Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

Play Ball! (Japanese style)

Posted in baseball,Current Events by bourdaghs on the March 30th, 2012

The 2012 Nippon Professional Baseball season is officially underway. The Yomiuri Giants (boo!) seem the favorites in the Central league, while in the Pacific League its the Fukuoka Soft Bank Hawks with their new import pitcher Brad Penny. As for me, I’m curious to see how the Hanshin Tigers fare under new manager Wada Yutaka, a star infielder for the team in the 1990s. In the PL, I’ll be watching to see if the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles can finally turn the corner and become contenders.

To celebrate the occasion, here’s a brilliant tv commercial from the Fukuoka Soft Bank Hawks (I found it via the Néojaponisme twitter feed) on how they practice:

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Today’s Musical Discovery

Posted in J-Pop,Music by bourdaghs on the March 21st, 2012

This morning, I poked my head in at the website for the World Happiness music festival to see who was on the bill this year. This is the annual one-day event organized by Yellow Magic Orchestra, with YMO as headliners and a changing roster of supporting artists, all hand-picked by YMO. We very much enjoyed the 2010 edition, and we might well be in Tokyo again this August.

This year’s show will take place on August 12. In addition to YMO, the artists on the bill announced so far include Grapevine, Original Love, Tokyo No. 1 Soul Set, and Sakamoto Miu. The last name was entirely new to me, so I did some checking around. Then it clicked: I’d heard in the past from friends that the daughter of Sakamoto Ryuichi (YMO) and Yano Akiko was also a musician. It’s her, of course.

Born in 1980 during the heyday of YMO’s fame, Miu released her first full album in 1999. She now has six albums to her credit, include the just-released Hatsukoi. The latter includes her latest single, on which she sounds very much like a genetic hybrid of her mother and father’s styles.

Perhaps I’ll be hearing more of her work this August in Yumenoshima Park in Tokyo.

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The Current Reading List

Posted in Books,Fiction,Japanese literature by bourdaghs on the March 20th, 2012

George Eliot, Silas Marner (1861). My first time to read this since ninth grade English class with Mr. Sanborn. My vague memories of the story revolved around the child Eppie and her sunny influence on the title character; I was surprised to realize she doesn’t appear until halfway through the book. The seemingly realistic depictions of daily life in small-town England before the Industrial Revolution are charming–and the brief visit to a darkened factory city near the end suitably haunting. I’d like to sneak this onto the syllabus for a seminar I’m planning to teach next year on the philosophy of money and literature. Eppie’s angelic golden locks release Silas from his evil worship of gold, leading to (quite literally, the last line tells us) the happiest of possible endings.

Kira Morio 北杜夫, Yurei: Aru yonen to seishun no monogatari_ 『幽霊・或る幼年と青春の物語』 (1954). Kita’s debut novel, a lyrical collage of fictional childhood memories. It has highly comical moments, but at other times is quite melancholic–death always hovers in the background. With hardly any plot to speak of, the charm comes primarily from polished depictions of a child’s sensibility. A passage early on about how the spines of books on the shelves in the father’s study seemed like faces looking down at the hero brought memories of my own childhood flooding back: I’d forgotten how vividly I could recall the books that sat on my own father’s shelves.

Greg Robinson, After Camp: Portraits in Midcentury Japanese American Politics and Life (2012). Most histories of Japanese-American life focus on the wartime internment camps and the developments that led to them. Robinson’s welcome new study takes up the relatively unexplored question of what happened next. He traces the process of release from the camps, one driven by an ideology of “assimilation” that sought to prevent the reappearance of concentrated pockets of Japanese-American populations on the West Coast. (with the surprising result that Chicago briefly boasted the largest population of Japanese-Americans in the continental U.S.). He also provides very interesting material on the relations between postwar Japanese-Americans and other minority ethnic groups, in particular African-Americans and Mexican-Americans. Fascinating.

