The Place of Women in Japanese Culture
Chaired by Karen M. Gerhart, Professor, History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh

Although the body of research on Japanese women and gender has been growing since the late 1970s, previous studies have tended either to define women as marginalized relative to the experience of men, or as having completely autonomous life cycles with their own symbolic constructs. Until the modern period few women wrote their own stories, thereby forcing readers to rely on records written about them by men. The papers in this panel will seek to examine how women in different periods of Japanese history were portrayed by male diarists, their families, artists and, finally, through her own voice. Together, the four papers will show that strong women left similar historiographic legacies. Equally important, the papers employ a variety of disciplines (art history, history, and religious studies) to reveal how perceptions of women in Japan were constructed in response to a wide variety of attitudes.

Rethinking Masako and the Perception of Women in Early Warrior Society
Ethan Segal
Assistant Professor, History, Michigan State University

Segal will examine how thirteenth-century sources portray Hôjô Masako (1157-1225), the powerful wife of the first shogun.  This paper re-examines Masako’s life, calling renewed attention to her prominence in the government and exploring how Masako was able to succeed as a woman when seemingly no other women achieved positions of power.  Second, it critically evaluates sources to determine how portrayals of Masako have evolved and what biases may or may not have influenced later writers.

Mothers, Mentors, Nuns: Court Culture and Women's Writing in Kamakura-Era Japan
Christina Laffin
Assistant Professor, Asian Studies, The University of British Columbia

Within literary history, women's writings of the Kamakura period (1185-1333) are usually situated along a trajectory of decline. Opportunities for patronage decreased, and court appointments became more competitive, making for few female-authored literary works. Despite this, extant works written by women show that they were still producing diaries, poetry collections, and tales, as well as actively transcribing and studying texts. In what contexts were these women able to write? This presentation will examine the courts of Princess Ankamon'in (1209-1283) and Retired Emperor GoFukakusa (1243-1304) through the writings of Abutsu-ni (1222-1283) and Lady Nijo (1258-?), focusing on how motherhood, mentorship, and nunhood are related to Kamakura-era literary production by women.

Parody and Identity: Examining Values in Japanized Images of Sericulture
Shalmit Bejarano
PhD Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh
Bejarano will look into the relationship between mitate prints (parody, or comparative pictures) and Chinese painting manuals, focusing on pictures of sericulture. Originally favored in the Chinese court as an embodiment of Confucian virtues, the theme of women raising silkworms and weaving silk were turned into paintings of beautiful women (bijin-ga) by ukiyo-e painters such as Harunobu and Utamaro. Bejarano conjectures that the printed adaptations satirized ideals of femininity promulgated by Confucian textbooks for women.


The Voice of a Contemporary Shaman
Clark Chilson
Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, University of Pittsburgh
Autobiographies by shamans, particularly female ones, are rare. But in 2002 Shodo Kuni published an account of her life that challenges scholarly representations of female shamans and suggests that the categories used to understand them are too constricting. Her autobiography also shows how a woman born into a traditional household of Okinawan shamans, at first rejects becoming a shaman and then comes to find the role empowering. The text is a rare example of how a contemporary female shaman constructs a meaningful life by taking on a traditional role and weaving her understanding of that role with scholarly discourse and with common problems faced by women living today in urban areas of Japan.


Japanese Classical Theater in the World
Chaired by Mae J. Smethurst, Professor, Classics, University of Pittsburgh

The purpose of this panel will be to look at the wide-spread impact of Japanese classical theater in the world. The panelists will include Dr. Laurence Kominz of Portland State University, who will talk about the popularity of kabuki (and student productions of kabuki) in the United States; Dr. Richard Smethurst of the University of Pittsburgh, who will speak about the importance of graphic representations of the noh theater in popularizing it both in Japan and in the West; and Shelley Fenno Quinn, who will look at the influence of noh and kyôgen on European theater after World War II.

