UBC at 2021 Association for Asian Studies Conference

Monday, March 22, 2021

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Friday, March 26, 2021


Monday, March 22, 2021

1: How did a Japanese Buddhist Monk Read Sanskrit: Jōnen’s Understanding of Sanskrit and Siddham
In Session A010: Foreign Language Pedagogy, Acquisition, and Perception in Pre-Modern East and Inner Asia

Monday, March 22, 2021 10:00am – 11:30am EDT

Presenter: Jeffrey Kotyk

Dr. Jeffrey Kotyk will examine the explanation of Sanskrit in the Japanese Gyōrin shō 行林抄 (T 2409; “Summary of the Forest of Practices”), a compendium of Buddhist lore and rituals by the Hieizan 比叡山 monk Jōnen 靜然 in 1154. Attention will be paid to Jōnen’s analysis of the vocabulary from a certain dhāraṇī, which he calls the “Sanskrit Letter Praise to the Eight Groups of Devas and Nāgas” (Bonji ten ryū hachibu san 梵字天龍八部讃) or “Sanskrit-Chinese Praise to the Eight Groups of Devas and Nāgas” (Bon Tō ryōji ten ryū hachibu san 梵唐兩字天龍八部讃). An examination of Jōnen’s understanding of the Sanskrit language and the Siddhaṃ script stands to inform modern scholars on how medieval Japanese monks studied and learnt Sanskrit through a mix of Japanese and Classical Chinese.


3: Infrastructure at Sea: Shipping in the Japanese Empire
In Session A022: New Approaches to Infrastructures in Japan’s Empire in the Twentieth Century

Monday, March 22, 2021 10:00am – 11:30am EDT

Presenter: Elijah Greenstein

Greenstein explores the development of shipping lines to show interactions between companies and government institutions from across the empire.

This paper examines how the institutional structure of the Japanese Empire shaped the development of shipping lines in East Asia. The administration of that empire rested on extensive communication and transportation infrastructures that made possible movements of people, goods, and information. Land-based infrastructures, such as roads, railways, and bridges, facilitated circulation within overseas colonies, while, at sea, a network of shipping lines served as links between Japanese territories. As Brian Larkin (2013) has observed, infrastructure can be examined as a system comprising “an amalgam of technical, administrative, and financial techniques.” In the case of shipping lines, this system comprised material ships as well as institutions that determined ports of call, sailing schedules, and freight and passenger rates. In Japan’s empire, these not only included the private companies that owned and operated ships, but also central, colonial, and municipal government offices that subsidized shipping activities. By developing shipping lines, government officials sought to foster particular movements of commodities and people by reducing transportation costs and thereby transforming what Richard White (2011) has termed “relational space.” Shipping lines were thus at once an integrative infrastructure that linked imperial territories together, and a product of the heterogeneous objectives of multiple institutions. By examining the system of ships, companies, and government subsidies that shaped shipping lines in the Japanese Empire, this paper shows how institutions and communities from across that empire cooperated, and at times competed, to build infrastructure at sea, shape imperial spaces, and generate new patterns of circulation.


Roundtable Session H024: Writing the History of Japanese Photography: Challenges and Provocations

Monday, March 22, 2021 10:00am – 11:30am EDT

Organizer and Discussant: Kelly McCormick

Charting systemic exclusions by gatekeeping institutions and critics in the Japanese photography world, Kelly McCormick will rethink the production of historical knowledge about the practice of photography from feminist perspectives.


2: Text and Paratext: Prefaces to Seasonal Festival Banquet Poems in Heian Japan
In Session B009: Instruments of Cultural Adaptation: Paratexts across Asia

Monday, March 22, 2021 12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT

Organizer and Presenter: Kay Duffy

Duffy’s study, by juxtaposing medieval Chinese and Japanese prefaces associated with seasonal festival banquets, uncovers how this genre negotiated ritual dynamics in their respective courts.

The paper examines prefaces and poems composed on seasonal festival banquets in Heian Japan in order to show how banquet prefaces position the occasion itself as a “text.” My analysis highlights the deployment of tropes and images associated with the Sinitic literary past in the production of the guest-host relationship. I show that these prefaces draw on a discourse of banqueting that emerged in Six Dynasties courts-in-exile that invokes geographically and temporally distant exemplars of kingship. Thus, they inscribe an intangible set of relationships into a high literary form, as much as they inform a prospective reader on the contexts surrounding the composition of their associated literary texts.


