibit, about which Soseki serialized an extended review essay in the Asahi newspaper. They include quotations from Soseki’s evaluation next to each of the works. Perhaps it’s just me and the strong emotional bond I feel for Soseki, but there’s something about standing in front of a painting that you know he gazed at one hundred years ago and comparing your own reaction to his. Both Soseki and I were struck by Sano Issei’s “Yukizora,” a folding screen depicting a flock of birds scattered across the withered branches of a tree, :
“Chapter Five” collects works by painters who were close to Soseki, inlcuiding Asai Chu, Nakamura Fusetsu, and Hamaguchi. I was struck by Tsuda Seifu’s 1931 portrait of Natsume Aiko (Soseki’s daughter), wearing a bright red dress and smiling broadly. There is also a striking watercolor of a chrysanthemum in the guise of a letter that Masaoka Shiki sent to Soseki in 1900.
“Chapter Six” includes 24 of Soseki’s own paintings. He was a serious amateur painter working mainly in watercolors and ink. I was curious to see that all of the works included came from the collection of Iwanami Shoten. I can understand why the various manuscript pages included in the exhibit would be in the hands of Iwanami, Soseki’s publisher. But why do they also own many of his artworks, which were not meant for publication or public display? The exhibit concludes with a room that covers more of the elegant artwork from the early editions of Soseki’s books.
The museum is a short walk from Ueno Park, the setting for a number of scenes in Soseki’s fiction. We are in a stretch now where every year marks the centennial anniversary of important works by Soseki, and the urge to try to retrace his footsteps is only natural. See if you can resist the urge to stand alone in front of “Mori no onna” and whisper silently, “Stray sheep.”
Apologies for the dearth of posts recently: it’s been a busy couple of months. The coming weeks and months promise to be just as busy, with many exciting Japan-related events on the horizon here at the University of Chicago. If you’re in the area, please consider joining us for some of the following events:
March 11: William Marotti (Associate Professor, History, UCLA) will be giving a public lecture on “Perceiving Politics: Art, Protest, and Everyday Life in Early 1960s Japan” (5:00 p.m., Wieboldt 408). He’ll discuss his new book, Money, Trains, and Guillotines: Art and Revolution in 1960s Japan (Duke University Press, 2013).
March 15-16: Remediations II: A Japan Anthro Workshop. Michael Fisch has organized this exciting event, featuring presentations by a number of up-and-coming Japan scholars. I’ll be a discussant for Panel 2: “Rethinking the War Machine: Remediations of Violence.”
April 22: 2013 Najita Distinguished Lecture in Japanese Studies with Ueno Chizuko(5:00 p.m., International House). A public lecture by the respected sociologist and influential feminist critic, one of Japan’s leading public intellectuals.
April 25-26: “The Cold War in East Asia,” a conference organized by our graduate students featuring a number of guest speakers. I’ll participate as a respondent for one of the panels.
May 10-11: “The Russian Kurosawa,” an innovative event organized by Olga Solovieva that brings together specialists in Russian literature, Japanese film, and other disciplines to reconsider Kurosawa Akira’s film adaptations of Russian literary works. The event will include free screenings of several of Kurosawa’s films.
Spring quarter will also see screenings and events surrounding the films produced and distributed by Art Theater Guild, the primary force in independent Japanese cinema during the 1970s and 80s.
October 18-20: The Association for Japanese Literary Studies Annual Meeting: Performance and Japanese Literature. The call for papers and other information are available here.
July brought many exciting developments. I was promoted to full Professor and became chair of my department at the University of Chicago. The Japanese translation of Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon came out from Byakuya Shobo. At around the same time, the discovery I helped make of some previously unknown 1950 Sacramento concert recordings by Misora Hibari, Kasagi Shizuko, Yamaguchi Yoshiko and many other Japanese singing stars became big news in Japan. I was apparently a featured item on television “wide shows” for a couple of days; I’m told that at least one of the shows introduced me with a photograph that was not actually of me. The Japanese edition of the book was well received, too; dozens of newspapers and magazines ran favorable reviews.
