Criticism in Contemporary Japan
Before you is the inaugural issue of the critical journal Genron. We intend to publish three times annually for at least three years, creating nine volumes. As long as I do not collapse or Genron does not go bankrupt, we will continue working at least through the summer of 2018.
Although I have just called our journal a critical one, knowing the type of magazine we are aiming to create is quite difficult. Our journal is not interested in publishing provocative words that reflect reality as is; rather, we intend to present words that seem to have momentarily distanced themselves from reality and, after reflecting various thoughts, refocus on a single point. Though we seem to be concerned with reality, we are in fact not. Or, perhaps, we seem to be unconcerned with reality when in fact we are. Consider one of the themes of our inaugural issue, “The Work of Art in the Age of Terrorism.” It appears as if it may be related to the current political situation in Japan, but in fact it is not; perhaps, it appears as if it is not related to the current political situation, but in fact it is. This is the sense of the distance to reality adopted by this journal.
To avoid the inward tendencies of academia without completely becoming journalism, such dual-natured language—what Mikhail Bakhtin would likely call polyphony—was once referred to as criticism in Japan. This journal was established in the paths of this history, and our intention of being a successor to that history is explained in the dialogue among Osawa, Ichikawa, Fukushima, and myself.
In fact, however, the term criticism is no longer used in such a fashion. We would most likely be misunderstood if we refer to this as a “critical journal.” I suspect that a majority of today’s youth would, on hearing the term criticism, imagine online content reviews or political commentary that amasses numerous “Likes,” all to be consumed and forgotten in a short span of time.
At one time, there was criticism in this country; currently, this is not the case. This journal has been introduced with the goal of reviving this criticism. We might be laughed at for our anachronistic attempt, but we will bring it back for at least the next three years.
In other words, if you are a reader of my work, you know that recently I have been contending that philosophy should resemble tourism.
Philosophy (lit. “a love of wisdom”) is, more than anything, a product of curiosity. In the course of one’s life, one meets various people and encounters various things. Philosophy originates from this simple joy. The idea of thinking through the principles of truth, virtue, or beauty only comes later. This sort of “hedonistic” characteristic of philosophy is clear when one looks at the words and actions of Socrates as recorded by Plato.
Five years ago, there was a boom of sabukaru (subculture) criticism among younger generations. There were undoubtedly many who considered this to be an irrational practice. Certainly, we cannot philosophize anime or idol groups simply by discussing them. Yet, there is a certain pleasure to be had from consuming them. Considering that pleasure as a determinant for approaching philosophy is, in a sense, the correct path of philosophy. This is because philosophy is not, from the onset, something one sets out to do, furrowing one’s brow and engaging with some greater concept. Rather, it is when one engages in something pleasurable that is not philosophy and is, unbeknownst to them, drawn in by some outside force as one grows closer to it. That other force is philosophy. This is similar to becoming trapped. It is when thinking what Derrida might call unserious thoughts that one suddenly realizes they have arrived at a serious one. Conversely, it is like the experience of the lost child: this is the essence of philosophy.
Now in 2015, such subculture criticism has disappeared. In fact, Japan is currently facing a large political and social crisis: probably, there is no time for a lost child to be discussing anime and idol groups.
Consequently, today, only serious students and people who strive to make the world a better place, want to save those in trouble, or hope to realize the dream of democracy read books on thought. Otherwise, it is a particular type of academic that simply wants to read with exactitude as many texts from the past as possible.
But, is that really what writings on thought are about? Were not writings on thought originally more free, more loose? That is, thought was considered to be a terminal of knowledge—what Derrida called the “post office”—that allowed several individuals to proceed to various spaces based on their individual interests.
This journal was conceived with such an understanding of philosophy and thought. With its publication, we hope to once again express the joy of curiosity and the experience of the lost child. In other words, this journal was created to once again make philosophy and thought unserious. I express the experience of distancing oneself from reality and losing sight of one’s goal—the joy of a puzzling piece of knowledge—as “tourism.”
If philosophy can become a space for tourism—a transformation I call tourization—then we can also philosophize tourism. I am writing this introduction having just returned from Ukraine. Since 2013, we here at Genron, in cooperation with a well-known travel agency, have been organizing annual tours to Chernobyl tailored toward a general audience. This year again, I visited Ukraine as an accompanying lecturer.
