Press briefing after the Rokudenashiko verdict


Rokudenashiko’s new translation (in bright turquoise) and other books, as well as manko-chan figurines, decorate the table, as media members await the arrival of Nashiko and her legal team.










In early afternoon on a Monday, a crowd and an array of microphones and video-cameras assembled in the basement hall of the Hibiya Public Library, for a post-verdict press briefing on the three counts of obscenity that Rokudenashiko was charged with in 2014.

In this blog post, I pull together some contexts of the trial, some excerpts and observations from the press briefing, and some AV materials. Given that both prosecution and defense will appeal, it is not “game over” yet. At the end, I pull out some concepts that the academic- and activist-minded could use to help build a rhetoric of advocacy for the next stage of the game.

Mapping the space of conversation

The setting is the edge of Hibiya Park, a short walk from many government ministry and official buildings. The verdict of Rokudenashiko’s trial was scheduled for 1:00pm at the Tokyo District Court, one of these buildings; the press briefing started a little after 3:00pm. As we ponder the significance of the verdict, and how the de-briefing worked, let’s first look at the locations of these events.

A nine-minute stroll from the centralized legal sphere, the court, to a space where public sentiment has been displayed since the Meiji era, Hibiya Park.

A nine-minute stroll from the centralized legal sphere, the court, to a space where public sentiment has been displayed since the Meiji era, Hibiya Park.

Hibiya Park is a big chunk of greenspace in an otherwise heat-island prone part of the official paper-moving part of Tokyo, its ministries and government buildings. The city’s Bureau of Construction describes it as a “green oasis in a business town.” Tom Havens writes, in his book on parks in modern Tokyo since the 1870s, that “starting with the Hibiya demonstrations of 1905 some city parks also served as “spaces of representation.” He sees Hibiya Park through geographer Henri “Lefebvre’s terms, where commoners aired views on public affairs and reconfigured parklands to create geographies of opposition to officialdom” (5). A “geography of opposition” can mean many ways of inhabiting pre-existing urban space and forms. Hibiya Park is notable because the 1905 demos that Havens refer to catalyzed a large wave of public protest after a treaty was passed that left Japanese people holding the (money) bag at the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War, and resulted in outrage after word reached the streets. As historian Andrew Gordon writes,

On September 5, 1905, a massive three-day riot erupted in Tokyo protesting the disappointing terms of the peace treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War. A decade earlier, after emerging victorious in the Sino-Japanese War, Japan had demanded and received a huge indemnity from defeated China. Although the war with Russia was far more costly in casualties and money, both sides were exhausted by 1905 and Japan was in no position to demand an indemnity from Russia. Because the Japanese public had been bombarded with reports of victory after victory, expectations of a profitable peace settlement were high and the outrage when this did not materialize was enormous.

In the case of Rokudenashiko’s trial and her team’s advocacy for her position, the “opposition” is less than it was in 1905 about streaming in from the outside and sparking damage to the governance who betrayed them, rippling into its environs. It is more about changing the terms of this governance that unjustly limits and stabilizes the meaning of sex and bodies by engaging with the legal structures that define and sculpt the kinds of representations–kinds of art and symbolic production–that are allowed in the public sphere.

As lawyer Yamaguchi Takashi noted, the imagined “character” (my word) of the trial, as we imagine its impact on a real person, is “a regular person” (一般人). It’s not the hypothetical person who has an appetite for niche kinds of pervy things (変態性欲), such as, say, a photo-book of powershovels. (An audience member in Q-and-A gave this example to maintain that anyone can be excited by anything, and defining sexual parameters is difficult. Yamaguchi said that this was not the definition the court sought.) The key point in this trial is a definition of morality for the typical, general, average person–who presumably is not turned on by powershovels. The definition attempts to assert, but not to expand, a definition of normal sexuality.

The venue itself

Some music and videos gave a feisty and slightly hectic vibe, playing to the room of reporters, writers and regular people. (I mention these types because they identified themselves as such in the Q-and-A period). Below is a version posted May 10, the day after the verdict. It incorporates the “split decision” nature of the verdict.

Draped over each empty seat was an A3-sized copy of the Manko shinbun (Pussy Paper), below. This issue is pretty text-heavy.