The whole family flew to Tokyo in late July. I spent a couple of days doing press interviews at my publishers’ offices in Takadanobaba. On July 29, Satoko and I were able to participate in one of the largest anti-nuclear demonstrations of the year, a march that started from Hibiya Park and ended up surrounding the Diet building. We celebrated the children’s birthdays up in Sendai with Satoko’s parents. With the help of a reporter from the Kyodo Tsushin wire service, I was able to get a copy of the 1950 wire recording of her Sacramento concert to 92-year-old Yamaguchi Yoshiko, who gave an interview about how delighted she was to hear it. As a result, once again I showed up in newspapers across Japan.
We returned to Chicago in early August. I recorded a segment for public radio’s “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” which was broadcast nationally later in the month (you can listen online here). We brought the whole family to a terrific play,”The Death of Harry Houdini,” at the House Theater. We ran up to Minnesota again to celebrate what would have been my father’s 75th birthday on August 15, and while there I saw another ballgame at Target Field. I also got to see one of my old favorite local bands, the Flamin’ Oh’s, play a show at Mears Park in downtown St. Paul. Back in Chicago at the end of the month, we attended the opening night “Tribute to Ella” with Dee Alexander, Frieda Lee, and Spider Saloff at the Chicago Jazz Festival. I returned again on the last day of the festival to catch stellar sets by the Steve Coleman Group and Pierre Dørge And The New Jungle Orchestra–two more favorite musical discoveries of the year.
In September things started gearing up in my new role as department chair, but on a stormy night we saw Bruce Springsteen give a fine concert up at Wrigley Field, and when the Twins swung through town early in the month I ran over to New Comiskey Park to take in a game. Late in the month I filled my car with grad students and drove to Kalamazoo for the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs meeting at Western Michigan University.
Classes started in October. I taught two seminars this past fall–one on Japanese literary discourses of “furusato” (hometown), the other on Japanese cultures of the Cold War. As usual, I learned a great deal from the students in both. Extracurricular activities slowed down as I resumed full-time teaching, of course, but I still managed to get out now and then. In early October, I saw a nice set by guitarist Wayne Krantz at Martyr’s and later in the month caught an intriguing performance by shamisen composer Kimura Shunsuke. In October, I attended the Association for Japanese Literary Studies meeting at Ohio State, reconnecting with many old friends and meeting some new ones. I also enjoyed the opportunity to make a presentation about the 1950 wire recordings at the annual Humanities Day celebration here on campus in Hyde Park.
We had a quiet Thanksgiving at home, with me preparing the turkey as usual. In December, we enjoyed a show by Leo Kottke up at SPACE in Evanston, as well as a terrific performance of Barber’s Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony by the CSO. I made another trip to Los Angeles to give a talk at UCLA and to film an interview about the 1950 wire recording of Misora Hibari for a television special which was broadcast in Japan on the BS-TBS network on December 7. We spent Christmas with family in Minnesota, quiet and relaxing. On Boxing Day, we went ice skating with a big group of my cousins and their children.
Later today we’ll bring our 2012 cultural calendar to a close by attending the acclaimed production of “Annie” at the Paramount Theater in Illinois: the last few years, our family has made a tradition of attending a musical in the week between Christmas and New Years. We also have tickets to see the opening night of Buddy Guy’s annual stand at his own blues club downtown later this week, and we’re off to Second City a few days after that for some comedy.
It really has been a blessed year for us: writing this up has helped remind me how lucky I am. I’m surrounded by a supportive family, wonderful friends and colleagues, students who keep me on my toes, and a city that bustles with creativity and energy. As usual, I have compiled a long list of New Years’ resolutions, but I won’t bore you with those. Suffice it to say that I am looking forward to 2013.
Let me end by wishing you joy, peace, and health in 2013. Thanks for stopping by.
I have several projects with looming year-end deadlines. I really should be working on those this morning. Which, of course, makes this an excellent time to devote instead to an update here. 2012 is fast winding down. What kind of year was it?
A fine and memorable one, thank you. Not without its bumps and bruises, of course, but those just help remind me that I’m alive. I end the year feeling gratitude and hope.
The first half of 2012 found me on sabbatical. In early January, I flew to Seattle for the MLA convention. I saw old friends, sat in on some good panels, caught the film “The Descendants” in a cinema across from the hotel–and accepted the Scaglione Prize for the translation I co-edited of Natsume Soseki’s Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings. Later that month, I flew up to Ann Arbor to participate in a faculty workshop, and a week later I presented a talk at another faculty seminar at Northwestern University. The month ended with Satoko and I enjoying a performance by Westside blues legend Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater at SPACE, the little-club-that-could up in Evanston.
