Heritage and the Politics of Culture
The diverse disciplinary approaches and historical eras covered in this two-part session interrogate how best to advance knowledge about Japan and enrich teaching about the region at all levels. Recent scholarship has focused on borders and boundaries, from the incorporation of Border Studies into Japanese Film Studies and Philosophy, to the question of where the boundaries of the field lie, and how and to what end scholars may cross them. We argue that these divisive metaphors are not fit for interdisciplinary scholarship, nor for the emerging challenge of proving the importance of Area Studies within and outside academia.
We propose the sea as a concept-metaphor for engaging with Japan in truly interdisciplinary scholarship. From the bodies of water surrounding the shimaguni (Island Nation) to the historical impact of those arriving, setting out, or escaping, seas have formed Japanese Studies. Yet seas are not only demarcations or boundaries, they are also frontiers, bridges, and modes of connection. Sea travel was once the fastest means of getting to and from Japan, and trade facilitated by sea routes enrich Japanese material culture while posing political challenges. When conflicts escalate around ownership of sea bodies and islands, as well as the regulation of the missiles that can be fired over these seas, we would do well to remember that the sea connects as much as it divides. This first session demonstrates how we can understand change through the sea and its metaphors, revealing areas of commonality between disciplines and new possibilities for Japanese Studies.