My relation with Chernobyl began with a short, week-long research trip in April 2013. The results of that trip are recorded in my publication, Chernobyl Dark Tourism Guide. Why would a complete outsider to nuclear power, such as me, set out on a research trip to the northern border of Ukraine? The answer is, of course, because of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident. Similarly, many tour participants developed an interest in Chernobyl following the Fukushima accident. As such, many people initially tried to compare Chernobyl to Fukushima, wondering if Chernobyl is, in fact, safe. Additionally, many wanted to know whether the victims of Chernobyl were pronuclear. However, after the tour, the majority of participants voiced completely different interests. They might have been surprised at the architecture of the power plant or workers’ housing projects steeped in Soviet-style (Russian) Futurism; awed at the strong-willed Samosely (lit. “self-settlers,” [translator’s note: residents who have illegally taken up residence within 30 kilometers of the most heavily contaminated areas around the Chernobyl Power Plant]); amazed at the lush nature within the no-entry zones. Comments never focused on the debates over whether Chernobyl was safe or if they supported or opposed nuclear energy.
The questions of whether the remains of the disaster site are safe and whether one should support the further implementation of nuclear power are, of course, important. These issues will continue to reverberate as important points of consideration for each participant on the tour. However, now, nearly 30 years from the 1986 catastrophe—local researchers refer to the incident at Chernobyl not as an “accident” (авария) but as a “catastrophe” (катастрофa)—people in Ukraine actually have many superfluous thoughts in the vast, uninhabited land nearly the size of the sprawling metropolis that is Tokyo. I consider those very superfluous thoughts to be the essence of philosophy as tourism because this is precisely the experience of the lost child.
Since the 2011 disaster, Japan has become a country with no room to breathe and no flexibility. This is not only from the pro-establishment/pro-government perspective but also from the anti-establishment perspective. If you want to talk of sophisticated theories, you better first make your way to a demonstration: Japan has become a country that demands you take to the streets, sweat, and scream at the top of your lungs. I find this to be extremely suffocating. Rather, more than the growing right-wing tendencies of the current administration, I feel that such an atmosphere of excessive activism is closer to the pre-war atmosphere than anything else. To think about reality, I want to distance myself from reality. To think about the accident, I want to distance myself from the accident. It is the luxury of giving one’s time to thinking that, as a critic, I want to give to future generations. Thus, I established Genron and take people to Chernobyl every year. These two projects are uncompromisingly linked in my mind.
I am uncertain if philosophy is serious or unserious and whether going to Chernobyl is serious or unserious. An experience that causes the boundary between the serious and the unserious to falter was Socrates’ practice, the polyphony of Bakhtin, and what Derrida called deconstruction.
At one time, the Japanese economy was still going strong. Sometime around the accompanying boom in postmodermism in the colorful 1980s, people talked about Japan as if it lacked a European-style architecture. In addition, since its political institutions were riddled with holes, it was argued that there was no need for deconstruction. Thirty years later, we can see that this was a completely incorrect assessment. Japan is a rigid country full of boundaries. We have not experienced enough deconstruction.
This journal has been established as a critical endeavor intended to serve as the successor of both Shisouchizu beta, a journal available at general bookstores, and Genron Communications, a journal of sorts for members of the Genron community, Genron Tomonokai. Thus, while the journal is aimed at the general reader, it shares characteristics with our Genron Tomonokai publication. One portion of the table of contents is a continuation of that journal; as such, despite being the inaugural issue of Genron, one will find the 8th installment, 14th installment, or 16th installment of certain pieces. We ask for your understanding in this matter.
The circulation of this journal will be more conservative than that of Shisouchizu beta, and the bookstores that will carry it are few. If you want to secure your copy, I recommend you to become a member of the Genron community. Considering a large print run, we plan to publish an e-book version nearly simultaneously with the release of the physical edition.
I opted to limit the publication quantity because I do not necessarily desire a wide readership for the journal. I distance myself from reality to think about reality, alter the boundary between the serious and the unserious, and sink into thought. Unfortunately, not many people can understand such expressions. These introductory remarks are scheduled to be published online. This will virtually guarantee that a few lines will be pulled out of context as well as the appearance of criticism claiming that Azuma only writes excuses without political action or that he is turning Fukushima into some sort of unserious fodder for discussion. Such reactions can no longer be considered to be mere misunderstandings. They originate due to the reader’s inability to comprehend, a defense mechanism of sorts. This cannot be corrected through explanation. Anyway, if I were to respond to all forms of criticism and questioning, I would not be able to publish anything. Therefore, I would be content if only those who are capable of understanding it understand it and if only those who have a need for criticism and thought pick up this journal.
As noted at the beginning of this article, the inauguration of this journal is an extremely anachronistic endeavor. Most people no longer find a need for either criticism or thought. Yet, it is my heartfelt hope that this journal will reach the few readers who indeed still find a need for both criticism and thought.
