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The Orientalist Gaze on/by Japan: Bygone Woe or Ongoing Affliction?

Interdisciplinary Workshop
organised by Dr. Susanne Klien

Location: Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
             Advokatenweg 36
             06114 Halle (Saale)
Time:      10 am - 4.15 pm

Registration and further information:


Edward Said has alerted us to the "imaginative geography" in which "Occident" and "Orient" are located. While Said's system of inherent hierarchical dichotomy contains some features that continue to hold relevance for the study of Japan, many aspects of the Saidian concept are controversial, such as the alleged lack of agency on the part of the "Orient" or the seemingly monolithic entities of "Occident" and "Orient". The phenomenon of "auto-Orientalism" as Harumi Befu called it comes to mind here, which points to a very distinct agency on Japan's part. In a similar vein, James G. Carrier has described the essentialist Orientalizing representations of alien societies by its members as "ethno-Orientalism". Nicholas Thomas claimed that such discourses result from the dialectical opposition to infringing Western societies on the part of the alien society ("ethno-Occidentalism"). The reciprocity of Orientalism, Occidentalism and self-Orientalization has been evident but rather neglected in studies so far. The idea of the workshop is to discuss examples from the Japanese context as a starting point for more general theoretical deliberations about alterity, the interaction of "self" and "other", Orientalism - Occidentalism, auto-Orientalism and pertaining issues, adding novel and more subtle facets to known concepts. Exploring various cases of interaction between representations of "self" and "other", we will discuss how existing and constructed differences have been perpetuated and to what effect.


10:00 - 10:20
Prof. Giuseppe Veltri (GSAA, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg)
Welcome and introduction

10:20 - 10:40
Dr. Susanne Klien (GSAA, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg)
Introduction to the workshop

Session 1
Chair: Susanne Klien  

10:45 - 11:05
Alexander Bukh (Waseda University, Japan)
Narrating Japan Through the ‘Other’: Russia and Ainu in Modern Japan’s National Identity

11:05 - 11:25
Elena Giannoulis (Institute of Japanese Studies, Berlin Free University)
The Function of Alterity in Japan’s Identity Construction: Examples from the contemporary shisôsetsu discourse

11:25 - 11:40
Coffee break

11:40 - 12:00
Kurt W. Radtke (Institute of Asian Studies, Leiden University)
Occidentalism in Japan and China

12:00 - 12:45
Comparative discussion  

12:45 - 14:15
Lunch break

Session 2
Chair: Franz Martin Wimmer, Vienna University

14:15 - 14:35
Yuki Ooi (Hitotsubashi University Tokyo)
Gaze on China: Caught between the United States and Japan

14:35 - 14:55
Susanne Klien (GSAA, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg)
Tourism and the Exotic Rural Other in Echigo-Tsumari: A Comparative Study of Internal and External Imagery

14:55 - 15:10
Coffee break  

15:10 - 15:30
Daniel Hedinger (HU Berlin, SFB Changing Representations of Social Order)
Trapped between Auto-Orientalism and Self-Civilisation: Japan at World Exhibitions in the 1860s and 1870s

15:30 - 16:15
Comparative and final discussion


Alexander Bukh: Japan’s Identity and the International Society: “Russia,” “Ainu” and Japan’s Quest for Northern Territories

This paper examines the dynamics of Japan's national identity by analyzing the Japanese discourse on two "others": Ainu, who became the first subjects of modernizing Japan's colonialism and Russia, which currently occupies parts of Ainu lands, claimed by Japan. It argues that the legitimization of Japan's claim over these territories as "inherent terri-tory" was made possible through a hierarchical cultural construction of the Japanese "self" and the Russian "other." Also, unlike the existent IR scholarship which focuses on the domestic sources of Japan's identity, this paper argues that Japan's self-conception has been in a dialectical relationship with the social practices of the international society.

Elena Giannoulis: Japan as Other: Examples from the Contemporary shisôsetsu Discourse

First I want to give a short historical approach, where I intend to describe how Japan re-produced her identity in relation to the „West" via culture and art and how she internal-ised the western image of herself on top of which she later created her identity as an unin-telligible "Other". I would like to pick up a contemporary example to discuss the question whether one can still find the tendency that Japan is stylizing herself as the "Other" in theoretical discourses and if this is the cause of a prior positive evaluation by the "West". Can we still observe that Japan is reproducing identity in interaction with the "West"? It is evident that especially after the 1970s, where the nihonjin-ron had a pick and economic growth was under way the "West" forfeit his role as a model, but - as I want to explain by means of the contemporary shish?setsu-discourse, which could be regarded as paradig-matic for the whole literary discourse - it has still kind of importance in formation and strengthening national identity.

Daniel Hedinger: Trapped between Auto-Orientalism and Self-Civilization: Japan at World Exhibitions in the 1860s and 1870s

For Japan the appearance of World Exhibitions coincided with the forced opening of the country in the 1850s. After the Meiji Revolution of 1868 the World Fairs gave the coun-try the opportunity of self-representation and self-construction on an international stage. Yet, in this process Japan had to position itself inside a worldwide hierarchy of nations, and soon the new government encountered the limits of this self-construction. The West-ern visitors were pleased to see an "exotic", "oriental" and "traditional" Japan; but for the revision of the "unequal treaties", which had been imposed on Japan by the Western powers, the Meiji government felt urged to present itself as "modern" and "civilized". For a country like Japan, World Fairs turned out to be paradoxical: in order to participate it had to become "modern", be technically able to collect, categorize and display out-standing objects. At the same time, to be accepted by European and American visitors it had to construct itself as an "exotic" and "traditional" other. Japan found itself trapped between Auto-Orientalism and Self-Civilisation.