The text-to-image ratio actually reminded me of the weekly-magazine graphics like this one that Gordon includes in his article.

The Tokyo Riot Graphic, No. 66, Sept. 18, 1905. Source: MIT VIsualizing Cultures archive.

The Tokyo Riot Graphic, No. 66, Sept. 18, 1905. Source: MIT Visualizing Cultures archive.

I was curious what kind of entry the team would make, as the doors, like most auditoriums, were at the rear, and the venue was perfect for the sort of hip-hop triumph stride, or avant-garde theatre “surprise” stride down the aisles. But in fact, what happened was that most people read about the verdict on Twitter, some cameras vanished to get Rokudenashiko on film as they approached the venue, and the team walked in like regular people, before assembling on the stage, with computers (for fact-checking with Google-sensei), water bottles and regular professional gear.

The proceedings

Nashiko herself wore a modest but elegant black dress not inappropriate at a funeral, or a cocktail party. I had a pretty great viewing position, a clear shot to the stage, right behind Fuji TV and TBS cameras.


The legal team consisted of 7 people; lead lawyer Yamaguchi Takashi is pictured here to Rokudenashiko’s right. The sign reads “partially not guilty,” a paraphrase of the verdict.










…to be continued, when I have wrapped up some student projects and other deadline-driven work.

Reconnecting to nature through food, 日本語版


text of talk Reconnecting to Nature through Food–日本語版

This is the Japanese text of a talk, with PowerPoint slides, that I did about a year ago, just after I arrived in Tokyo. My school has an active program in environmental humanities (環境人文学), of which this was a part. This year, we continue with projects–growing mushrooms, assessing the campus, screening films. This prez gives a sense of how I am translating some concepts from my time in LA, both in universities and in the field, to work in Tokyo.

edo waterways

From an 1857 area map of Ginza/Tsukiji/Nihonbashi. Source:

From an 1857 area map of Ginza/Tsukiji/Nihonbashi. Source:

This weekend I took a tour of Edo-era waterways, getting to know the way that the civil engineering projects of the city of Edo (now Tokyo) sculpted the landscape, ferried people, connected spaces, and shuttled goods around the city. Edo was the biggest metropolis in the world in around 1800, surpassing Paris and London (and presumably other cities…). The “great unifier” Tokugawa Ieyasu had big plans, which included not only the first national tax systems and surveys, but city planning of his new roost to a massive extent. As a counterpoint to the grid-like development of major Euro cities, Edo has been a point of reference for people who want to balance growth and sustainable relationships with building and resources. The rivers were part of a huge development project in which land was excavated the re-located, and where the port life of Tokyo extended all the way into the city, far from its fringes. (For more on the kinds of settlement, firebreak and entertainment districts that cropped up, see Jinnai Hidenobu’s Japan Echo article here.)

Anyway, the trip was pretty great. It was led by a design/planning historian who has been doing this for a few years. He had to take a break a few times from narrating, a reality check moment in the life of Japanese academia. The face-time and on-time for talking and public speaking is so much more lively and important here than in the R-1 hermit culture of US universities that my field encourages. (The North American kind of work setup rewarded in a lot of the Humanities really discourages interaction apart from official pedagogical events, like classes and conferences, things that go on a CV. The versions of public intellectual in Japan are more market-responsive in interesting ways, more social and differently ‘productive’ in a lot of cases…but that is another post.) I felt a pang of sympathy, the throb of killing off my character from an earlier teaching-job life, as my throat was literally raw from all the teaching and public talking I had to do my first week at my new job. I was glad not to have to be verbal, but just to slosh around taking in the landscape (ok, and some new engineering vocabulary).

The timing of our trip was lucky, as some of the locks on the rivers had only recently started opening on Saturdays, meaning we could get through that part of the laced network of waterways. We passed through fishing villages, party-boat districts, varying degrees of small-scale wave (the Sumida-gawa was the choppiest, but only in contrast to the utter placidness of the rest), rock walls still standing and bordering the river from the 1600s, tons of scenic views, and under a whole array of historical bridge styles.

Heading back to Nihonbashi (along the Nihonbashigawa river, I *think*) one of the bridges made of wedged-in rocks, still standing. I don't think anyone has the patience to do that anymore (or the duress).