In writing these comments, I reread my words five years ago, the preface accompanying the inaugural issue of Shisouchizu beta. The enthusiasm and faith in a readership I had then exists no longer. However, the concluding lines are still alive within me: Philosophy that, like Crocs, moves beyond national borders and, like the Food Republic, erases the boundaries between real and imitation: That is my ideal. With the tours to Chernobyl, I have only changed the form, intending to apply it.
For me, the nuclear accident was an experience that transcends national borders and erases the boundaries between real and artificial objects. Though Genron does not specifically focus on the nuclear accident, its spirit begins there.
Osawa’s essay is a basic report written for the roundtable discussion included in this volume. It comments on the environment of critical discourse of the period discussed (1975-1989) from a media history perspective. Particular emphasis is given to the following topic: For the majority of the Showa period (1926-1989), it was seen as self-evident that literature should be placed at the center of critical discourses. Consequenty, the history of literary criticism is mostly the history of criticism. This also resulted partly from the structure of journalism in Japan—a field that often guided and influenced changes in literature. However, after the mid-1970s, it become difficult to speak of the history of criticism in similar terms. Literary criticism no longer embodied the entire world of criticism; the number of locations where criticism could be disseminated greatly increased. Representative of this phenomenon was the “contemporary thought” boom of the late-1970s and its continuation in the form of the New Academism boom of the early 1980s.
After examining this change, Osawa compares New Academism in the early 1980s (1983-1986) with the literary renaissance 50 years earlier (1933-1936). Referencing his earlier Hihyo Media-ron (A Theory of Critical Media), which discusses the state of pre-war criticism, he establishes numerous points. For example, during the Pre-New Academism period of the late 1970s there was already an increased interest in topics such as semiotics and urban studies, the intersection of theories on the body and theatre criticism, and the combination of theories on information and the media. All this suggests a growing tendency for criticism to stretch across multiple areas of expertise.
Osawa indicates that such critical cross-pollination had already become self-evident by the time New Academism arrived on the scene. Individuals would take it upon themselves to reinterpret their particular traditions in academia, while amateurism began to be praised. The avant-garde of emerging publishers illuminate the scene by using experimental binding formats, layouts, typography, etc., making the site of knowledge move to the outside of academia. The key was the “age of magazines.” These changes run in concert with the democratization of publishing, creating a situation that we could call “late-Showa educationism.” The maturation of publishing and thought caused the act of editing to be pushed to the foreground, and during this period, not only critics so did numerous editors also became prominent.
In addition, Osawa makes a brief reference to the economy of 1970s new-left corporate extortionist magazines and 1980s corporate patronage/PR magazines. The prosperity enjoyed by criticism was supported by Japan’s economic prosperity.
Azuma invited here three Japanese critics in their 40s or younger to examine the history of criticism in Japan after 1975. Three discussion are planned, with the present one covering the period from 1975 to 1989.
The discussion begins with Osawa’s proposal that the period under consideration be split into the time of Pre-New Academism and New Academism. During these periods Marxism began to lose its influence while criticism in Japan began to change from a practice that focused on single genres (ex. literature)into one that focused on interdisciplinary knowledge. Fukushima positions the Pre-New Academism as practiced by Masao Yamaguchi and Yoshihiko Amino as an activity that re-evaluated the importance of traditional communities in Japanese society. Ichikawa conjectures the movements toward rediscovering Japan were born from a sense of disappointment with the U.S. because of the Vietnam War.
New Academism after the appearance of Akira Asada and Shinichi Nakazawa was also a journalistic phenomenon unfurled through new magazines such as GS and Episteme. Azuma observes that the works of Asada and Kojin Karatani concur with global movements in which French contemporary philosophy was being localized. Simultaneously, their sectionalistic “politics” brought ideological binaries back to the criticism, making it both difficult to overview its history while also leading to a loss of diversity within Japanese criticism and philosophy.
This discussion is meant to be a critical successor to the group discussion held in 1989 by Asada and Karatani titled Criticism in Modern Japan.
Kojin Karatani published numerous short essaies on technology in the first half of the 1980s. In one of these, “Rhythm/Melody/Concept,” he discusses statements made by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Haruomi Hosono. They are both still members of Yellow Magic Orchestra, an influential technopop group that was then at the peak of its popularity.
