Displaying the Nation: Visions of Past and Future in Modern Japan

AHA Session 214
Saturday, January 6, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Calvert Room (Omni Shoreham, East Lobby)
Jessamyn Abel, Penn State University
Ran Zwigenberg, Penn State University
Panelists will each present a 10-minute argument structured on automatically advancing slides.
Transforming the Nation: A Critique of the Olympic Games in 21st-Century Japan
Robin Kietlinski, LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York
The Audience

Session Abstract

The trite description of Japan as a modern paradox, simultaneously a repository of ancient tradition and font of cutting-edge technology, is the product of a long history of conscious image-making. Throughout the modern period and continuing to the present day, Japanese leaders have participated in national, regional, and global displays of culture and industry, from performance to public infrastructure, as part of a dual effort: promoting idealized images of the nation to international audiences, while educating the domestic public about what the country can and should become. This dynamic reveals nation-building to be an always unfinished global project, perpetually under construction. Displays of the nation are designed with a view to the outside, as outsiders’ perceptions become the basis for self-definition, which responds to and in turn reshapes global tastes, expectations, and views of Japan and the Asian region. Whether they display historical artifacts, such as Edo-period castles, technological achievements like computers and bullet trains, or the organizational feat of hosting a global mega-event, exhibits of Japan have aimed to define the Japan of the present through idealized images of its past and future. Our panel will show how bringing the focus of national identity to the distant past or near future has worked to paper over uncomfortable aspects of the present, as well as problematic elements of recent history.

Oleg Benesch will discuss the discovery of castles as symbols of the nation at both domestic Expos and World’s Fairs in the early twentieth century. Nathan Hopson will argue that the 1937 Nagoya Pan-Pacific Peace Exhibition’s compromised vision of peace encapsulates the conflict between militarism and capitalist peace, nationalism and regionalism in Japan at the time. Focusing on exhibitions and tourism promotion in Hiroshima from the 1930s to 1950s, Ran Zwigenberg will examine the changing face of regional promotions and identity. Jessamyn Abel will explore the tensions between Japanese efforts to rebrand the nation as a technological power and American expectations of stereotypical images at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. And Robin Kietlinski will consider the historic role of the Olympic Games in Japan’s domestic and international affairs, and how this role has come under scrutiny in the 21st century. We hope that discussion with the audience will help bring the focus to the ways in which our work extends beyond the specific field of Japan studies to the historical discipline as a whole.

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