UW Japan Studies Newsletters

Autumn 2017 Newsletter


Hirokazu Koreeda. Image credit: Andy Ahlstorm for En Pacific.

On May 18, critically acclaimed film director Hirokazu Koreeda and UW professor of Japanese literature Davinder Bhowmik spoke before a full house in the Walker-Ames Room of Kane Hall about the director’s prior films and the U.S. debut of his film After the Storm, screened to capacity crowds in the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival.

Koreeda, who originally planned to become a novelist, began his career as an assistant director of television documentaries. He went on to direct feature films in which his penchant for documentary style is evident. Known for films such as Like Father, Like Son, Maborosi, and After Life, Koreeda now manages his own production company, Bun-Buku. He also teaches film at Waseda University. He spoke at UW for nearly an hour with Bhowmik who had prepared film clips from her course on Koreeda’s works to provide context for her questions. The director took audience questions for another half hour with the assistance of an interpreter, Kasumi Yamashita.

“My interest in Koreeda-san’s work lies in his documentary style and the blurring of documentary and feature. This stems from my primary field of Japanese literature in which the line between fiction and nonfiction is not so clear,” Bhowmik said.

Koreeda’s films work with the intangible and center on existential questions and emotional relationships between people. The director explained how, in everyday kitchen scenes, he often uses the sounds of knives hitting chopping boards and crackling oil to evoke strong senses of smell and taste—things, he added, anyone can imagine.

One of the questions Bhowmik asked Koreeda involved the repeated sounds of chimes and bells in his films. She wondered how he managed to activate the viewer’s senses using visuals and sounds in his filmography. “I use wind chimes to depict the intangible,” Koreeda said. “They are a good way to depict things that aren’t there.”

He recalled the creative process behind After Life and how he used this process to connect his audiences to the history of Japan. In After Life, people experience “heaven” after dying by reliving a happy memory they select to take with them for eternity. Actors and nonactors appear in the film. “We interviewed 600 elderly people in Japan,” Koreeda said. “If they could take one memory with them to the afterlife, what would it be?”

Koreeda also addressed the relationships between children and their nonbiological parents in his films, particularly moments of connection between mothers and daughters. In several of his films, a mother or maternal figure brushes the hair of a young girl. “I like hair-brushing scenes because they give me the rare opportunity for actors to speak to each other while facing the same direction.”

Kabuki dancer Rankoh Fujima performing in April 2017 at the University of Washington.

After the conversation ended, Koreeda thanked the audience and left the stage. He stayed in the room, patiently answering more questions and smiling for countless photos. Early the next morning, in a repeat performance, Koreeda joined Bhowmik’s film class. She remarked, “I had planned to give Koreeda-san a tour of campus and take him to lunch after class but students were so enamored by the director they wouldn’t let us leave the classroom!”

Koreeda’s visit to Seattle was part of the Mitsubishi Corporation Lecture Series hosted by the UW Japan Studies Program. Other presentations in the series in the last year also focused on contemporary arts of Japan. Katsura Sunshine, the first ever Western rakugo storyteller in the history of the Kamigata rakugo tradition, performed rakugo for a captivated UW audience. Rankoh Fujima, kabuki dance performer, and Mark Oshima, kabuki researcher, translator, and also musical performer, collaborated in a lecture/demonstration for an enthusiastic audience in partnership with the UW Dance Program and the Seattle Cherry Blossom Festival. Additionally, the design and craftsmanship of the Tendo Mokko company were showcased in the fourth event of the Mitsubishi series in partnership with the Department of Architecture.

From the Chair

Japan Studies at the University of Washington thrives as a vibrant, university-wide, interdisciplinary research and teaching collaboration to promote deeper understanding of Japan and Japanese within a global context. The program’s position on the Pacific Rim supports strategic partnerships, locally, regionally, and internationally. As chair, it is a great privilege to bring together a tremendous group of faculty and students as we work with friends and colleagues near and far.

This year we are excited to welcome Mark Metzler, a senior historian of modern Japan. Metzler joins us from the University of Texas at Austin and has written widely on modern Japanese history and world economic history; his most recent book is Central Banks and Gold: How Tokyo, London, and New York Shaped the Modern World (Cornell University Press, 2016).

As this newsletter highlights, we are pleased to have hosted a wide range of events in 2016–17 including the Mitsubishi Corporation Lecture Series featuring contemporary Japanese as film, rakugo, kabuki, and design. We also hosted a highly successful student-organized conference on Japanese literature and culture in the 1980s and 1990s. For a full listing of upcoming events, please visit us on-line at: https://jsis.washington.edu/japan/events/

The Japan Studies Program continues to build on its legacy as one of the oldest in the country through diversities in dynamic research, teaching, and outreach as it looks to both future possibilities of the program and Japan itself.

Ken Tadashi Oshima

Program Highlights

Return of Chanoyu

This autumn, the popular course Chanoyu: Japanese Culture of Tea has returned to UW. Chanoyu 茶の湯 or chadō 茶道 is the Way of Tea and is commonly known as the Japanese tea ceremony. Taught for some 30 years in the School of Art, after a hiatus of several years the course has returned to the UW curriculum, this time offered by the Department of Asian Languages and Literature.

Beyond the serving and drinking of tea, chanoyu represents a nexus of cultural arts including poetry, flower arranging, ceramics, calligraphy, painting, architecture, interior design, performance, textiles, language, and cuisine. Long-time chanoyu instructors Bonnie Mitchell and Timothy Olson of Seattle-based East-West Chanoyu Center (eastwestchanoyucenter.org) are supported by teaching associates Douglas Bacon, Kazumi Ohara, and Sachiko Levy, who assist in hands-on studio sessions. Funding is provided by the Department of Asian Languages and Literature and the University of Washington East Asia Center, a U.S. Department of Education Title VI center dedicated to the promotion of teaching and learning about China, Japan, and Korea across disciplines, across campus, and in the community. 