Kanze Hisao’s French Connection: The Demo Duel with Jean-Louis Barrault at Tessenkai Noh Theater
Shelley Fenno Quinn
Associate Professor, East Asian Languages and Literatures, Ohio State University

In 1977, Jean-Louis Barrault (1910-1994), the renowned French stage director and actor (both on stage and in film), took time from his company’s Japan tour to visit the Tessenkai Noh Theatre in Tokyo. He was invited by a long-time acquaintance, Noh actor Kanze Hisao (1925-1978), himself a renowned performer. The occasion was a workshop in which these master actors of differing backgrounds would come together to pit their skills in front of an audience. Also enlisted to participate was the master Kyōgen actor, Nomura Mansaku (1931-). The event was open to the public, and numerous journalists, performers, and drama critics attended.

The theme of the workshop was a cross-cultural exploration of the expressive capacities of the actor’s body. The Japanese classical arts of Noh and Kyōgen would go up against Barrault’s signature style of modern mimodrama, influenced by the work of such mentors as the mime, Etienne Decroux, the stage director, Charles Dullin, and the playwright, Paul Claudel. Kanze and Barrault had agreed ahead of time on a sequence of themes on which their demonstrations would be based. Three of these foci, for instance, were “The Genesis of Movement,” “Breathing Technique—Determinant of Gestural Meaning,” and “The Interior and the External World.”

A portion of the workshop was preserved on videotape, though never released commercially. Selected excerpts from it will compose the centerpiece of my presentation. I will offer an interpretive commentary on the footage and will situate it within the context of Barrault and Kanze’s professional acquaintance of almost two decades. I hope to explore what the two had to gain as artists from such collaborations. Just how solid was their common ground?

Tsukioka Kõgyo and the Popularization of Noh in Japan and Abroad, (1890-1927)
Richard J. Smethurst
Professor, History, University of Pittsburgh

The classical noh theatre, intimately connected with the late feudal order of the Edo period, fell on hard times after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Actors who had received salaries from the shogun and his lesser lords to serve as in-house performers, lost their official patronage, and had to fend for themselves in what one might call a "free-market" situation. Several actors, most notably Umewaka Minoru, stepped into the breach and found support from members of the royal family, nobility, and new bourgeoisie, who wanted to show that they were properly cultured. By the end of the century noh had begun to recover its position as Japan's premier classical theatre.

Foreigners also helped out. Prominent foreign teachers in Japan, most notably Ernest Fenollosa and Edward Morse, famous respectively for bringing Japanese art to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Peabody Essex Museum, studied with Umewaka, and gave noh a Western seal of approval as Japan's foremost classical theatre. Fenollosa made, but never published, noh translations, at least until Ezra Pound reworked them and put out, Noh or Accomplishment, a book of translations, in 1917. Arthur Waley, published his, The Nô Plays of Japan, four years later in 1921. But two books predated the works of these two famous poets, Osman Edward's Japanese Plays and Playfellows, a history of Japanese traditional theatre, in 1901, and Marie C. Stopes' Plays of Old Japan: The Nô, in 1913. Both Edward's and Stopes' books included illustrations by the ukiyoe artist, Tsukioka Kôgyo (1869-1927).

As noh was beginning its comeback in the late nineteenth century, Kôgyo undertook to produce three major sets of woodblock prints, five dozen paintings, and 100s of magazine illustrations of noh performances. His works received widespread recognition-the empress even purchased several of his paintings. All were published with bilingual envelopes and explanations, indicating that his audience was foreign as well as Japanese. The Prague National Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the University of California at Berkeley, Scripps College in Pomona, the Library of Congress, the Frick Fine Arts Library of the University of Pittsburgh, and Richard and Mae Smethurst, own complete or partial sets of Kôgyo's three major sets of prints.

The purpose of this paper will be to try to place Kôgyo's work in the broader context of the modern revival of noh. Much work remains to be done, but this is an early effort.

College Kabuki Productions in the United States
Laurence R. Kominz
Director of the Center for Japanese Studies and Professor of Japanese, Portland State University
Kabuki productions in the United States fall into two broad categories: Replications and Adaptations. This presentation will examine the different purposes for and approaches to each of these tasks, taking into consideration issues of authenticity and varying educational missions and programmatic constraints for different university programs and different productions. The presentation will include video excerpts from preparation and stage production at the University of Hawaii, Portland State University, and San Francisco State University.