New Academism took off shortly after this, becoming the most influential movement in post-war Japanese contemporary thought. While Karatani stood at the center of this intellectual movement, he still continued his unique line of investigation and became fascinated with the internal collapse of formalization (eg. deconstruction), something he called a “Gödelian problem,” eventually leading him to succumb to a certain type of “illness”. Can we understand this as a “technological” breakthrough on Karatani’s part? In reality, though, Karatani would not continue down this technological path. How can we discuss the changes in the relation between technology and thought (criticism) over the past thirty years from this example?
We must have more than the perspective of one enclosed within the Japanese islands to discern the possibilities and impossibilities contained within modern Japan. An outside perspective considering Asia as a broader whole is necessary. Manchuria was a fictional empire created to resist Soviet communism, American capitalism, and the ethnic self-determination of the Republic of China. Modifying the fundamentals of ancient shamanism, it was possible to merge various religious teachings. While Manchuria was a combination of the pre-modern and the ultramodern, these contradictory forces came together as one. Its way of being was like the photographic negative of the Empire of Japan, dually acting as the forerunner of the state of contemporary Japan. Till today, there are still odd groups of buildings that intentionally combine elements from various Asian regions. If the goal of criticism is to be a practice that questions the very grounds one stands on from the foundation up, it must, above all, be a practical endeavor that is closely related to historical and cultural memory. The reconsideration of Manchuria should be a creative effort that enables us to turn a critical eye to modern Japan and modern Japanese criticism from its very roots.
The question of how to critically approach Japanese literature is one of the biggest challenges facing Japanese critics. In general, modern literature as a whole is charged with attaining a type of non-poetic realism, and Japan is no exception to this. As Shinobu Orikuchi and Yukio Mishima remarked, however, it is difficult for Japanese literature, which has been given the fate of being an “intermixture of prose and poetry,” to have autonomously prosaic language. In fact, the criticism of prose (the novel) became commonplace only after entering the 20th century.
It was only after Ryunosuke Akutagawa that influential Japanese authors began reusing the traditional, poetic forms of expression seen in the monogatari (“tale”) genre, embarking on a “romanticization” of history. Paradoxically, modern Japanese literature created a situation in which unprosaic alternations were needed to realize non-poetic realism. It is impossible to correctly evaluate this phenomenon from the modernist, prose-centric perspective. We must reconsider the history of Japanese écriture to renovate the declining form that is literary realism.
The Work Art in the Age of Terrorism
This discussion between Tadashi Suzuki and Hiroki Azuma examines the role of art in the contemporary world. Suzuki is one of Japan’s leading 20th century theatre directors and has created an avant-garde theatre center in the depopulated village of Toga, Toyama, from where he engages in numerous international projects.
A major theme of the discussion is the relationship between the public and art. Azuma argues that art in contemporary Japan is primarily thought of as something that provides collective benefit, and is supported by the government. Suzuki notes that theatre, too, has become entwined in issues of democratic equality and fairness.
So, what, then, is art to the collective community? Suzuki states that it is “created when someone who doesn’t share the faith appears and the gaze of the Other emerges.” In other words, artists act as Others to the collective and are tasked with criticizing the methods of the community from the outside. Suzuki paradoxically selected Toga as his base in order to acquire a location “external” to Japan.
Azuma has taken a philosophical approach to Fukushima after the Great East Japan Earthquake—the disaster during which it became the site of a major nuclear accident—stating that Fukushima should have chosen Suzuki’s kind of “methodical discrimination.” So long as it is impossible to erase the trauma of the nuclear accident, Fukushima ought to shoulder its legacy of tragedy and work in solidarity with the rest of the world. Azuma concludes by commenting that it is the future mission of artists and philosophers to consider “those things that deviate from the rules of the collective” over the world.
The power of Dostoyevsky’s imagination comes together to tie mysticism and socialism, whereas motifs such as Tsarism, religeon, sex, violence, and transcendence are intertwined as indivisible entities in his novels. In this article, Hiroki Azuma and scholar of Russian literature, Yoko Ueda, together with Russian literature expert Ikuo Kameyama, whose new translation of The Brothers Karamazov(2006-07) became a best-seller, rethink the meaning of Dostoyevsky’s literature in the contemporary age. Kameyama’s creative writing debut, The New Brothers Karamazov (2015), is a novel based on Dostoyevsky.
According to Kameyama, in addition to Demons, a novel focusing on terrorism, both Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov feature characters with terroristic aspects to them. The terrorism depicted by Dostoyevsky, Kameyama claims, is reminiscent of religious sects, such as the underground Khlyst cult, which was associated with Spiritual Christians and attempted to unify the self with God through self-flagellation. In response to this, Azuma notes that Dostoyevsky referred to violence as an inevitability, tying the topic together with modern terrorist organizations such as ISIL in the current day or Aum Shinrikyo in the 20th century, and encouraging us to rethink the definition of “terrorism.”
