Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Italian Transnational Spaces in Japan: Doing Racialised, Gendered and Sexualised Occidentalism

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Italian Transnational Spaces in Japan: Doing Racialised, Gendered and Sexualised Occidentalism

Article excerpt


Following the global success of the Made in Italy brand in the 1980s, Japan witnessed an Italian consumer boom (Itaria bumu) in the early 1990s that turned Italy into the most loved foreign country especially of women and young people, over the last decade.1 The recent attractiveness of Italy in Japan is arguably unparalleled around the world in its intensity and duration, but the phenomenon has gone largely unnoticed in scholarly literature. Italys popularity relies to a large extent on how the country has been constructed as an idealised and orientalised West: an imagined geography resulting from an ambivalent process involving both the superiorisation of its antique or classical past (the Roman Empire, the Renaissance) and the inferiorisation of its recent past and contemporary present. It is the very configuration of Italy as a strategic interface between the hegemonic Euro-American other and the subaltern Japanese self that proves to be particularly seductive in the mediation of deep-rooted, unresolved and uncanny tensions of proand anti-Westernism.2

However, a peculiarity in the initial formation of this imagined geography is the relatively small degree of direct and significant contributions coming from Italian institutions, corporations and migrants. At present, Italy-Japan relations are quite marginal in their overall political significance and the degree of economic exchange and migration between the two nations. So, how did this kind of simulacrum become so popular in Japan throughout the twentieth century? What (un)familiar implications might the Italy made by and for others have on the experience of Italianness among Italian students, workers and migrants in contemporary Japan?

As it happens, Japan has also become increasingly attractive in Italy over the last few decades, due to the international success of its transmedial constellation of J-culture-manga, anime, video games, subcultural styles and so on. It is intriguing that this has happened without an overly strong or significant intervention from Japanese institutions, corporations or migrants. Over the last thirty years, Italy, like many other countries in the world, has witnessed its younger generations become broadly enculturated from early childhood through contact with Japanese popular cultures; it does, however, stand out for broadcasting the greatest number of television anime series outside Japan, a fact that has contributed to the configuration of Japan as a highly popular and cool Far East.3

The growing popularity of Japan in Italy relies upon the conflation of modern Orientalism with postmodern techno-Orientalism, intermingling hyper-traditional icons-such as geisha, samurai and zen aesthetics-with hyper-modern icons of Japans high-tech cityscape, mangaesque consumer culture and fashionable youth culture. As a result, Japan is understood as a cultural oxymoron, a contradictory and exciting fusion of extreme differences: East/West, tradition/modernity, nature/technique, mysticism/alienation.4 This imagined geography of Japan is also sustained, even if to a lesser extent than its Italian counterpart in Japan, by its potential to mediate tensions of identification and othering related to notions ofthe East and the West. Finally, it has induced more and more young Italians to experiment with the hybridisation of a Japan made in Italy in terms of globalising culture, as well as to study Japanese or visit or work in Japan.5

This essay engages with the concept of the uncanny in Italy-Japan relations by considering them as configured by the broader hegemony of modern Occidentalism.6 To investigate how Italian transnational spaces in modern and contemporary Japan are invested with complex projections of un/familiarity, it focuses on the interrelational, intersectional and positional process engendered by the interaction of Occidentalism, Orientalism and self-Orientalism.

The interrelational approach highlights how imagined and emotional geographies of Italy in Japan have been shaped by the asymetrical and liminal positions of both nation-states in regard to the centre of colonial and imperialist capitalism. …

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