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.

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.

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?

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.

For more information see Abstracts

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

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Photos by Leonard Witzel, Don Lee, Chris Jfry, Ching Yo and Danny Choo; Art by Kiely Houston | Updated September 18, 2009