News News: Japanese Studies Spring 2014

Japan Studies Seniors Present Research at AMES Conference

Student presentations at a conference on April 12 showcased a wide range of interests in Japanese culture and society, as well as the possibilities for student research at William and Mary.

Graduating seniors in the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) Program presented the results of year-long research projects at the AMES Undergraduate Student Conference.  Among the thirteen presentations over the course of the day, five focused on Japan.

Elizabeth Denny discussed the Takarazuka Revue
Elizabeth Denny discussed the Takarazuka Revue

Elizabeth Denny discussed her research into the Takarazuka Revue. Founded in 1914, Takarazuka is Japan’s most popular theatrical institution, staging elaborate musical period dramas, including The Great Gatsby and Gone with the Wind, with an all-female cast. Denny’s project examines how the theater performs male and female characters on stage, and the implications for the social construction of gender. Elizabeth based her presentation on her Honor’s Thesis, for which she was recently awarded Highest Honors.  Elizabeth recalls the beginnings of her interest in Japan: “I took my very first Japanese language class all the way back in 2004, as an eighth grade elective, simply because it was different from anything else I’d studied… Almost ten years later, it has taught me so many things: how to succeed and, more importantly, how to fail; how to look at the world from a different perspective; and most of all, what I love in life, which is studying Japanese culture.” Elizabeth plans to apply to graduate programs in Japanese Studies next year.

Tim Hogge’s presentation focused on the work of Japan’s master of animation, Miyazaki Hayao, the director of such modern classics as My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, and Princess Mononoke. Taking issue with scholars who argue that audiences no longer respond to “grand narratives,” Hogge analyzes Miyazaki’s hit film Spirited Away and finds ample evidence for the continuing relevance of such narratives. Tim cherishes the opportunities he found at William and Mary: “Studying Japanese has allowed me to not only learn another language, but learn about another culture that is so vastly different from American/European culture, and allowed me to study abroad in Japan and have such a wonderful experience learning the language and culture first-hand.” Tim, too, plans to continue his studies: this fall, he enters the Masters program in East Asian Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dylan Reilly looked at the recent social phenomenon of hikikomori—otherwise healthy adults, many of them in their twenties and thirties, who shut themselves indoors, refusing to go into society or interact with others. Dylan presented some of the sociological, psychological, and economic factors that have been identified as possible influences on the growth of this phenomenon. He then examined the representation of hikikomori in pop culture, as well as the virtual community of hikikomori on-line. Dylan will also be entering the Masters program at the University of Pittsburgh this fall.

Madeleine Spangler presented on the subject of Japan’s hisabetsu burakumin—descendants of Japan’s feudal-era outcast groups, who still face discrimination today. Madeleine’s presentation traced the history of this community from the feudal era to the present day. It also introduced the author Nakagami Kenji, whose stories helped to raise awareness of the discrimination faced by the community. Finally, she identified key factors that will impact social attitudes going forward.

Steven Pau’s presentation focused on the “zainichi” community of ethnic Koreans living in Japan
Steven Pau’s presentation focused on the “zainichi” community of ethnic Koreans living in Japan

Steven Pau’s presentation focused on the “zainichi” community of ethnic Koreans living in Japan. He traced the difficult history of this community, from Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910, through the uncertainty at the end of World War II, to the fracturing of identity in the Korean War. Steven addressed the question of zainichi naturalization and acculturation within Japanese society, and charted attitudes toward that process voiced by various zainichi activists and intellectuals.  The last part of his presentation discussed the issue in light of the recent “Korean Wave”—the boom in the popularity of Korean pop culture among Japanese consumers—arguing that it presents new opportunities for zainichi identities.

Steven’s research grows out of his unique, self-designed major, titled “Japanese Culture and Language Studies.” During the Fall 2014 semester, Steven also helped to organize the William and Mary Issues of Identity Conference, which brought to campus scholars from several universities in the region. Steven heads to Duke University this Fall, where he will enter the Masters program in East Asian Studies to study the intersection of nationalism and identity and critical race theory.

Our congratulations to these and all the other students who presented at the AMES conference! Your presentations demonstrate the College’s commitment to student research. We encourage you to continue exploring your interests, whether within or beyond the academy.

Link to all the presentations: