This past weekend I was a discussant at a graduate student conference at UCLA, sponsored by the Center for Japanese Studies. The title (a bit wordy for my taste but interesting nonetheless) was “Transculturation and National Signifiers:’Japan’ In, After, and Via Diaspora and Return,” and included papers on hot topics like the Japanese diaspora in Latin America; literary production among the Issei; and Japanese ethnic identities, agency, and politics in “traditional” cultural practices such as tea, martial arts, and music in global contexts. I also notice that there is a conference at UCLA this weekend on a somewhat similar topic, titled “LA as offshore Japan: Transnational Networks and Cultural Entrepreneurship across the Pacific Rim.”
This breakdown between the fields of Asian Studies and Asian-American Studies, one area with its roots in the Cold War and one in 1960s student radicalism, seems like a much needed development to me. In my teaching I increasingly try to bring things into the present and the local by including focus on LA resources like LACMA and the Japanese American National Museum. The results in the classroom are encouraging. I hope this means that Japanese studies scholars and students think of themselves less as Japanologists and more in terms of certain methods and theoretical frameworks? And perhaps the tired binary of “east and west” (and this from a person whose college’s motto is “East meets West at Occidental”!) is being complicated by the lives that we live, particularly in cities as diverse as LA? I’m not sure.
The cynical part of me worries that much of the rhetoric about transnationalism and the Japanese diaspora is just that: trendy rhetoric adopted strategically to get noticed/accepted/hired/published/tenured/promoted. Take your pick. The presentations at the conference, all of which were unique, innovative, and compelling, at least made me excited for more publications in this area.