Heading back to Nihonbashi (along the Nihonbashigawa river, I *think*) one of the bridges made of wedged-in rocks, still standing. I don’t think anyone has the patience to do that anymore (or the duress).

The headroom was, apparently, precisely 23cm on top in this one.

Modern rivets! Some of the bridges were seethrough, and then would open up to a big vista, whose light contrast was quite nice.

Modern rivets! Some of the bridges were seethrough, and then would open up to a big vista, whose light contrast was quite nice.

Then, poof!

A great moody day for looking at skyscrapers, before turning around to putt down the river again.

A great moody day for looking at skyscrapers, before turning around to putt down the river again.

 The most fun part for me, apart from starting to put together these unfamiliar parts of the city with a different linking system, was the locks. I’m familiar with them from midwestern rivers, but had never been on the boat side of things (as opposed to the car side of things). There was some fancy boat-work necessary when other boats passed–kind of like driving in the Silver Lake hills, you have to negotiate with your neighbor. First, you wait…

Hanging out, 5 or so minutes, waiting for clearance.

Hanging out, 5 or so minutes, waiting for clearance.

..and then it rises. I literally watched the markers on the side of the canal rise meter by meter as we floated up with the loosing of the water flow. It was pretty cool.

Here we go...

Here we go…

A feature of the boat ride was the dispatch of umbrellas in time for the “rain”–the water that inevitably comes dripping off the lock when it is raised.

There are yet more topographies–the rebuilding after the great 1923 fire, for one. But what really impressed me was how much the city had since the 1964 Olympics been re-engineered to make car traffic flow. There was a consistent horizon of car-movement on the surface of the city, things adapted to that horizon of lateral movement that we could see pass by overhead. No doubt 2020, the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, will bring new changes to the water-highway nexus.

For me, this was a great introduction to earlier eco-thought as well as parts of the city I don’t know that well. I am not great at transcendental perspectival viewing–I am much better at immersive perception, and this gave me a way to toggle back to the birds’ eye view of maps. Some day soon I hope to get to Higashi-ojima, the only “subway” station located smack on top of a river, and see the other flip side.

Higashi-ojima station, on the Shinjuku-sen line. Source: Bridge Photo of the Day,

Higashi-ojima station, on the Shinjuku-sen line. Source: Bridge Photo of the Day,

Today’s nature photo

…is the sea of humanity. Of which I saw a lot today. What was I doing? Oh yeah, I was on my way to get a haircut, and got distracted.

Here, another accidental matsuri (festival), a procession of folks from the local Kumano Jinja temple. This is one of the wilder sects of Shinto, very local–also, whose big three sites are the stomping grounds of the guy I wrote a book about. Anyway, the mascot of the Kumano sect is a three-legged crow, which has since gotten famous since the national soccer team took it on as its mascot.

The three-legged, 8-span crow, at Kumano taisha Jinja.

The three-legged, 8-span crow, at Kumano Taisha Jinja.

The mikoshi, the palanquin that people/a bunch of men are carrying, is the central object of the procession. But today, there was also a horse.

Guys carrying the mikoshi right in the thick of a hip shopping district, near Meiji Jingu shrine--surrounded both by camera-snapping by-standers, and blase kids out for a shop or a stroll.

Guys carrying the mikoshi right in the thick of a hip shopping district, near Meiji Jingu shrine–surrounded both by camera-snapping by-standers, and blase kids out for a shop or a stroll.

Sunday throngs and stray things on a main main drag of a Sunday--near Meiji Jingu shrine, coming up from Gaienmae.

Sunday throngs and stray things on a main main drag of a Sunday–near Meiji Jingu shrine, coming up from Gaienmae.

equinox flower


Higanbana (彼岸花)~said to bloom most fully at the autumn equinox. Taken @ Shirayuri campus.

Each day I have been trying to make one foray out into a new natural space or thing–a way to explore my neighborhood, the things and people in it. The geography around here has changed vastly, I am told by an 85-year-old man I met yesterday. I went over to Zenpukujigawa Ryokuchi kōen (park), about 5 minutes away. I had heard it was a great place for cherry blossoms, and in general, a greenspace not to be missed, as it snakes along the Zenpukuji River. One of the neighborhoods around here is called Horiuchi–“within the moat.” This moat no longer exists, due to the massive public works projects of post-1860s modernity that buried various water functions underground. But the geography is still dotted with names that recall that waterworks system.