Susanne Klien: Tourism and the Rural Exotic Other in Echigo-Tsumari: A comparative study of inter-nal and external imagery

In this paper I compare representations of the Echigo-Tsumari region in north western Japan in local tourist brochures as well as in information material issued by the Tokyo-based organizers of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennal. I focus on the influence of external images of the "self" on internal self-representation, analyzing how the urban-rural di-chotomy with its inherent exoticization of the countryside as "the Orient within" (Nadel-Klein) and as "culturally anachronist" (Chakrabarty) has captured the self-perception of locals since the start of the international art festival in 2000.

Yuki Ooi: Gazes on China: Caught between the United States and Japan

Orientalism not only marks the divide between "West" and "East," but is more than this dichotomy. The literature on Orientalism discusses how such a dichotomy arose and ex-plains that the images that accompany it are not a given, but have been constructed by the "Western" nations for colonial domination, on the one hand, and have been internalized by "Eastern" nations (self-Orientalism), on the other. However, neither the "Western" nor "Eastern" nations are monolithic entities; there is a hierarchy of nations within these con-cepts. This becomes clearer if you look at the Asia-Pacific region, at nations such as China and Japan. With the fear of being colonized by European nations in the late nine-teenth century, these nations opened their doors and tried to catch up through moderniza-tion, which required revolutions and reforms. In the process, they identified themselves not only in the dichotomy of "East" and "West," but also tried to find their position among other Asian nations. In other words, countries such as China and Japan were caught between "Western" nations and "Eastern" nations, the latter of which they con-structed as "backward" or "behind modernization" in their internalized "Western," Orien-talistic gaze. Thus it can be said that Orientalism contributed to constructing a hierarchy not only of "Western" and "Eastern" nations, but also among Asian nations.
In this sense, Orientalism is not only a unilateral gaze ("West" defining "East"), but it also works multilaterally, which will be explored in this paper, using Chinese residents in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as an example. Among these residents, special attention will be paid to a particular group of students, many of whom were sent to America and supported by the Qing government with the purpose of "studying modernization." While pursuing higher education, they tried to learn "what is modernization" from the American people and, at the same time, struggled with the discrimination stemming from an orientalistic America's gaze on China. Some scholars call their experience "internal colonization within the United States." Although such a discriminatory gaze was likely to be internalized by the students, they never re-signed themselves to being subjugated; they criticized and resisted the American way of modernization. In this sense, they were put under the orientalist gaze, but they gazed back at it. It means they negotiated an Orientalism encapsulated in modernization. In addition, the students were not just caught between "West" and "East." They were also concerned about their position as Chinese among Asian nations, in particular Japan. Actually, the Chinese government sent far more students to Japan to learn about modernization. The students in America even showed sentiments of rivalry with their counterparts in Japan, and with Japan itself, and tried to underestimate Japan through their internalized Ameri-can gaze. Thus they were caught between two modernizations, one with American eyes and the other with Japanese eyes, through which they considered how China should be as a nation and constructed how the Chinese should be as a people (Chineseness). This pa-per will explore such a multilateral Orientalism through the analysis of these Chinese students' periodicals.

Kurt W. Radtke: Occidentalism in Japan and China

The study of cross-cultural images is of great practical significance to the contents indus-try - the production of material and immaterial goods to be sold in different markets, but it also has a deep impact on issues of military and economic security, not to speak of other areas such as communication and literary studies. Comparing such images is more difficult and complex than is often assumed - as a first step, we need to understand how different people in different cultures construct such images. This in turn, is linked to no-tions of "identity" - and as I have shown in several research publications we must first verify different notions surrounding a vague concept such as "identity" for which we cannot locate exact equivalents in Japan and China before the advent of modern, Ameri-can-inspired studies on identity. This paper will only briefly summarize my findings on these theoretical issues that I published mainly in Japan and China. I will then review previous research on this topic by Prof. Chen Xiaomei (Occidentalism: A Theory of Counter-Discourse in Post-Mao China, New York: Oxford, 1995; review by S. Schmalzer at    ) and Alastair Bonnet's "Occi-dentalism and plural modernities: or how Fukuzawa and Tagore invented the West" (En-vironment and Planning Part D: Society and Space 2005, 23, 505-525).
Such studies often focus on writings and utterances that belong to "elite culture". The role of images in today's mass culture has been the subject of marketing research and re-search on "pop culture". In my paper I will attempt an additional approach - summarize my very personal impressions on this topic gained as a "participating observer" during my roughly ten years first at Sophia University, then as professor of Chinese and Japa-nese studies at Waseda's Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies. I will also refer to my experience in China, lastly as an academic associated with Beijing Normal University.
The academic environment in Japan and China changed tremendously in the period 1971 to the mid-nineties of the twentieth century, and also underwent qualitative changes in the so-called "West", changes that commenced long before the end of the Cold War. These changes had a deep impact also on cross-cultural images present in the minds of academ-ics (if not in their publications), and the conceptualization of "culture" and "civilization" themselves. Periods of transition pose fundamental challenges to notions of the self and the other, and also to the way we see ourselves as members of a particular civilization.
The founder of Waseda University, Okuma Shigenobu was not only an eminent political leader and educationalist at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, he was also instrumental in the creation of a comparative study on Eastern and Western civilization entitled 東西文明の調和. On the surface it seems like a slightly chaotic description of ancient Chinese and Greek philosophy as a first step towards characterizing essential features of "East" and "West". This work goes beyond an encyclopaedic account. A second look shows that this work can also be read as a treasure trove of cross-cultural images by a group of Japanese intellectuals well versed in Chinese and Greek philosophy and history, and their reaction to the challenges of the late nineteenth century, an earlier phase of what is now often called "globalization".