2: Reactivating Tamura Toshiko’s Minor Transnational Feminism through Letters as Criticism
In Session B013: Minor Memories, Encounters, and Affects in (Inter-)Asia and the Transpacific

Monday, March 22, 2021 12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT

Chair and co-author: Ayaka Yoshimizu

Presenter: Atsumi Nakao

Nakao and Yoshimizu look at Tamura Toshiko’s less studied writings published in Vancouver, Canada, in the early 20th century, and develop “letters-to-the-editor” as a creative and collaborative form of critique to re-activate her minor transnational feminism in our contemporary context.

Tamura Toshiko (1884-1945) is an award winning writer from Japan, who is best known for her earlier writings on women’s sexuality and provocative, sensual style. Less acknowledged is that her work continued to transform, becoming more political and socialist, as she moved across borders in the first half of the 20th century from Tokyo to Vancouver, Los Angeles, and finally, Shanghai, and witnessed to local racial and class struggles. We read her work in Canada, “The Saturday Women’s Column” published in Japanese language newspaper Tairiku Nippo in 1919 in particular, as a turning point where her transnational approach to feminism was seeded and started to grow. We find in her writings traces of struggle to redefine her intellectual community, build an activist space and create a new language by working with other Japanese women in diaspora. Instead of reifying her activism or evaluating it as a utopic projectile for liberation, however, we reactivate her work by extending it, seeing it as ambivalent possibilities in the state of emergence. More specifically, we perform the role of “readers” and respond to her columns in the form of “letters-to-the-editor” as a method of collaborative and non-adversarial criticism whereby we centre our standpoints as diasporic women in Asian Canada. Through our letter writing practice, we will recuperate Tamura’s work and attempt to open up a new space for minor transnational feminism in our contemporary time.


Tuesday, March 23

2: Imperial Testaments: Repatriation and Reconstruction in Postwar Japan
In Session E014: Literary and Cinematic Afterlives of Empire in Japan and Korea

Tuesday, March 23, 2021 12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT

Presenter: Christina Yi

Christina Yi looks at how Japanese repatriation narratives circulate in postwar East Asia as to amplify – or silence – various gendered voices of empire.

Although the Japanese empire theoretically disappeared off the map in 1945 following Japan’s defeat by the Allied Powers, the competing narratives of place and belonging that had been engendered by Japanese imperialism were not so easily erased; instead, they would continue to configure and dis-figure physical, human, and cultural geographies across the transpacific region. This paper continues the conversation begun by Deokhyo Choi by looking at repatriate memoirs, interviews, and fiction published by women writers in Japan from the 1940s through the 1960s in order to illuminate the gendered process whereby Japan was reconstituted from “multiethnic empire” to “peaceful nation-state.” It focuses in particular on Fujiwara Tei’s repatriation narrative The Shooting Stars are Alive (Nagareru hoshi wa ikite iru), which was an immediate commercial success when it was published in Japan in 1949 – and a bestseller in another country as well: South Korea. In tracing out how Fujiwara’s book has circulated in postwar East Asia and how various voices of empire were amplified – or silenced – through the book’s translation, this paper will reveal how the mutually constituted politics of decolonization (in Korea) and postwar reconstruction (in Japan) were not an aberration from the discourse on masculinized national victimhood but the very consequence of it.


1: Preaching to Plants: Entertainment and Religious Education in Two Otogizōshi Tales
In Session E018: Performing Proselytization: Religion, Economics, and Entertainment in Premodern Asia

Tuesday, March 23, 2021 12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT

Organizer and Presenter: Haley Blum

Haley Blum examines Buddhist messaging in otogizōshi, a short story genre performed in both private and public settings, and considers the negotiation between religious education and entertainment in premodern Japan.

Popular short stories of premodern Japan, known as otogizōshi, often conveyed Buddhist concepts in a way that would both entertain and instruct audiences, and such didactic tales were part of the repertoire used by itinerant monks and nuns to spread Buddhist messages to a broad audience. Analysis of two tales, Kochō monogatari (The Tale of Kochō, ca. late 16th-early 17th century) and Kajō monogatari (The Tale of Kajō, ca. early 17th century), will show how religion and entertainment worked in tandem to promote these messages. In each of these tales, a group of young women visit a monk living in a hut outside the Capital (Kyoto), and this narrative trope enables a discussion of Buddhist concepts, including the life of the historical Buddha (Siddhārtha Gautama, ca. 6th-5th centuries BCE) and the doctrines of sōmoku jōbutsu (plants becoming buddhas) and nyonin jōbutsu (women becoming buddhas). At the end of these tales, the women are revealed to be a group of transformed flowers who had heard of the monk’s reputation and were drawn to hear his sermon. Kochō monogatari and Kajō monogatari use this frame narrative of transformed plants to convey and reinforce the Buddhist concepts of salvation for plants and for women. This paper will examine the textual history of the two tales, their doctrinal basis, characters, and plot to explore the ways that entertainment and Buddhist education worked together in popular short stories.