Anyway, I was standing looking at a big map of the park–I had actually mixed it up with another park, and was getting squared away. The guy already looking at the map, on a bike, started talking to me, and telling me about the neighborhood. He said when he was growing up, and even after the war, it was really spooky–really dark, no real road, a path not big enough even to drive a vehicle through. He said he had just been thinking of an event that took place caddy-cornered from where we were standing. I could only imagine how dark and forlorn a dusty place it would have been, before baseball fields, a real road, and street light. In the year the war ended (1945),  a JAL stewardess–one of the real glamour jobs of the time–had been stabbed to death, and buried, by a Belgian priest. The priest then took advantage of diplomatic immunity (I am fuzzy on these details) and skipped the country without a trace, and “justice was never done.” At that point, a policeman rode by on a bicycle, clocking the conversation. You may understand why I forgot to take a picture of urban nature at that point!

I walked back to the train, and off to work, where I took the above photo–some of the higanbana splashed all over. They are said to signal the beginning of cold weather, and also mark the equinox, which is a big day for encountering the dead. Yes, there is the obon festival, with all its dances, in August, but as a colleague reminded me, the equinox is the day WE go to THEM, they don’t come to us–to do the maintenance of gravesites, memories, and ongoingness. (There is a whole literary lore of the higanbana, which I hope to get to at another time.)

The effort at place-foraging goes hand in hand with also setting up my own roof garden, and figuring out how to extend into a more bona fide “community gardening” mode, both at home and in work. I was initially elated at seeing how many pins for “nursery” there were nearby–it turns out that they are actually day care centers (保育園). Yay for day care access, but places to get plants and supplies in hand are a bit scarcer, alas. So I had the latter-day urban natural experience of mail-ordering soil, along with a mini-composter the likes of which we could sure use in the US. The delivery guy saved me from carrying heavy-kilo bags a mile from the nearest Home Depot-like place in the ‘hood, where the available soil was all hopped up with chemicals anyway. There is a whole world of things to conceptually translate, making an edible garden on a roof in Tokyo, and calculating food-miles in a very different way…that is one of them.

Yeah, I know...but to start "somewhere" you gotta start! It is marked "breakable," and is 25 liters. (Foot included for scale.)

Yeah, I know…but to start “somewhere” you gotta start! The bag is marked “breakable,” and is 25 liters. (Foot included for scale.)

Fukushima vegetable curry

Array of spices in homemade curry powder.

Array of spices in homemade curry powder.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been visiting a wonderful organic farming program, located outside of Tokyo. Keisen Women’s University is one of the “YWCA” colleges, women’s colleges that boast a humanitarian agenda, and a curriculum that emphasizes peace studies and internationalism, a humanist vision of Christianity, and, most importantly, a four-year gardening curriculum. Here are a couple of photos I took in March of at harvest time, as both “eastern” spinach, which came by way of China, and “western” spinach, which came by way of the Jesuits and Nagasaki, were plucked out by student gardeners. The garden at Keisen was the first school garden to be certified organic in Japan, and routinely grows crops like sato-imo/taro, carrots, beans, and many many other things, all organically without pesticides.

Surrounded by spiky "eastern" spinach and the more familiar round "western" spinach.

Surrounded by spiky “eastern” spinach and the more familiar round “western” spinach.

"Eastern" spinach--look, it's spiky!

“Eastern” spinach–look, it’s spiky!

Daikon, lettuce, spinaches from the Keisen garden.

Daikon, lettuce, spinaches from the Keisen garden.

Keisen also has a number of spinoff projects, including a CSA, a café, and most recently, a cookbook made up of recipes created by students, including exchange students from a long-running program in Thailand. I translated one of the most interesting recipes, one for Fukushima “solidarity” curry, cooked up by the students in garden director Sawanobori-sensei’s class. Sawanobori-sensei is an agronomist, and a real pioneer in this field in Japan. As I visited in March, she was about to run off to Korea with the college president on an exchange visit, and was busily teaching the first of three seasons in a sequences of urban ag courses like our Master Gardener course. You can buy the original cookbook here.

