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Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 09:51 am
London ultra-Japanizes Japanese

Within hours of arriving in London I was in Japan. Or rather, I was at the British Museum, killing time until my nearby hotel could check me in, looking at the Crafting Beauty in Modern Japan exhibition.



As soon as my brainstorming session at LSE was over, I was back in Japan -- in the grocery under the Japan Centre and then the Japanese Embassy on Piccadilly, where they currently have an exhibition called Hand in Hand: Japanese graduates from Central St Martins College of Art and Design.

Once I got past the embassy's rather over-strict security X-ray (they were very worried by a pen in my bag, the one I used to take notes in the gallery), I found Hand in Hand an interesting show. Not so much because the work was strong, and not just because I happen to live "hand in hand" with a Japanese Central St Martins graduate (BA Honours Graphic Design) I met in London. No, what I found so interesting was the cultural angle the curator had worked into all the interviews with the artists, displayed on boards next to their work. Basically, this show was about how life in London had impacted on the students' sense of their Japaneseness. Or, as the blurb puts it, "fizzing with energy, the creative talent featured underlines the relationship between the college and Japan".

I say "cross-cultural angle", but that's not exactly the picture that emerges. As much concentration as hybridization of national identity seems to be going on. Here's what some of the thirteen students featured had to say on the issue. "I feel more Japanese than when I first arrived in the UK," says Rie Funakoshi (BA Honours Fine Art). Asked how her friendships have evolved since she moved to London, Rie says, pointedly, "I've met some great Japanese people." Broken any hearts? "I hope not." No miscegenation -- cultural or sexual -- going on here, then.

Sawa Tanaka (BA Honours Graphic Design) presents her Japaneseness as a series of self-deprecating but slightly sarcastic failings: "Here I feel I'm too organized, too concerned about cleanliness, too shy, too short-legged, and have too much good taste in food!" These self-reproaches... aren't.

Yuko Nasu (MA Fine Art) spells it out for her embassy. "You still feel Japanese. I'm absolutely Japanese. Staying in London makes Japanese more Japanese." Asked if she can remember her first day at Central St Martins, Emi Miyashita (BA Honours Fine Art) says: "Yes, too many British students, it was very, very uncomfortable... I feel really Japanese now. Much more than I realised before I moved here."

What does that mean? "There is nothing straight in UK. The manners, behaviour, expressing, weather, art and food. Better or worse, so many things are so different. Which gives me a very strong realisation of my nationality."

If culture shock and an enhanced sense of difference and separateness characterizes most of these students' London experience, there are some who seem more positive about London. Momoko Mizutani (MA Creative Practice for Narrative) and Emi Sekiguchi (BA Honours Fashion) pinpoint the reason most of these young Japanese women (and they are almost all women) have come here: "We think London has the coolest culture background, which is beyond important."

Nakaba Ikoma (MA Textile Design) is unique amongst the students interviewed -- she actually sounds as if she wants to renounce her nationality. "London has had the greatest influence on me. I am Japanese. I was born in Japan and grew up there, I have a Japanese passport. But I am not sure if I am feeling Japanese. These days I do not want to belong anything if it is possible." Wanting to renounce all nationality and all belonging almost sounds like a suicide threat.

The Japanese are much more aware than most Westerners of the fact that the national-cultural self is a blessing as well as a curse. Sure, don't fence me in, but remember that there is nowhere outside of society, outside of specific social habitus. Azumi Yamada (MA Ceramics) lays out rather more realistically than most the pleasure / pain (or should we say limitation / possibility?) dialectic of the national-cultural self: "I feel my identity is constructed in Japan and I still want to go back to Japan when I'm old."

30CommentReply

yuliacrystal
yuliacrystal
yuliacrystal
Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 09:04 am (UTC)

I think trying to define who you are is quite a miserable task

and then, again, it says a lot about one who performs the attempting

=)


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 02:02 pm (UTC)
define who you are

I guess it's the next step from living by yourself.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 09:19 am (UTC)

when's the last time you spoke to (or listened to) a Japanese MALE?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 09:28 am (UTC)

You're obviously not a regular reader -- Hiroshi last Monday, Nao (Yximalloo) on Tuesday...


