MGG Paper Abstracts
Jan Bardsley, “Beauty Queens on the Go: Miss Japan and the Somatic Uniform”
For many in 1950s Japan, the sight of young women confidently striding the runways of American-style beauty contests signaled the arrival of democratic, postwar modernity. When Itô Kinuko placed third in the Miss Universe pageant in 1953 and Kojima Akiko captured the title in 1959, headlines hailed their victories as evidence of Japanese women’s liberation. Miss Japan’s iconic beauty queen uniform—swimsuit, heels, sash, and tiara—symbolized a “modern girl on the go” in more ways than one. The international beauty contest offered a unique way, albeit a highly competitive one, for pretty young women, even those without much education or family status, to enjoy instant fame in Japan and to fly to California to compete in the Miss Universe contest. Once back home, Miss Japan could become a well-paid model with a chance for a glamorous career in entertainment.
This presentation focuses on Miss Japan’s swimsuit-clad, shapely body as, in effect, the somatic uniform that guaranteed her transnational mobility. Discussing how critics and fans alike interpreted Miss Japan’s physique as a literal embodiment of democracy and American intervention, I take up the attendant popularity of technologies for improving the body—diet regimes, exercise programs, and cosmetic surgery. I show how such attention to the idea of making a female Japanese body competitive in the international beauty pageant ultimately led to discussions of race and gender, inciting criticism that such contests were remaking Japanese women into Anglo-like models who were “too good” for Japanese men.
Elise Edwards, “The Ladies League and Corporate Futures: Envisioning an ‘Epoch Change’ Through Female Soccer Success”
Women’s soccer fits [our company’s] bright, tough, and healthy image perfectly. Men’s soccer still has a long way to go, but women’s soccer has a real future.” With these words to reporters, the CEO of one of Japan’s largest securities firms endorsed his company’s new team in Japan’s burgeoning “Ladies’ League” (L-League) and echoed several other corporate heads who chose to support new women’s teams in the League in the early 1990s. At that time, at the tail end of Japan’s heady “bubble economy,” the country experienced a “soccer boom,” with the number of women and men’s teams from the amateur to the professional ranks growing at unprecedented rates. Soccer was on the rise at the same time that a serious economic decline and what was seen as related societal decay gripped the public consciousness. This rather odd and seemingly unimportant coincidence resulted in soccer quickly becoming a central site for public debates about Japan’s postwar economic and social successes, and reasons for its current decline. Soccer and its star players became centerpieces in discussions of changing business practices, corporate responsibility, and company-worker relations in a time of considerable economic uncertainty. For many, however, it was women’s soccer in particular that signified change—what many characterized as an “epoch change”—and a necessarily new orientation to the world. L-League teams were deployed by corporations in public relations campaigns and internal company promotions as signifiers of change in the forms of new technologies, progressive management policies, and a forward-looking, “twenty-first century” perspective. An examination of corporate investments in women’s soccer —financial and otherwise— and Japanese women’s experiences on corporate teams sheds light on linkages constructed between female athleticism, technology, creativity, innovation, transnational mobility, and rising neoliberalism in Japan in the waning years of the twentieth century.
Alisa Freedman, “Bus Guides Tour National Landscapes, Pop Culture, and Youth Fantasies”
In Japan, it is taken for granted that every tour or charter bus is staffed with a uniformed female worker, who assists the male driver, explains sites en route, and leads tours from designated stops. Given the Japanese-English title “bus guide” (basu gaido), the job derived from the more arduous occupation of bus conductor, known by the diminutive “bus girl” (basu gâru) by the postwar period. The jobs of bus girl and bus guide influenced each other in practice and intersected in literature and popular culture.
Being a bus guide was most desirable during the High-Growth Era of the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, a time when bus girls reached their greatest numbers and taking vacations became a middle-class luxury. As vehicles associated with travel represented Japan’s advance in the jet age, the women who worked on them symbolized national development and pride. Bus guides appeared as model service workers in narratives advancing the idea that hard work will always be rewarded, a notion propelling postwar Japanese society. Yet they were endued with a potentially dangerous sensuality that could be tamed by becoming good wives and wise mothers, roles for women reinforced at the time. Like the more prestigious flight attendants and more ubiquitous bus conductors, bus guides were conceptualized as both ideal employees and erotic icons, thus exposing contradictions inherent in women’s roles in the workforce.
