Globalizing Japan: Ethnography of the Japanese Presence in Asia, Europe, and America

By Harumi Befu; Sylvie Guichard-Anguis | Go to book overview

9

Global culture in question

Contemporary Japanese photography in America

Julia Adeney Thomas

Globalization theory too often takes its cue from business, from the global capital, technology, production, and markets that, as Marx and Engels foretold, chase "the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe" (Harvey 1995). As these forces circle the earth, politics is said to be subsumed by the market, 1 and "culture" refers merely to modes of consumption (Beinart 1997). Even "high culture," once thought to be distinguishable from popular culture partially on the basis of not being viable on the open market, can be viewed, so the claim goes, as just another commodity. In other words, it is argued that intellectual and artistic endeavors are subject to the same homogenizing and systematizing forces that are routinizing business practices everywhere. But things are neither so grim nor so simple. Commodity exchange and intellectual and artistic exchange do not function identically because their goals and their means of production are not identical. In fact, it is crucial to our understanding of globalization to recognize the differences between investment and interpretation, between the value of capital and other values.

To support this point, I want to examine a particular band of global exchange - the success of contemporary Japanese fine art photography in American art museums and galleries. I will argue that, although fine art photographs are commodities, they are much more as well. Indeed, several layers of determination must be recognized to understand how Japanese photography is positioned in American museums: (1) "globalization" and what it means for national identities; (2) the broad modes of understanding "Japan" and "the West" organized by the discourses of Orientalism and Nihonjinron (Japanese discussions of what distinguishes them as a people); (3) the specifics of America's arch, turbulent art world with its fragile careers, heralded openings, complex institutional structure, and politicized criticism, and the corresponding conditions in Japan; and (4) the individual creativity and vision of the artists. These are different, often contradictory, forces, but together they have created a prominent place in the United States for photographic work called "Japanese."

Following the most optimistic predictions about global markets, Japanese fine art photography has met with resounding success. Even the most casual history reveals sustained and growing support from galleries, museums,

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Globalizing Japan: Ethnography of the Japanese Presence in Asia, Europe, and America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Figures xii
  • Tables xiii
  • Series Editor's Preface xvii
  • Preface xix
  • Acknowledgments xxii
  • Part I - Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Global Context of Japan Outside Japan 3
  • Bibliography 21
  • Part II - Human Dispersal 23
  • 2 - Objects, City, and Wandering 25
  • Part III - Organizational Transplant 41
  • 3 - Positioning "Globalization" at Overseas Subsidiaries of Japanese Multinational Corporations 43
  • 4 - Japanese Businesswomen of Yaohan Hong Kong 52
  • Notes 67
  • 5 - Neverland Lost 69
  • Notes 89
  • 6 - Soka Gakkai in Germany 94
  • Part IV - Cultural Diffusion 109
  • 7 - Japanese Comics Coming to Hong Kong 111
  • Bibliography 120
  • 8 - Japanese Popular Music in Hong Kong 121
  • 9 - Global Culture in Question 131
  • Notes 147
  • Bibliography 148
  • Part V - Images 151
  • 10 - A Collision of Discourses 153
  • 11 - Images of the Japanese Welfare State 176
  • Bibliography 190
  • 12 - Consuming the Modern 194
  • 13 - Japan Through French Eyes 209
  • 14 - The Yamatodamashi of the Takasago Volunteers of Taiwan 222
  • Index 251
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