Japanese curry came in to the country thanks to the British colonial diaspora. My friends and I used to call it “jelly curry,” because the consistency is a bit more viscous than a coconut milk-based or broth-based curry, it’s actually made with the flour thickener, roux. You can buy it in chunky blocks in grocery stores, but many people customize their curry, by mixing and matching blocks, adding pepper or fruit, jam or raisins, all over rice. The Keisen organic café recipe is on the far artisanal end of the spectrum, since it involves making curry powder, a spice blend, before making the curry base; and in turn, making the curry base before the dish itself.

Recipe background, from the Keisen Organic Café Cookbook:

This recipe was inspired by the desire to support organic farmers of Fukushima whose lives were uprooted by the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear reactor.
In the phase after the reaction but before testing had begun on the effects of radiation contamination, all you heard about Fukushima was rumors, and the fear had an effect even on produce that had been harvested before the reactor spill. In May 2011, volunteers at Keisen decided to host an event, “Thinking of Fukushima @ Keisen,” featuring a special curry recipe that used rice and potatoes like yama-imo that had been harvested at Fukushima the previous year. When the festival was over, the student-run organic campus café kept the curry dish on its menu, and both used and sold vegetables from Fukushima that showed no radioactivity. The curry is now a staple on the café menu.
The really vital thing about this curry is its variety of spices. It’s easy to use store-bought pre-mixed curry, but we decided to make our own spice mix. For the spices, we reached out to student in Chiang Mai, where we have a long-standing relationship with Chiang Mai University as part of our Field Station program. Every year from August to December 10 students participate in this experiential education program, where they work alongside NGO staff, organic farmers, and farmers from hill villages. The students wanted to source their spices directly from the farmers, and this “Keisen original fair-trade spice” blend became part of that long-held dream.
The campus organic café is a student-run space that is planned to develop into a local community center. The curry offering will join a menu and a line of products that the face sells that supports its fair-trade mission—joining a product line that includes coffee, olive oil, muscavado sugar, salt, Japanese-grown green and black teas, and jam.
Graduates of these programs have gone on to work as farmers and work in organic agriculture. Our work with organic farming continues, forging ways for anyone to have a rewarding and healthy life and thrive in a society that supports it.

Fukushima Solidarity Curry

½ medium onion (100g)
1 turnip (100g)
kabocha or other squash (30g)
½ carrot (100g)
½ bunch broccoli (50g)
*any combination of veggies, including sato-imo/taro, potato, eggplant, etc. will do—it should amount to about 150 g per person.
2 cups+ curry base
½ knob ginger minced (5 g)
½ knob ginger grated (5 g)
minced garlic (10 g)
1 T olive oil
1 T salt (+ salt for blanching greens and broccoli in step 2)
pepper, to taste
1-2 t garam masala

300 g brown rice

How to:
1. Take leaves off turnips. Keeping turnip greens separate, cut onions, peeled turnips and carrots into chunks 3cm at their longest point by turning the veggies as you cut (this is called rangiri in Japanese).
2. Cut the broccoli into easy-to-eat sized pieces, including the stems, and add the stems to the turnip greens. Blanche in salt water.
3. Fry the garlic and minced ginger with the olive oil and onion.
4. Add the kabocha, carrots and turnips in that order, salt and pepper, and cook until still firm but cooked (and maybe a bit browned, for flavor).
5. Add the curry paste to the cooked veggies from 4, with a cup of water. Add a bit more water, if necessary, as you bring it to a boil for about 5 minutes.
6. When the sauce has thickened, add the garam masala and minced ginger, to taste.
7. Add the broccoli and turnip greens, and serve.