I survey an array of sources, including films adopted from middlebrow fiction serialized in newspapers, popular songs, memorabilia, and toys, to present a composite portrait of bus guides, disclose disparities between their images and lived realities, and show how the job has impacted upon views of Japanese women. As a case study, I analyze a pair of films by director Naruse Mikio made when bus guides were seen as especially “modern” and modes of looking at the homeland were mobilized to promote nationalism – the 1941 Hideko the Bus Conductress (Hideko no shashô-san) based on a novella by Ibuse Masuji and 1952 Lightning (Inazuma) adapted from a Hayashi Fumiko novel. These films foreshadow later depictions of workingwomen. Representations of transport workers demonstrate how women’s mobility shaped notions of service labor and of home and comment on different values associated with Tokyo and the rest of the nation.
Sabine Frühstück, “Girl Power: Female Soldiers in the Self-Defense Forces”
Prominent historian Kano Mikiyo recently warned women against joining the Self-Defense Forces, remarking that the military would militarize women before they could possibly feminize the military. In a 2002 project, feminist artist Shimada Yoshiko, by contrast, urged young women to join the military in order to change the masculine culture of the Self-Defense Forces from within. Popular weekly and monthly magazines suggest that under their uniforms female service members are just like other young women – hip, pretty, and marriageable. At the same time, the personnel and public relations apparatuses of the Self-Defense Forces employ representations of female service members to bridge the anxieties about the gendered order of all things military and to connect the military with wider society and mass culture.
This chapter examines the ways by which female service members deal with these contradictions and how they position themselves vis-à-vis the military establishment and civilian society. Marginal as service members within the ranks but important to the formation of the Self-Defense Forces’ public image, I argue that many of these women emerge as “feminist militarists.”
Sally A. Hastings, “Traveling to Learn: Tsuda University Students in the United States, 1900-1941”
This chapter analyzes the transnational mobility of female students and educators in early twentieth century Japan. I first examine Tokyo women’s schools as sites of cross-cultural communication and then investigate experiences of Japanese exchange students at American universities whose education was financed by scholarships established by Tsuda Umeko, who had attended Bryn Mawr College in the nineteenth century. Although largely excluded from the network of publicly-funded universities, women were able to attend private institutions in Japan, some of them mission-sponsored. Women came from the United States and Canada to be teachers. In particular, the school that Tsuda founded in Tokyo in 1901 served not only as an institution for educating Japanese women in English but also as a space in which students encountered American women and could observe their ways of life. The school was also a point from which Japanese women could embark on studies in distant destinations. Thanks to a strong network of international friendships, a select number of graduates traveled to the United States to study at women’s colleges, including Wellesley and Bryn Mawr. Many of these women became educators and writers, and continued to promote international exchange. The facility in English that Tsuda students acquired allowed them to serve as interpreters and translators and to produce what Mary Louise Pratt has termed “autoethnographies,” constructions of subordinate Japan for consumption in the cultural metropole.
I analyze memoirs of such Tsuda graduates as Sumie Seo Mishima, Hoshino Ai, and Kamiya Mieko in order to explore how their education in Japan prepared them for study abroad and enabled their admission to American institutions. The ways their American education was financed affected their understanding of both international relations and personal relationships. Several of these students stated that they decided to study in the United States in order to return to Japan more self-reliant and independent of their families. While at American universities, these women had to adjust to new kinds of dress, behavior, and diet. For example, they were asked to look “Japanese” at university ceremonies and faced challenges in physical education classes. These women can be viewed as prototypes for later workingwomen and have had a lasting effect on the ways women participated and were viewed as part of Japan’s international relations.
Christopher Hood, “Fast Women: The Shinkansen and Changing Japanese Gender Roles”
The shinkansen (‘bullet train’) has become one of the most potent symbols of Japan’s modernization. The image of it passing in front of Mount Fuji can be found in most travel books and websites relating to the country. For most Japanese, the shinkansen has become a part of normal everyday life, after its triumphant opening in 1964, whether they use it themselves or not. This slide into normality means that it has become a wonderful tool by which to study different aspects of Japanese society. This paper will specifically look at the position of women in Japanese society and what can be learnt by through studying their varying roles on the shinkansen over past four decades.
The paper will begin by providing a brief history of the shinkansen. It will then move on to discuss some of the issues relating to studying symbolism. The main focus of the paper will be on the interaction between women and the shinkansen. This will include discussion of issues as varied as the changing nature of the work done by women on the shinkansen. In particular it considers the work of the pursers, as discussed in a book and popular TV drama Shinkansen Girl, and the impact of having female shinkansen drivers employed in recent years.