Leela Gandhi, Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-de-Siecle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship (2006). A remarkable study of late nineteenth and early twentieth century nonconformist radical movements in Britain (vegetarianism, aestheticism, spiritualism and homosexuality, among others) as experiments in alternate, explicitly anti-imperial, forms of relationship–as, in other words, experiements in “friendship.” Since writing my dissertation on, among others, Upton Sinclair, I’ve had a strong interest in such movements in the U.S., and Gandhi’s insightful analysis finally helps me make sense of their specifically geopolitical stakes. I now see why The Jungle necessarily includes condemnations of the imperialist Russo-Japanese War alongside its more famous exposé of the horrors of meat-eating.

“What March 11 Means to Me”

Posted in Current Events,Japanese literature,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the March 13th, 2012

This past weekend, we hosted a remarkable event here at the University of Chicago: “What March 11 Means to Me: A Symposium in Honor of Norma Field.” A large audience turned out both days to hear a remarkable array of speakers from Japan reflect on the ongoing disaster in the Tohoku region of Japan.

Ryusawa Takeshi, former editor-in-chief for the Heibonsha publishing house and currently one of the central figures in the East Asia Publishers Conference, was the first speaker on Saturday. He reflected on the role of liberal, progressive journalists in the 1950s in disseminating the doctrine of “Atoms for Peace” in Japan and traced the fascinating history of the benign-sounding word genshiro (原子炉), the Japanese term for “nuclear reactor” that might more literally be translated as “atomic hearth.”

He was followed by Yokoyu Sonoko, a child psychologist and a leading voice on such issues as bullying and hikkomori syndrome (social withdrawal syndrome), who spoke on the mental health costs of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. Her talk included a number of moving stories about how families and individuals already struggling with psychological difficulties tried to cope with the disaster. She also described the rising incidence of PTSD and other forms of anxiety in the months following 3/11. She concluded by speaking about the sense of “hopelessness” shared by many in today’s Japan and on the possibilities for building new connections based on it–especially in response to the very real danger of fascism in today’s Japan.

The last speaker on Saturday was Takahashi Tetsuya of the University of Tokyo, one of Japan’s leading contemporary philosophers and a native of Fukushima Prefecture. He spoke quite movingly of his childhood in the region and his concerns for its future. Using the example of the recent People’s Tribunal trial of Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) and its management, he unpacked the complexities of the kinds of responsibility we need to consider in remembering 3/11. Of course, primary responsibility lies with what Takahashi called the “nuclear mafia,” the business and governmental figures who promoted the myth of absolute safety while neglecting to secure adequate safety measures. But those who allowed themselves to be deceived also bear some degree of responsibility, as do those who had remained indifferent while enjoying the benefits of cheap electricity generated by what Takahashi has called the “sacrificial system” of contemporary Japan.

Komori Yoichi of the University of Tokyo, one of today’s leading scholars of modern Japanese literature and one of the prime figures in the movement to preserve the anti-war Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, was the first speaker on Sunday. He provided a moving account of his and his family’s personal experiences on 3/11 and the days that followed, arguing for the importance of claiming the embodied experience of sense perception (taiken) of the ‘event’ as a kind of experience (keiken) shared with others through language and dialogue. He situated the events of 3/11 against the history of postwar Japan and of his own lifetime, going back to his birth at the time of the Lucky Dragon Incident and the initial promotion of “Atoms for Peace” as an American Cold War ideology.

Amamiya Karin, a well-known activist in the “precariat” and anti-nuclear movements, was the final speaker. She talked about her experiences traveling in the Fukushima region and the kind of unreal reality people now encounter there–when, for example, Tsutaya video rental stores now also offer to lend Geiger counters for personal use. She focused in particular on divides opening up among the affected populations–resentment, for example, that those who lived within the mandatory evacuation zone get greater compensation than those living just outside of it. As a result, the focus of popular anger is shifting away from TEPCO and the government to fellow victims. But she also discussed tactics being used in recent demonstrations to bring together disparate strata into a single, unified force, and showed videos from several recent protest marches.

It was a memorable event and a great tribute to my colleague, Norma Field. She will be retiring from the University of Chicago at the end of this academic year–though we know she will remain an active force for many years to come. Without her, there’s no way we could have brought together all of the people who made the symposium such an intense and inspiring occasion.