As Aum Shinrikyo had many offices and training centers in Russia, it is important for us to confront the link between the imaginative powers of terrorism and art. Ueda concludes the discussion by reminding us that we must consider both the role and power of art, as well as the responsibility borne by authors and artists.
Kurose examines the motif of the unconscious and its newly emerging imagery in contemporary art. The 55th Venice Biennale (2013) took as its theme The Encyclopedic Palace. It draws on the motif of the unconscious used to refer to the exterior of existing art while it ends in exposing its limits: that global contemporary art can only seize the unconscious through the traditional medium, that is the imagery of encyclopedia.
In contrast, the unconscious in Japanese contemporary art has often been displayed through images of war, especially the experience of defeat in World War II. As evidenced in Noi Sawaragi’s conception of Japan as a warui basho (“bad place”), using the trauma of wartime defeat as a symbol of the unconscious encloses our imagination in the isolated episteme of post-war Japan. Kurose presents examples of important post-war works that combine the representation of war with the mythical imagery of ocean (kaijo takai, an undersea world that the deceased return to). Incorporating Jungian psychologist Hayao Kawai’s analysis of the Urashima Taro myth we are able to understand the ocean (kaijo takai) and “anglers” as motifs of the unconscious in the Japanese cultural database of the representation of afterlife.
Secessionist movements such as those found in Scotland and Catalonia are gaining momentum on the back of increases in the number of local referendums. As a de facto ethnically homogenous nation governed under a strong central authority, the island nation of Japan currently has no realistic secessionist movements. However, we can find many works of fiction (novels, manga, etc.) in which secession from Japan occurs. Why do Japanese people find stories on this topic so interesting?
Juko Nishimura’s novel Sobo-no Daichi, Horobu (The Fall of the Land of the Grand Blue) is a political panic novel in which the Tohoku region, the center of rice production in Japan and a supplier of agricultural products to major cities, attempts to secede after being abandoned by the government. A motif of this work is the historical possibility that Japan could have been split into two states, one to the East and one to the West.
Where should we Japanese choose to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II? In this paper, Ide describes his travels around the Malay Peninsula, focusing on Melaka, looking for a suitable place. Through this experience, he felt emotions that, he believes, cannot be felt in Japan, China, or South Korea. Approximately 74 years ago, Japanese troops invaded and subsequently ruled the Malay Peninsula. Though the period of Japanese governance was less than four years in length, Japan helped create the racial frictions that continue to this day. The Japanese invasion also negatively impacted neighboring Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries. In this paper, Ide explores Melaka, a famous World Heritage site, all the while thinking from the perspective of a tourist of the grief the Japanese army brought upon the country. Through this journey, Ide hopes to discover a new way of understanding a new modern world.
Torihiko, our protagonist, has a love of things that are absolutely wrong. One day, he meets a girl named Yuyuka Tokihori, formulates a murderous plan, and begins to get closer to her so that he might execute that plan. After successfully sneaking into her house, Torihiko begins performing mysterious jobs given to him by the master of the house.
A few days after Torihiko and Yuyuka meet, strange deaths begin to occur in the town where the Disa*Stars are suffering from Disclonia Syndrome, which has abruptly aged them by hundreds of years. Ikuno Shinomiya, a 20-year-old brilliant young police inspector in Tokimeguri city, loves zombies and games. She begins to investigate the case together with her partner, the Metropolitan Police Department’s cat-eared maid robot Shokeiko Yamada (nicknamed “Shoketan”), only to learn that Yuyuka Tokihori is the serial murderer. At the suggestion of the quantum computer Artificial Intelligence IZANAMI, they head to Tokimeguri-Akiba to meet the Observer of Time, but the mysterious detectives Kiryu and Catherinache appear and decapitate Shokeiko. After she is somehow revived, they head to Tokimeguri-Akiba. Waiting for them is the black rabbit Mimiko, who attacks Ikuno together with a sleepwalking Yuyuka. Then, Mimiko activates a bomb placed inside the Radio Kaikan. Now suffering from fatal wounds, Ikuno meets the Observer of Time as time is brought to a halt. The Observer of Time possesses both form and power beyond imagination…but that power is still not enough, and Ikuno dies. Around the same time, Torihiko puts the final touches on kakuryo, or an augmented realty device, he prepares for the demon festival known as the “Tokimeguri-sai”…