Wednesday, March 24

Session I015: Rethinking the Pedagogical Canon of Classical Japanese Literature in the West

Wednesday, March 24, 2021 3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT

Discussant: Joshua Mostow

The formation of the pedagogical canon is a product of the vicissitudes of history and complex dynamics inherent in language, speech community, competing modes of aesthetics, and sociocultural power dynamics. However, it is equally a result of chance encounters, pragmatic exigencies, and evolving social discourses. Frameworks of valuation for literature grow out of communities and institutions that control what texts are introduced and how they are read and interpreted. The field of Japanese literary studies is no exception.

This panel explores the historical development of the classical Japanese literary canon in the West, noting not only which texts are included, but also how they are used in education. In particular, certain literary works gain canonical status because they can be portrayed as “universal” according to euro- and male-centric standards, while works that cannot adhere to that standard are devalued or ignored.


Thursday, March 25

3: Butterflies and Blood Spatters: The Ostentatious Scopophilia of Ninagawa Mika’s Feminine Fantasies
In Session J005: Framing East Asian Feminist Cinema

Thursday, March 25, 2021 8:30am – 10:00am EDT

Presenter: Colleen Laird

Woman directors working in Japan’s commercial film industry take great care to cultivate an apolitical public persona. A notable exception is Ninagawa Mika. Ninagawa not only firmly acknowledges a gendered subject position as a woman working in a cis-male-hetero visual media ecology, she continues to assert that she makes films specifically to showcase a “woman’s point of view” (Ninagawa, 2016). One of Japan’s most celebrated commercial fashion photographers, Ninagawa is an acclaimed “girly” visual artist (Karatsu), videographer, and director of films and music videos. She is immensely popular, particularly with female-identifying audiences. She features so-called “bad girl” protagonists and recruits notoriously “bad girl” celebrities to play them (Jamier). She has a vision of extravagance and a vision of extremes, all largely draped in red: “the color of passion, the color of blood, the color of everything” (Ninagawa, 2012). “Vision” is the key word when it comes to Ninagawa’s oeuvre. Through Ninagawa’s viewfinder everyone, regardless of gender, is to be looked at, including the audience. Her extravagant, scopophilic world openly acknowledges that the act of looking is one of power, one of passion and desire, one of projection, reflection, connection, objectification, and is, precisely due to all that, a woman’s nightmare. This paper focuses on the cinematography of Ninagawa Mika—her photography and filmography alike—with special attention to genre thrillers Helter Skelter (2012) and Diner (2019) in order to articulate the visual realm of a feminine uncanny in contemporary Japanese media industries.


Friday, March 26

Evolving Voices: National Language, Vocal Music, and Speech Therapy in the Japanese Colonial Empire
In Session P018: The Politics and Poetics of Language in Contemporary Japan

Friday, March 26, 2021 3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT

Presenter: Shota Iwasaki

As analyzed in Sonia Ryang’s article “The Tongue That Divided Life and Death: The 1923 Tokyo Earthquake and the Massacre of Koreans,” pronunciation operated as an invisible, but powerful, cultural factor to distinguish Japanese people from other ethnic groups in the Empire of Japan. This paper examines the formation of such pronunciation as a national element of Japan through a case study of Isawa Shuji (1851–1917), a leading educator active in Japan and colonial Taiwan in the Meiji era. It focuses especially on social Darwinism as his guiding principle, a theory of social evolution that gained popularity around the world at that time.

When Japan established Taiwan as its first formal colony in 1895, the formation of kokugo (the national language of Japan) was an ongoing project as a part of its modern nation-building efforts. Among various specialists who have attempted to theorize kokugo, it was Isawa who explored the standard pronunciation of kokugo from the perspective of social Darwinism, of which he had learned while studying in the U.S. in the 1870s. He foregrounded the phonetic aspects of language and pursued a “civilized” voice in his projects on vocal music education, deaf-mute education, and speech therapy for those with hearing and speech disabilities and speakers of dialects, as well as national and colonial language education. In disentangling those projects, this paper illuminates the impact of social Darwinism on the politics of voice in the Japanese Empire, with special attention to the nexus between ableism, racism, colonialism, and nation-building.