Postscript: Here’s local television station WGN’s coverage of an event commemorating the Fukushima disaster last Sunday right after the symposium, including interviews with Amamiya Karin and Norma Field.

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Chicago (History Museum) Rocks!

Posted in Current Events,Music by bourdaghs on the March 8th, 2012

The Chicago History Museum is launching “Chicago Rocks!,” a series of lectures, performances, and neighborhood tours celebrating the history of popular music in the Windy City.

Grab your dancing shoes and groove with us this Spring for a slew of events that celebrates Chicago’s rich musical past. Over the course of four weeks, we’ll explore various genres that have dominated the Windy City’s sound scene. From lectures and concerts to tours and dinners, the series will have something for any music aficionado and lover of Chicago history.

It’s a great range of events, covering R&B, soul, rock (both mainstream and indies), punk, house and hiphop. The series runs from next week through mid April, ending up somewhat incongruously with a big John Cage bash–the avant-garde composer apparently spent a fair amount of time here. The full schedule of events is available here.

One of the scheduled speakers is the “Duke of Earl” himself, Gene Chandler. I’ve always been a sucker for his 1970 hit, “Groovy Situation.”

Korean Punk Rock

Posted in Music by bourdaghs on the March 7th, 2012

The documentary “Our Nation: A Korean Punk Rock Community” (39 min., 2002) is now available on DVD for private home viewing–and it’s just twenty bucks. You can also stream it for just $1.99. (Institutions and libraries can also purchase the film here.)

Through the eyes of two young college age fans, we journey through the underground punk rock scene. The small club “Drug” features bands with names like Crying Nut, No Brain and Weeper, and the all-female band Supermarket. To Americans the flashing lights, stomping bodies, blaring sounds and angry incantations are nothing new. But seeing it in an Asian culture known for restraint raises many questions. Sociology professor Cho Hae Joang provides a socio-historical overview of the youth subcultures in Korea, and the emergence of consumer capitalism with the concomitant economic crisis of the late 90’s.

Crying Nut subsequently went on to fame and fortune, but the film captures them and their fans at the beginning, playing in a small basement club in Seoul. I had the pleasure of introducing the film at one of its first-ever screenings at UCLA back when it was initially released, and I vividly remember the brilliant way it captured the feel of a burgeoning local music scene. Recommended.

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Featured Book of the Week

Posted in Books,J-Pop,Music by bourdaghs on the March 6th, 2012

Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop is the “featured book of the week” on the Columbia University Press blog. Among other things, they’re giving away a free copy, but hurry: the contest ends this Friday. Details are available here.

In celebration, let me leave you with “To My Dear Friends” (Waga yoki tomo yo), a 1975 hit for Kamayatsu Hiroshi. Kamayatsu is one of the heroes of my chapter four, “Working within the System: Group Sounds and the Commercial and Revolutionary Potential of Noise.” The tune, composed by Yoshida Takuro, was the biggest hit of Kamayatsu’s solo career, which followed his stint as resident musical genius for 1960s’ garage rockers, The Spiders.

Kamayatsu was the son of Tib Kamayatsu, a Japanese-American jazz singer whose career in Tokyo dated back to the 1930s. He debuted in the late 1950s as a country-western and rockabilly singer before joining the Spiders. He was one of the first Japanese rock-and-rollers to really “get” the new Merseybeat sound when it exploded onto the scene in 1964 and went on to compose many of the Spiders’ hits. In his seventies now, “Monsieur” Kamayatsu remains an active force on the Japanese music scene today. One of my biggest thrills as a music fan came in 2006, when I ended up sitting a couple of rows away from him in the balcony for a show by the reunited Sadistic Mika Band. It took enormous will power to stop me from cornering him to gush about how much I love his work.

Incidentally, Kamayatsu was (and is) a huge Kinks fan. Listen to the opening riff from the Spiders’ 1966 recording of “Little Roby,” lifted more or less directly from the Kinks’ “Set Me Free.”

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