In February, we caught Ricardo Muti conducting the CSO in Franck’s Symphony in D minor and then, a few days later, I attended the University of Chicago Folk Festival, featuring Billy Boy Arnold. The most exciting event of the month: my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop, came out from Columbia University Press. I heard many nice things about it from people–to the point that I started to worry that it must not be very good. If something you write doesn’t piss anyone off, how interesting can it be? But later I heard through the grapevine that a number of senior scholars in my field hated it. I felt reassured. In late February DePaul University hosted a fun workshop based on the book for Chicago public school teachers.
On the first day of March we watched Pierre Boulez lead the CSO in a wonderful performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. The next morning I was off to NYC for meetings. Then on March 10-11 I co-hosted a conference in honor of my colleague, Norma Field, who retired at the end of the 2011-12 academic year. “What March 11 Means to Me” brought together an amazing group of public intellectuals from Japan for personal and philosophical reflections on the first anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster: Amamiya Karin, Komori Yoichi, Ryusawa Takeshi, Takahashi Tetsuya, and Yokoyu Sonoko. The following week, I traveled to Toronto for the AAS annual meeting, where I chaired a roundtable discussion on the 1950 wire recordings of Japanese performers in concert in Sacramento (more on those anon).
In April, I was back in NYC for a lecture at Columbia University. While there, I saw the acclaimed revival of “Death of a Salesman” with Philip Seymour Hoffman and caught up with a few old friends. Back in Chicago, we attended a lively concert by Rodrigo y Gabriela and a fine performance by the Alvin Ailey dance company a few days later. Later in the month, I drove up to the Twin Cities to visit family and friends, catching a Twins game while there and a Beloit Snappers minor-league game on the drive home. During the month, I also finished up an article on Natsume Soseki’s conception of world literature, which appeared in the May/June issue of the Iwanami Shoten journal Bungaku.
On May Day I joined the protest march that started out from Union Park and made its way past the site of the Haymarket Massacre (the historical origin of May Day) before ending at a rally downtown. A few days later, we caught a live performance by one of my favorite musical discoveries of the year: Kids These Days. The group manages to combine rock, funk, jazz, and hip hop and make it all work; their debut album Traphouse Rock came out later in the year and was one of my favorite records of 2012.
Later in May I attended the Atomic Age II conference at Chicago. It featured a keynote address from Koide Hiroaki, one of the most important critics of Japan’s “nuclear village.” The next day, we joined a group to visit the nature preserve in the western suburbs where the remains of Chicago Piles 1 and 2 (the world’s first nuclear reactors) are buried. Later in the month we caught a surprise cameo appearance by Ray Davies at a public television benefit concert, and then I was off to Tokyo for a quick one-week visit. During that trip, I attended the May sumo tournament, met a number of scholars, visited libraries and bookstores, and stopped by an exhibit of photographs by Mike Nogami. After coming back to Chicago, I survived the NATO conference shut-down of the city, dragged the kids to the reunited Beach Boys concert at the Chicago Theater, and enjoyed a Millenium Park performance by Kelly Hogan (another key musical discovery of the year). We ended the month by catching Court Theater’s production of “Angels in America” with Larry Yando’s memorable turn as Ray Cohn.
As June began, I flew to Los Angeles to join in the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the UCLA Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies. It was lovely to catch up with old friends from UCLA, and while there I got to meet and chat briefly with one of my childhood heroes, Daniel Inouye (RIP, Senator Inouye). It turned out that he was one of the 442nd veterans involved in inviting Misora Hibari to Hawaii in 1950 for a charity concert–which led in turn to the 1950 Sacramento concert recordings. Another quick trip to Minnesota followed, and I was back home to catch the last day of the Chicago Blues Festival, including an uplifting headliner set by Mavis Staples. During June we also caught the CSO a couple times, including an eye-opening public rehearsal led by Ricardo Muti, and we visited the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit at the Art Institute. But the cultural highlight of the month was the acclaimed production of “The Iceman Cometh” at the Goodman Theater, with an ensemble cast so strong that the supposed stars, Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane, mostly just blended into the scenery.
July is when things really got busy. I’ll write about the second half of the year tomorrow. In the meantime, I really should get hopping on those year-end projects….