Asian Popular Culture in Films
Chaired by Adam Lowenstein, Associate Professor, English, University of Pittsburgh

When discussing Asia's contribution to globalization, one of the most vital forms of popular culture to be considered is cinema. This panel explores a variety of film genres, from samurai tales to ghostly horror to youth dramas, in order to evaluate Japanese and Korean cinema in global contexts that include the United States. How does Asian cinema contribute to domestic and global formations of popular culture? What can we learn about the globalized public sphere from Asian film?

Christians from Hell: Cinematic Adaptations of Makai Tensho
Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr.
Associate Professor, Theater Arts, Loyola Marymount University

Dr. Wetmore will examine the popular film adaptations of Yamada’s novel, how and why the Christian characters are constructed the way they are, and place the films into a larger context of Japanese popular cinema. Yamada Futaro was the pen name of Yamada Seiya (1922-2001), a popular writer of speculative, mystery, and historical fiction discovered and promoted by the legendary Edogawa Rampo. In 1967, he wrote the second novel in his Yagyo Jubei trilogy, Makai Tensho. The novel has subsequently served as the source material for numerous adaptations to popular film (1981, 1996, 1997, 2003), stage plays (including one in 1981 by future film director Fukusaku Kinji), and video games.

What is unique about the novel and the subsequent films based on them is the way in which certain villains are historical Christian figures, brought back from hell by a Buddhist monk to fight the Bakufu during the Tokugawa Shogunate. The leader is Amakusa Shirō (1621-1638), one of the figureheads of the Shimabara Rebellion. Also resurrected to fight samurai are other Christian characters such as Hosokawa Tama Grazia (1563-1600), alongside other historical figures such as Miyamoto Musashi.

Of Waterboys and Swing Girls: The Post-Postmodern Japanese Youth Film
David M. Desser
Director of the Unit for Cinema Studies and Professor Emeritus, Cinema Studies, Comparative Literature, and East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
In a quiet, little remarked upon manner, a new style Japanese youth film has emerged over the last decade. It bears almost no resemblance, save for a focus on young people, to the famous taiyo-zoku (sun tribe) films of the 1950s as in the paradigmatic and remarkable Crazed Fruit (1956), and even less to the more politicized New Wave youth films as in the fierce works of Oshima Nagisa, such as Cruel Story of Youth (1960), The Sun’s Burial (1960) and the later Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1968) and The Man Who Left His Will on Film (1970). Covering much the same territory as more critical and angry youth films of the contemporary era, such as Go (Yukisada Isao, 2001) and All About Lily Chou-chou (Iwai Shunji, 2001), these more gentle films eschew violence, death, intense drama, political and social issues, in favor of a humorous slice of life. With a reliance on school settings, a group of protagonists and a sports-film structure of underdogs overcoming unlikely odds (even without a sports-themed story) these films are a far cry from so many of the images Japanese directors have relied upon to imagine youth in postmodern Japan. We may think of these films as “post-postmodern” for the way they understand that their gentle tone, sweet nature and feel-good plots seem highly old-fashioned while at the same time the films cannot escape a Japan that is, in some sense, mired in the postmodern condition.



Yamada Youji and the Kinder, Gentler Samurai
Charles Shiro Inouye
Director of International Letters and Visual Studies and Professor of Japanese, Department of Russian, German and Asian Languages and Literatures, Tufts University
Dr. Inouye will study the celebrated veteran Japanese film director Yamada Youji. Yamada made his career filming the successful and long-running series It's Tough to be a Man (Otoko wa tsurai yo). With the death of Atsumi Kiyoshi, who played Tora-san for those many years, Yamada turned to making samurai films. As depicted in Twilight Samurai (Tasogare seibei) and The Hidden Sword, as well as The Oni's Claw (Kakushiken oni no tsume), Yamada's samurai show a domestic gentleness. Their struggles are against poverty and the powers-that-be. Perhaps for this reason, the films resonated with office workers at the turn of the twenty-first century.