Curry base recipe—serves about 8 portions, at 1 c each:

4 medium onions (800 g)
4 t whole cumin (8 g)
knob of ginger (60 g) minced
6 cloves of garlic (60 g) minced
3 T homemade curry (35 g; recipe below)
10 T rhubarb jam (* or other tart jam)
400 g canned tomatoes
4 bay leaves
1 grated apple (300 g)
1 grated carrot (200 g)
1 T salt
2 t miso
5 c (1000 ml) water
pepper, to taste
6 T olive oil

How to:
1. Mince the onions.
2. In a frying pan, add cumin, ginger and garlic to the olive oil, on high heat until a scent arises, being careful not to burn the spices.
3. Add with the salt to the minced onions and cook until caramelized (* you may want to add water and deglaze at some point).
4. Add the homemade curry powder, and mix in with 3 or 4 additions of the water.
5. Add the rhubarb jam, tomatoes and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook.
6. At the end, add the grated apple and carrot, miso, and salt and pepper to taste.

Homemade curry powder—makes about 20 portions of 88 g each
3 T turmeric (24 g)
3 T coriander (15 g)
1 T fennel seed (5 g)
2 t cinnamon (4 g)
2 t allspice (3 g)
1 t (3 g ) each of fenugreek, cloves, nutmeg
1 ½ (2 g) each of dill, cardamom, sage, oregano
1 t (2 g) each of chile pepper, star anise, thyme, black pepper
1 T olive oil

How to:
1. Mix all the spices together.
2. Heat the oil in a frying pan, and taking care not to burn the spices, cook for 5-6 minutes.
3. When cool, store in an airtight container. Best if used within a week; refrigerate.

Girls, leaping through time

One of Hayashi Natsumi's "levitating portraits." Source: Called "yowayowa, or fliumsy, weak, because she is "too small" to carry a heavy SLR camera.

One of Hayashi Natsumi’s “levitating portraits.” Source:

Last summer I became entranced with photographer Hayashi Natsumi’s portraits of herself levitating in everyday settings. This winter, I got a chance to connect her work more intricately to some recent trends in animation, speculative fiction, and “girls’ writing” (少女文学). I”m almost tempted to call her self-portraits the “missing leap,” like the “missing link” of evolution, as they tether together so well many assumed but unspoken ideas of genre and characterization we see in contemporary animé and fiction of, by and about girls. Also, these images are very readable, as many of my students came to know these images, as they flew, so to speak, to the four winds of the Internet via blogs and other micro-media. I think it’s important to showcase the work of female cultural producers as well as the big-ticket animé franchises, because they are not very visible in the film-animé world.

Hayashi’s approach as a “camera woman,” she writes, draws on her “yowayowa” or flimsy, weak, persona, because she is “too small” to carry a heavy SLR camera; I wonder if it in some way refers to the “lightness” of the digital medium, or how it is viewed as less material than printed and developed photography.

Some of her images are 3D, and in fact,many of the images available on line have 2 ways of viewing–“cross-viewing” and “parallel viewing.” Here are instructions for viewing:

With “parallel viewing” images: Please see the image on the right with your right eye, the image on the left with your left eye.
With “crossed-eye viewing” images: Please see the image on the right with your left eye, the image on the left with your right eye.

Two ways of viewing--both add dimensionality.

Two ways of viewing–both add dimensionality.

Whether or not they are to be viewed in the parallax form of cross- or parallel- viewing, “straight” or crosseyed, they all aim for a kind of dimensionality, 3D. They also feature a kind of foreground/background construction where the figure of the girl is very clearly defined, while the background is less immediately clear–whether blurry, or because it is following the contours of mainstream animation that is “flat” in its composition. (Her very interesting and more complete gallery and production notes are found here.)

I really like these images because they bring together, and create a new narrative for, the genre of time-travel and teleport fiction that has been popular and has featured girls since the 1960s. Most people who have even ambiently been around feature-length animation in the last decade have noticed that the “flying girl” character is one given a great deal of airtime. (Tom Lamarre’s recent book has several chapters breaking down how animé images are composited and shot, to different effects.)  The tendency is probably crystallized in the majestic flying scenes of Miyazaki Hayao films, themselves wonderful galleries of the kinds of movement that can be made animate in animation.

What interested me, and was slightly different than the animé aesthetic, is the way that some kind of 3D effect was associated not only with flying, but with a particular point of view, an interiority–the photographer’s. In a brief interview with the New York Times, she states, “‘I wanted to express myself as an honest person ‘whose feet are not firmly planted on the ground’ by shooting myself being free of the gravity of the Earth,” …and continues, “When I am free of the gravity inside the picture, I feel free of any obligation to the society and live without being bound to many things.” Her figure is most often alone, or set against crowds, or framed with a single other person.