Vera Mackie, “Shiseidô and the Mobile Modern Girl”
The modern girl (modan gâru or moga) is a ubiquitous figure in the visual culture of 1920s and 1930s Japan, appearing in cartoons, photography, painting, woodblock prints, graphic design and cinema. She was identified with new urban spaces, including pavements, buses, and cafés, and with the importation of American consumer culture. She was envisioned wearing make-up and daring Western fashions, while smoking cigarettes and eating such new luxury foods as caramels and chocolates. The appearance of the modern girl in popular discourse was made possible by developments in print technologies and photography for mass producing and circulating images. Visuality was an essential component in the construction of the modern girl as an archetypal figure of Interwar urban modernity. It was also a key factor in linking her to Japanese colonialism in other parts of Asia.
In 1935, Shiseidô cosmetics, a company that represented the allure of the Tokyo modern, produced a series of advertisement postcards showing women dressed in the styles characteristic of modern girls, applying make-up and posed in situations of travel. They stand near automobiles, trains, airplanes, or cruise ships. These postcards reference the mobility of the modern girl. Importantly, the Shiseidô postcards address women as subjects of the metropolis who might enjoy the experience of traveling to Japan’s peripheries. Shiseidô thus positioned the Japanese modern girl against colonial subjects. I argue that Shiseidô mobilized the modern girl, the representations of whom had produced a taxonomy of women according to gender, class, ethnicity and racialized positioning, to create a taxonomy of consumers. Representations of the Japanese modern girl in motion provide another way to understand the mobility of capital, products, individuals, and urban images under the conditions of colonial modernity in early twentieth century East Asia.
Yoko McClain, “A Personal Journey Across the Pacific”
True feudalism was long gone while I was growing up in Japan in the 1920s and 30s, but society was still far from democratic. Our family always had three or four maids, and I thought that a mother did not do any housework.
When the War came, however, those maids went off one by one to work in the factories, leaving my mother to learn housework in her early 40s. Feeling sorry for her, I learned how to do domestic chores right alongside her. Far from resenting this, I consider myself lucky to have avoided becoming a domestically inept woman like my mother and her middle-class contemporaries.
The War would change the course of my life in a more profound way, where again opportunity came out of hardship. English was my favorite subject in high school, so I entered Tsuda College in April 1942, a few months after Pearl Harbor. (At the time, many narrow-minded Japanese thought it was of no use to study the enemy’s language.)
In the ensuing two years, the state of affairs in Japan then deteriorated so much that instead of studying, we were put to work in a makeshift factory in the Tsuda gym, running into shelters whenever we heard the ominous sirens of air raids.
When the war ended in August 1945, the school charitably gave us graduation certificates even though we had studied only two years instead of four. And because relatively few Japanese spoke English, we could easily find jobs with only limited English skills, and I began working in an office of the United States military.
A friend of mine then suggested that we take the test for a GARIOA (Government Aid and Relief in Occupied Areas) scholarship, the predecessor of the Fulbright. I expected to fail, but when I somehow passed I was granted a one-year scholarship to the University of Oregon.
Now, after one serendipitous turn after another, I have been here for 57 years, first as a student and then as a teacher. While I still have my roots in semi-feudal Tokyo, I am now proud to consider myself a bona fide American, fully enjoying the remaining years of my life as a writer and lecturer, as well as a traveler whenever chances arise.
Laura Miller, “Elevator Girls Moving In and Out of the Box”
When the Ueno branch of the Matsuzakaya department store re-opened in 1929, it had many new features: heating and air conditioning, a hair salon, its own post office, and eight elevators operated by women. These young female employees were referred to with various titles, including shôkôki gâru (up-down controller girl), hakojô (box girl), and erebêtâ no onna untenshu (woman elevator driver). The name that stuck, however, was erebêtâ gâru (elevator girl) and its abbreviation, erega. The first elevator girls claimed that the hardest part of their job was pulling the handles to make the elevator stop.
The repetitive, standardized work done by uniform-wearing elevator girls occurs in a circumscribed space. Her physical mobility is of a special type: up and down through the elevator shaft for hours and hours throughout the day. It is partly the regularity and constraint of her job, however, that makes her such an appealing object of the popular imagination. Her professional role provokes questions about what she is really like behind the scripted veneer, an almost mannequin-like façade viewed as repressive in the Elevator Girl series by photographer Yanagi Miwa.
