Inter-Asia Cultural Studies: Movements

17.1 visual essay
17.1 visual essay



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  »  Issues Contents  2009-05-19 No.1 Populist cosmopolitanism: the predicament of subjectivity and the Japanese fascination with overseas


Populist cosmopolitanism: the predicament of subjectivity and the Japanese fascination with overseas
This article examines the way in which seemingly contradictory positions of populism and cosmopolitanism are articulated in the development of the Japanese post-Second World War fascination with overseas. Specifically, I analyze the writings of Ohashi Kyosen, a popular television entertainer, and investigate how a particular mode of subjectivity is expressed through his ideas of overseas leisure and retirement in his best-selling book Kyosen: Choose Your Own Life (Kyosen: Jinsei no Sentaku) and related essays published around 2000. While the issue of subjectivity has been the central concern throughout modern Japanese history, earlier analyses have been focused on the critical writings of intellectuals. I argue that in order to understand the larger social impacts of the translation of subjectivity, we also need to examine how the issue is articulated in popular discourses. Ohashi's popular writings suggest that the issue of subjectivity still haunts the contemporary everyday lives of many Japanese, and continues to be the key predicament for articulating a culturally meaningful model of 'citizen' in Japan. Ohashi's writings raise questions about what it means to be an active agent of one's life, and how to situate the self in the larger society. Through an analysis of Ohashi's narratives, I first illustrate how subjectivity is negotiated through people's demands for leisure and their concerns about retirement, both of which are entangled with their fascination with overseas. Second, I examine Ohashi's narratives as an expression of the paradoxical position of the Japanese citizenry conditioned by the US-Japan political, economic, and military coalition. I discuss how the predicament of articulating Japanese subjectivity reflects this paradoxical position under the legacy of Cold War geopolitics in Asia.
Keywords: subjectivity; cosmopolitanism; populism; mass culture; the politics of leisure
Author’s biography
Shiho Satsuka is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. Currently, she is finishing an ethnography of Japanese nature tourism in Canada. She is also member in a collaborative multi-sited field research project which traces the global commercial and scientific networks of the matsutake mushroom.

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