In time-travel stories featuring girls, their bodies are typically very involved in the encounter with new spaces and times. The visual things that emerge to describe the worlds experiences when in transit to different time/spaces are typically full of tumult, if not pain and incomprehension. The novel and animé versions of the classic novel The Girl Who Leapt through Time show the experience of transit as a “contact zone” very unlike the boys’ adventure-story capsule of protection–these frontiers are displacements of perception and limit experience. Inside her head after this shot, we gambol through a panorama of worlds, from elements to ponies to potential hells. She falls to the ground, at peace, on a pillow of grass–but the trip itself is anything but pastoral.

The first time-travel scene from Hosoda Mamoru's 2006 animé of The Girl Who Leapt through Time

The first time-travel scene from Hosoda Mamoru’s 2006 animé of The Girl Who Leapt through Time

The sense of wonder and suspension, and slight flight, are very refreshing after the constant passes of trauma that seem so common in other depictions of interior life and space-time displacement.


imperial godzilla, part 1

One of the most intriguing works of the so-called “new academicism” era in 1980s Tokyo  analysed the ways that the “image” of the emperor was inscribed into the very fabric of the city itself–in sign systems like hotel names (imperial hotel, etc.), and subway planning, infrastructure that skirted around the imperial palace grounds. On a topical note, that author, INOSE Naoki, was just elected mayor of Tokyo on December 12. Infrastructure is very much on his mind, and in his history. He was a big player in the privatization of highways under the Koizumi administration in the early 2000s, and is very attuned to the novelty of micro-media such as Twitter. What he means by wanting to “reform” TEPCO, though, remains to be seen.

Inose’s book on “images of the emperor,” along with Taki Kōji’s book on imperial portraits, really shook up the cultural studies world. Both drew on visual and material-culture sources to show how ubiquitously sign systems (記号) of imperial messaging were written into daily life, in both site-specific ways (portraits in schools), and in infrastructural ways, connecting things (subway lines). The links that connect imperial sign systems to infrastructures, though, seem to me to emerge in even earlier contexts–namely, in the Godzilla films of the mid 1950s. My class last quarter did a little experiment with Google–we “got directions” for the monster’s rampage into Tokyo, and found something astounding: Godzilla tippy-toed around the imperial palace, and just kept going. Before getting into deep monster-ology, let’s refresh with a bit of plot summary…

The first Godzilla film in 1954 ends with a paean to national communications infrastructures, at the expense of an older sense of communication and ritual. The eyepatched hero, mad scientist Serizawa, descends to the deep to set off his mysterious and powerful Oxygen Destroyer as a last-ditch effort to fend off the monster. He does so from the deck of a ship on which stand the ethical paleo-historian, who only wants Godzilla for research purposes; his daughter, who has dumped Serizawa in favor of a less brooding, more entreprenurial salvage operator who is poised to make a fortune with wartime scrap metal; and a fleet of reporters with armbands that more or less look like “NHK.” Serizawa, despondent, cuts the tube on his oxygen supply, a deep-sea-diver’s high tech update of the old ritual of hara-kiri.

Serizawa flanked by the paleo-historian; the scholar's daughter; his rival; and a nosy reporter and some SDF troops.

Serizawa flanked by the paleo-historian; the scholar’s daughter; his rival; and a nosy reporter and some SDF troops. Minutes later, he will cut his own lifeline

A triumphal news report announces the “victory,” focalized by a radio announcer and the nosy newspaper reporter who acts as the film’s structure of “witnessing.” Meanwhile, the characters closer to Serizawa mourn, for various reasons–for his sacrifice, and for the fact that another Godzilla may yet re-surface.

Serizawa is clearly the “feudal remnant” in the story, banished and celebrated by the civic sphere of journalists and quasi-military men. I’d like to suggest that the identification of him with the monster, so strong at the end, shifts our worry from a nuclear bomb appearing again to another spectre–Japanese imperialism. As elegant and disciplined as Serizawa is, he’s clearly too grotesque and archaic himself to live. This reading is strengthened when we think of how Godzilla’s stroll through the realm formally reprises the traditional imperial journey of the junkō, or imperial progress.