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 11:09 am (UTC)

Momus, does living in Germany make you feel more British?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 12:03 pm (UTC)

It does -- I shop regularly at the British food shop in Kreuzberg. Only for Twinings Chai, though. Not Cheezy Wotsits.

But seriously, living in New York and Tokyo definitely made me feel more Scottish. You can hear that on my New York album (Folktronic) and my Tokyo album (Oskar Tennis Champion).


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 01:25 pm (UTC)

That sounds like an interesting exhibition

However one thing strikes me is that the number of students in CSM from Hong Kong certainly outweighs that from Japan but seems that few people are interested in knowing how Hong Kong-ish do those students think of themselves are and the culture shock they encounter.

and the other important thing is how genuine are the asian artists about their cultures in the creative process and how much of their opinions and ideas are comprimised in order to fulfil the 'exoticness-expectation' from foreigners so as to attract attentions from foreigners and cash in(can it be called internalised orientalism?)


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maybeimdead
maybeimdead
Maybe I'm Dead
Fri, Oct. 19th, 2007 05:23 am (UTC)

This is true. And certainly one can't even go beyond being Japanese even if they wished to. Hell fence me in. The currency is race, the relative price of inclusion. Long live soft power and the path dependent nature of the unfolding of history on this structure of the world. There is no veil of ignorance.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 02:20 pm (UTC)
39

You know you’re not old if dot matrix is folksy.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 02:23 pm (UTC)

My question is: do the Japanese really need someone to be a booster for their culture? They're probably the most proud people out there ... on the surface they're yielding and all, but if anyone believes in their superiority over other societies, it's the Japanese, drastically more so than Americans or the French (probably the two battling "we're superior" cultures in the West). And this is coming from experience working for a Japanese corporation.


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cerulicante
cerulicante
cerulicante
Fri, Oct. 19th, 2007 02:46 am (UTC)

I don't get to flit about Tokyo and meet art students. I, too, work for a Japanese corporation, so I meet more blue collar people.

And these Japs are exactly as you say.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
qscrisp
qscrisp
Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 10:24 pm (UTC)
Re: The first exhibition?

Hidden charges for booking tickets - one pound booking charge per person.

For the money, it could have been more extensive, I thought. At least it afforded me personally the pleasure of someone I was with being prompted to say that I was a national treasure.

But I did like what was there? Some really nice pieces like the square Bizen-yaki dish, and the some of the ceramics opposite that display. Also liked the kimono and lacquerware.

Sorry to butt in. I know you weren't asking me...


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 04:45 pm (UTC)

I always wanted to more about Hisae and her graphic design. Does she still do design or she more into acting in movies now? Maybe you should do a Hisae feature!

Christopher


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 08:42 pm (UTC)

"Wanting to renounce all nationality and all belonging almost sounds like a suicide threat."

I don't why. My days of signing 'N/A' in nationality boxes were the happiest of my life and I'd continue if it was practical. Why should someone feel a sense of belonging in some utterly manufactured 'homeland' (and they all are).


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 18th, 2007 08:49 pm (UTC)

Because beyond the lands of life there are only lands of death, which we call "no man's land" because no man has ever come back from there.


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cerulicante
cerulicante
cerulicante
Fri, Oct. 19th, 2007 02:44 am (UTC)

Japanese either become hyper Japanese upon arriving at a foreign country or they renounce their Japaneseness and try to assimilate completely in a ridiculous way.


There is never any middle ground with the naicha. We Okinawans are infinitely more adapatable!


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Fri, Oct. 19th, 2007 03:52 am (UTC)

what often happens in diasporas is people becomming aware of wider or different circles of 'belonging' (or denial thereof). japanese realizing they're 'asian'... etc .. personally, being thought to be french for years, i'm almost on some level starting to believe it , evidently feeling enough direct empathy to allow that, again possibly using it to simply identify myself as not-anglo-saxon. the variations are endless.


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