International Influences of Video Games
Chaired by Gabriella Lukacs, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh

With the U.S. release of the Nintendo Wii in 2007, a series of commercials were launched which depicted two Japanese salarymen—suit-clad and driving a tiny car—knocking on the doors of Americans; “Wii want to play”, they said offering up the Wii Remote as they bowed. In one version, the two men ring the door of a white suburban family and proceed to play virtual tennis with them, pausing only to sample the family’s lemonade. As diplomats of Japanese goods, the salarymen seem to offer a novel (perceptibly) Japanese commodity to unsuspecting Americans, in the hopes of winning over their consumer hearts. The incongruity of this culture clash, set to self-consciously themed “Japanese” music, is profoundly anachronistic; the commercial presents Japan and Japanese-produced mass culture goods as “new” and “foreign” to both an American market and to the imaginations of its consumers.

While contemporary scholars have shown a surging interest in the shifting role of Japan in the global marketplace, Japan has been a central figure in an international videogame industry from its very inception. By the 1970’s, electronic gaming technology, production practices, hardware, play mechanics, narrative styles and genre conventions were already rapidly crisscrossing the Pacific. Well before Japanese mass culture goods levied the kind of global “cool” they enjoy today, Nintendo was generating worldwide desire for Japanese games. Today Japan remains one of the historic, economic, and cultural centers of global videogame media. This panel will investigate the increasingly disjunctive global flows—of people, ideas, technology and practices—in the videogame industry today. The presentations will explore issues such as a flexible, mobile workforce that characterizes the videogame industry; game content and narratives that challenge neat understandings of place, the local and even the global; region coding that works to inscribe a new technological geography; and consumption practices that transgress the traditional borders of the nation-state.


Convergence and Globalization in the Japanese Videogame Industry
Mia Consalvo
Visiting Associate Professor, Comparative Media Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, School of Visual and Media Studies, Ohio University
Japan's role in the development of the digital games industry is indisputable, as Japanese developers and corporations have provided innovation, leadership, and influence that continue into contemporary designs. This presentation maps some of that history, but then focuses on current industry practices, in particular exploring how Japanese companies are refocusing their efforts at globalizing the games industry, which is in the midst of a transformation. The work of developers including Square Enix, Nintendo, and Capcom (among others) will be used as case studies in that regard.

Cultural and Technological Resources in the Evolution of the Video Game Industry: A Three Country Study
Yuko Aoyama
Associate Professor and Henry J. Leir Faculty Fellow, Graduate School Of Geography, Clark University
Creative resources nurtured by popular cartoons and the animation sector had a significant role in the emergence of video game industry in Japan. In this presentation we explore how cross-sectoral transfer of skills occur differently across national contexts, and how social legitimacy and strength of pre-existing industries, socio-economic status of entrepreneurs/pioneer firms in an emerging industry, and the socio-cultural cohesiveness between the pre-existing and emerging industries shape such cross-sectoral fertilization in three countries: Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom. We also examine how technological progress affects the formation of industry-specific skills.

Playing with the (Post)Human: Videogames at the Boundaries
Rebecca Carlson and Jonathan Corliss
PhD Candidates, Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh

In this presentation, we argue that the concept of the posthuman remains a timely and usefully concept for analyzing the constantly shifting notion of the human (and its circumscription from the non-human).  Viewing the posthuman as a site of anxiety that materializes at the boundaries—at the edges of the national, the social and the corporeal—we explore the ways in which the interactive nature of videogames and their transnational circulation helps to triangulate contemporary understandings and negotiations of these boundaries.  How does the common practice of mediating globally circulating games through processes of translation and localization challenge our notions of the nation(al)?  How does the offline virtual world of videogames (where gamers become engaged and form social relationships with computer coded avatars and artificial intelligence) and the online connection of disembodied tele-present users, question understandings of what it means in fact to be social?  And finally, what are the consequences of the interactive nature of videogames (the intimate extension of the human and the technological into each other) and their distinctly incentivized form of action?

Goichi Suda (Suda51)
CEO, Grasshopper Manufacturer Grasshopper Manufacture Inc.


Funding is provided by: Toshiba International Foundation, Japan Iron and Steel Federation and Mitsubishi endowments at the University of Pittsburgh

>> Return to main page

Copyright © 2009 University of Pittsburgh | University Center for International Studies | Contact ASC
Photos by Leonard Witzel, Don Lee, Chris Jfry, Ching Yo and Danny Choo; Art by Kiely Houston | Updated October 7, 2009