As scholars like Takashi Fujitani and Gyewon Kim have shown, the imperial “progress” through the countryside took a number of routes and was shown in a variety of media forms, from woodblocks to paintings to photos. There was a variety of scenes, and different demands to show the emperor in the landscape or looking at local scenes. The effect was to localize and nationalize him in a national panorama, represented as well as implied.

Let’s take a walk, and see the sights that Godzilla stomps through, and the images they conjure…

If Godzilla were to “get directions” to the Imperial Palace…

The 1954 film Godzilla is many many things. It is a demo of how the housewife “bicycle citizens” make demands on public officials, as they did in many grass-roots health and consumer movements. It is about how monsters are represented on screen, and it is about possible terrifying figures. Because Godzilla is so much about speculation, and contains within it many possible futures, the connections to the past have, for good reason, been eclipsed.

In last quarter’s film class–the star system in Japanese films, including Godzilla–we introduced Godzilla to the twenty-first century, and one of its key technologies–GPS. In tracking its movements (it’s never really been made clear whether G is male or female, so I”ll leave it open), we find an interesting habit–Godzilla avoids the imperial palace, tippy-toeing delicately around it, even when rampaging through many other swaths of the city, high and low.

Godzilla first burbles up from the watery deep in the Philippine Sea, about halfway between Guam and the main islands of Japan.

…on the approach to the mainland

The next sighting finds us approaching the mainland, in Tokyo Bay…from where Godzilla rampages into the city itself. Tokyo is marked “A” here, because the film teaches us to watch from the mainland point of view–something out there is closing in on “us,” and for mainland residents, that narrowing distance comes with a spike in anxiety.

...nearing the mainland

…nearing the mainland

Finally, the monster alights outside Shinagawa, near the water, as a group of office workers goes on a booze cruise with—eerily—Polynesian-sounding music.

The rampage continues as Godzilla climbs up on land. The first casualties are against civilians, as it stomps a train before getting tangled in a network of transmission wires. This landscape features some of the more stunning of designer Tsurubaya Eiji’s scale-models—the cityscape modeled at 1:25 size.

You’ll notice that the itinerary of Godzilla’s path has led from periphery to center, past to present. The monster’s breath lasers in on electrical towers, melting them, as the monster journeys in to the center of the city, where houses erupt in flames, and entire streets burn.

city streets erupt in flames, with destruction reminiscent of the fire-bombing of Tokyo

city streets erupt in flames, with destruction reminiscent of the fire-bombing of Tokyo

In the second part of this two-part essay, I’ll look at the tour within the city, and make some speculations about what the patterns of stomping and avoiding mean.

Feb 19: kitano, streetwalking

Here is today’s lesson in kinetics, from Violent Cop. The wobbling gait of rogue cop Azuma as he ambles through Tokyo, played by sometime comedian, sometime deadpan actor, Kitano Takeshi.

All week long I have been doing research for a radio piece which will air on NPR in mid-March. It concerns gangster films, horror, teenagers, and fans of genre fiction and film, with a twist of reality TV. This has all resulted in a mad rush of viewing yakuza films, a genre I have only really dabbled in viewing, with my knowledge very much skewed to freestyle elements like Suzuki Seijun and Yanagimachi Mitsuo. Yanagimachi’s 1976 verité work Godspeed You Black Emperor! not only documented the grainy lives of budding chinpira gateway gangsters…

but inspired quite a good avant-gardeish Montreal band.

Nor was I familiar with the work of Kume Daisaku, the guy who converted Satie’s wistful piano piece, “Gnossienne #1,” into the more aggro and less pensive electronic score for Kitano’s walk across the bridges and catwalks of Tokyo. This is how the original piano version sounds.

This piece is remarkably apt for adaptation to Kitano’s notoriously expressive body because it has no time signature and no bar lines. It’s kind of the musical equivalent of free verse, the poetic movement pioneered by Wordsworth (among others) in which the rhythms of vernacular speech banished the formal constraints of tight rhymed verse. Kitano’s gait does just that, as does his persona in the film, and others it traverses, establishing its own internal rhythm, whose relentlessness and lack of self-reflection is beautifully established in Kume’s re-write, above.