Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: From the foods in our homes to the phones in our pockets, the objects we encounter and use in our everyday lives can profoundly shape our experiences of self and society. This panel takes as its focus struggles of dis/embodying gender identity through the lens of Japanese material culture.
Blurring the lines of the traditional dualisms of subject-object and mind-body opens up analytic avenues for exploring the fluid relationships and interactions between human and nonhuman actors. Just as Turner wrote that the body is “at once subjective and objective, meaningful and material, personal and social, an agent that produces discourses as well as receiving them” (1994: 46), we posit that, like the human body, the ‘things’ that surround us in our everyday lives are not merely passive receptacles of cultural values but can be active subjects themselves, with the power to alter human lived experiences.
These human-nonhuman relationships (if such a distinction can be maintained) are complicated by the intersections of individual identities (gender, class, ethnicity, etc.) and transformed through transnational systems of cultural, economic, and informatic exchange. Japan and the United States have a long history of these exchanges, and the globalization and varied local receptions/interpretations of Japanese culture – especially popular culture – are well-studied in anthropology. We offer a new take on these discussions by examining how shifting relationships and interactions with particular aspects of Japanese material culture impact and mediate the embodied experience of gender identity for individuals. In turn, we also examine how individuals’ manipulation of and performance and play with these materials is part of a process of imbuing the materials themselves with gender characteristics.
Deirdre Clyde presents on attendees of anime fan conventions in the U.S. who, through costumes and lolita street fashion, play with non-normative gender expressions, with different degrees of seriousness and permanence. Gavin Furukawa provides a discourse analysis of two Japanese trans men who developed a YouTube series together featuring themselves temporarily re-assuming their female identities. The sartorial and linguistic gender play these men engage in may both reinforce heteronormative gender values and present a lighthearted view of queer lives in resistance to a dominant narrative of tragedy. Christopher Chapman also presents on an often-overlooked group – new Japanese immigrants (shin-issei) – as they participate in rituals and exchange networks of alcohol in a Japanese-style pub (izakaya) in Honolulu. The imbibement, purchase, and gifting of alcohol mediates gender and transnational identities in an increasingly commodified sociocultural space. Marta Szczygiel analyzes the most gendered of public spaces – the public toilet – arguing that the differences in size, placement, and distribution of sound masking devices (otohime) between male and female toilet facilities can tell us much about American culture’s role in the Japanese “hygienic imagination” and the gendered embodiment of embarrassment. Lastly, Maura Stephens argues that commercial menstrual pads in Japan mediate the relationship between women and their periods, leading to particular embodied experiences that emphasize concealment of menstruation and the preservation of socially acceptable feminine aesthetic and affect.