This chapter will survey the way popular culture plays with the contrast between the elevator girl’s unvarying work world and her private life or “true self.” News reports in the 1930s latched onto the suicide of an elevator girl involved with a married man as an especially notable scandal. In the 1992 television drama series Tokyo Elevator Girls, the cute and perky workers have tawdry, complex lives behind the scenes. An episode from the anime series Crayon Shin-chan features a crisp and professional elevator girl who turns into a blubbering crybaby once trapped in a broken elevator. The demure elevator girl who is really a wild sex maniac once out of her uniform is a favorite theme in adult videos. The persona of the elevator girl allows us to track the way women in this occupation have been seen not only as an exemplary type of female service worker, but also as a fertile example of the disparity between the crafted public image of a trained employee and her private life. When young women from diverse regional and class backgrounds move into the elevator girl slot, they are trained in uniform ways of speaking and performing the role, highlighting awareness of the gap between their “authentic” selves and the new occupational expectations.
Elise K. Tipton, “Moving Up and Out: The ‘Shop Girl’ in Interwar Japan”
The increasing number of middle-class women in the paid workforce, known as “professional working women,” was a striking new social phenomenon in Japan during the decades after the First World War. Among the many new occupations available for educated middle-class women, the department store sales clerk or “shop girl” (shoppu gâru) proved to be most attractive to girls’ higher school graduates. This chapter will begin by examining the reasons for the popularity of department store employment, which will suggest the social significance of young middle-class women moving from country to city (especially “up” to the capital Tokyo) and out of the home into the workplace. Expectations about department store work also involved social and personal mobility as the women prepared to move to the next stage in their lives – marriage. The chapter will go on to explore how many of these employees found the reality of department store work to be much less glamorous than they had envisioned it would be.
Included in this chapter will be commentaries by Japanese journalists, intellectuals, and government officials about the department store shop girl and the historical changes that this figure represented. Commentators expressed fascination with the beauty and other allures of the shop girl, while voicing concerns about the deleterious effects of the work on women’s moral and physical health. Such contradictions reveal complex considerations of class as well as gender toward social changes of the Interwar decades.
Christine Yano, “‘Flying Geisha’: Japanese Stewardesses as Postwar Modern Girls”
In 1964, the Japanese government officially lifted international travel restrictions imposed since the American Occupation, thereby opening the floodgates of international travel for Japanese citizens. By May 1967, Life magazine proclaimed, “Newest Stewardess Fad: A Japanese in Every Jet,” featuring Japanese stewardesses on eleven international carriers. This paper examines the “Japanese-in-every-jet” phenomenon through the experiences of Japanese stewardesses who flew for the premier carrier – Pan American World Airways. Flying for Pan Am meant adopting the prestigious glamour of the American airline. But it also meant working in a service industry and traveling far from home. These were unwelcome aspects for many of the upper-middle-class families from which the women came. Furthermore, Pan Am’s executive, Najeeb Halaby (CEO from 1969-1972), commented that the ideal for stewardesses lay in the figure of the geisha (or his interpretation of it), placing the model of service directly on Japanese women’s shoulders.
In this chapter, I juxtapose Halaby’s “flying geisha” model to the experiences of Pan Am’s Japanese stewardesses, focusing on issues of gender, nation, race, and class. I contend that the stewardess job – based in mobility, modernity, and cutting-edge technology – often relied on the women’s performance of old-fashioned femininity, particularly racialized within the Japanese context. In the end, the job took elite Japanese women out of the national home and into the corporate sphere of Pan Am’s global cabin and foreign ports of call.
Christine Yano, “Kitty on the Go: Japanese Cute as Transborder Fetish”
Hello Kitty, that ubiquitous mouthless icon of Japanese Cute, provides a good case study of the methodological and interpretive issues of globalization. The semantic slate of Hello Kitty is both blank and filled with national-cultural meaning. It is this particular kind of straddling of non-meaning and meaning that allows her interpretation as what I call a “transborder fetish.” Here, I borrow the notion of border fetishism from the field of religious studies to reference the hyper-spectacle both within and of the border. However, I push the notion of border fetish further to examine ways in which this product transcends category specificity through the multiple meanings bestowed by consumers globally. With the intensity of the global gaze pushed to new arenas of high-ticket consumption, Hello Kitty becomes the site of ubiquity that crosses borders: cheap and luxurious, innocent and sexy, child and adult, Japan and mukokuseki (no nationality). It is this very transborder quality of the product that makes Hello Kitty not only a marketer’s dream, but also an anthropologist’s challenge.