Tokyo in Transit: Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road

Tokyo in Transit: Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road

Tokyo in Transit: Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road

Tokyo in Transit: Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road

Synopsis

Increased use of mass transportation in the early twentieth century enabled men and women of different social classes to interact in ways they had not before. Using a cultural studies approach that combines historical research and literary analysis, author Alisa Freedman investigates fictional, journalistic, and popular culture depictions of how mass transportation changed prewar Tokyo's social fabric and artistic movements, giving rise to gender roles that have come to characterize modern Japan.

Freedman persuasively argues that, through descriptions of trains and buses, stations, transport workers, and passengers, Japanese authors responded to contradictions in Tokyo's urban modernity and exposed the effects of rapid change on the individual. She shines a light on how prewar transport culture anticipates what is fascinating and frustrating about Tokyo today, providing insight into how people make themselves at home in the city. An approachable and enjoyable book, Tokyo in Transit offers an exciting ride through modern Japanese literature and culture, and includes the first English translation of Kawabata Yasunari's The Corpse Introducer, a 1929 crime novella that presents an important new side of its Nobel Prizewinning author.

Excerpt

In modern Athens, the vehicles of mass transportation are called
metaphorai. To go to work or come home, one takes a “metaphor”—
a bus or a train. Stories could also take this noble name: every day, they
traverse and organize places; they select and link them together; they make
sentences and itineraries out of them. They are spatial trajectories.

—MICHEL DE CERTEAU, The Practice of Everyday Life

COMMUTER CULTURES PRESENT AND PAST

This book explores literary, journalistic, and popular culture depictions of the ways increased use of mass transportation in Tokyo during the first four decades of the twentieth century shaped human subjectivity and artistic production, giving rise to gender roles that currently represent Japan. I argue that, through describing trains and buses, stations, transport workers, and passengers, authors responded to the contradictions they perceived in Japanese urban modernity, recorded consumer and social patterns often omitted from historical accounts, and exposed the effects of rapid change on the individual. Their stories show that short rides between destinations of home, work, and play can be opportunities for selfreflection and chance encounters with strangers. The following chapters demonstrate that prewar culture involving commuter vehicles anticipates what is fascinating and frustrating about Tokyo today and provides insight into how people try to make themselves at home in the city. I begin with a short discussion of Tokyo’s current commuter cultures and introduce important ways that early mass transportation made them possible, junctures to which I return in the chapters that follow. I then explain the significance of a methodology that employs both historical and literary analyses to interpret writings about Tokyo. Lastly, I outline the topics and arguments of Tokyo in Transit.

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