Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Spring 2007 Theme: "Beautiful Japan"

Spring semester has begun and I am looking forward to new visual projects from my new students.

This semester we have a theme for our visual projects: "Beautiful Japan." The idea for this theme comes from a recent article in the Daily Yomiuri entitled "Govt to seek public idea on 'beautiful country'" (January 1, 2007, p. 4).

The article begins: "As part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's bid to achieve his policy vision of 'a beautiful country,' the government will launch projects to solicit public opinions on the concept..."

"Some observers suggest that the concept... has not evoked concrete images even though three months have passed since Abe took office."

A public poll will decide "100 quintessential elements of Japan" with hopes of such tradtional things like kimono, geta, hatsumode, osechi, Hina Matsuri and shichigosan being included along with more recent high technology items. Examples of Japanese virtue and modesty are also hoped to be solicited.

"Meetings on 'a beautiful country' are planned to be held across the nation. The government is also considering a plan to publicly seek young people, housewives and foreign residents as 'supporters' for these activities."

So this semester the Visual Anthropology of Japan class will offer our support and assistiance to Prime Minister Abe and his plan to evoke concrete images of the beauty of Japanese culture and the Japanese nation.

Some students have already expressed concern that their particular ideas for project topics might not fit into such a framework.

"Beauty" is, of course, a relative term. And so is "reality." Adopting Prime Minister Abe's theme for this semester's project in no way endorses his or any national political ideology or agenda.

However, representation can be viewed as a control mechanism inherently fraught with politics. Who has the authority to translate and/or dictate the reality of others?

Visual methods add to the complexity of such ethical concerns within ethnographic research. How do visual representations translate and/or dictate the reality of others?

Stay tuned as we continue to grapple with these issues this spring semester. Links to new projects will be added shortly. As always, feedback is encouraged and appreciated.

Notes on methods for this posting: All photos were taken with my mobile phone, mostly on a recent walk in and around Moriguchi-shi. My new keitai has a much higher quality camera (3.2 mega pixels) than my previous one.

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