New Course Offered by Andrea Gevurtz Arai and Ted Mack

This year the course “Mixed Race” and Ethnicity in Japan, East Asia, and the United States is offered by Professor Ted Mack and Dr. Andrea Gevurtz Arai. After Arai received repeated requests from students and Mack led (and they both participated in) a UW faculty reading group about race and mixed race in the United States, Asia, and Brazil, they decided to launch this course. The primary textbook is a two-volume work on critical mixed-race studies published recently out of a long-standing project based at the University of Southern California.

The class begins with a genealogical history of the concepts of “race,” “racial,” and “racialization” and examines how these concepts have been employed and deployed at different moments of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and the efforts to overturn the implicit assumptions behind them. Students look at how these “racial” categories of knowledge entered the Japanese national context and accompanied its imperial project.

The focus of the course is on the contemporary experience and lived realities of “mixed race” (or hāfu) in Japan, with examples from other East Asian nations and from the United States, and the new scholarship in critical mixed-race studies that challenges conventional notions of identity and (in some cases) presents more fluid notions of identifying and identification. In addition to analysis and discussion of readings, films, and visits by guest speakers, students take on guided ethnographic and collaborative research projects in areas ranging from politics and law to science, museums, popular culture, fashion, art, gender, and sports. Projects will include interviewing and, where possible, observation.

“We’re teaching this course for several reasons. Many of Dr. Arai’s Japan and Asian Studies students have asked for a course on race and mixed race. It reflects the lived realities and backgrounds of many of them and others who are curious and concerned about these areas due to the social and political atmosphere in the U.S. at present,” said Mack. 

Alumni Highlights

New Scholarship for JSIS Japan Students

Alumni Christine Kitto (ʼ77) and Richard Kitto (ʼ77) have established the Christine and Richard Kitto Endowed Fund for Japanese Studies. These long-time supporters of the Jackson School Japan Studies Program focus this gift to support JSIS graduate students earning a degree in Japan Studies. “Our abiding interest in Japan and our appreciation of the outstanding education we received from the university are the foundational reasons for this endowment fund. In the 1970s the UW was very welcoming to military veterans at a time when many other academic institutions were not, something we both appreciated for many years. We hope that future students who benefit from the fund will have the engaging experience studying Japan we did.” Consistent supporters since 1995, the Kittos have provided generous support through their gifts for 22 graduate students—and counting—pursuing degrees in Japan Studies.

Fusae Ekida (PhD Japanese Language, ʼ09) accepted a position as assistant professor of Japanese at Middle Tennessee State University.

Cindi Textor (PhD Japanese Language, ʼ16) was appointed assistant professor of world languages and cultures at the University of Utah where she teaches Japanese literature and culture.

Joshua Williams (PhD International Studies, ʼ17) is now employed at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services where he works in data policy. He was awarded the prestigious Presidential Management Fellowship.

Faculty Highlights

Andrea Gevurtz Arai presented on her book The Strange Child at the American Anthropological Association and at the Association for Asian Studies 2017. She will speak about her book and current ethnographic project in the UW Anthropology Colloquium March 2 and at the University of North Carolina March 20, and she will present at AAS in 2018. Her current project, “Experimental Livelihoods, Local Revitalization and Creative Lives in the Japanese Countryside,” includes the making of a documentary film with a Japanese film maker.

Paul S. Atkins published Teika: The Life and Works of a Medieval Japanese Poet (University of Hawai’i Press, 2017). In spring of this year he hosted Professor Reiko Yamanaka of Hōsei University as a visiting scholar to participate in a graduate seminar on drama, taught in Japanese. He gave a talk titled “Koten bunpō no oshiekata” (Teaching classical Japanese grammar) at Japan Women’s University in Tokyo in July.

Justin Jesty edited a double special issue of FIELD: A Journal of Socially-Engaged Art Criticism on contemporary Japanese art titled “Japan’s Social Turn” (field-journal.com). He visited numerous sites of new public art projects in Japan during a six-week research trip in the summer and presented some of his findings as a speaker at the “Seoul is Museum” international conference organized by the Seoul city government. He was awarded a Millard Meiss Publication Grant from the College Art Association to support his first book, Arts of Engagement: Socially Engaged Art and the Democratic Culture of Japan’s Early Postwar (Cornell University Press, 2018).

Amy Snyder Ohta has an article out this autumn about teaching Japanese honorifics, specifically style shifting, in the journal Language and Sociocultural Theory. The essay is entitled “From SCOBA Deveopment to Implementation in Concept-Based Instruction: Conceptualizing and Teaching Japanese Addressee Honorifics as Abstract Expressing Modes of Self.”

Ken Tadashi Oshima, chair of UW Japan Studies, co-curated the New York Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive” (June-October 1, 2017) focusing on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. He also authored “Shinjuku: Messy Urbanism at the Metabolic Crossroads,” Messy Urbanism (Hong Kong University Press, 2016).

Saadia M. Pekkanen published Asian Designs: Governance in the Contemporary World Order (Cornell University Press, 2016). She received a two-year grant from the Center for Global Partnership for a research project entitled “New Frontiers in Space Security: Mapping New Space Strategies for the Japan and the United States.” Her presentation in September on the Japanese space program at Harvard University made front-page news in The Harvard Crimson. She co-chairs the U.S.-Japan Space Forum and is a contributor for Forbes on space-related themes where she profiles Japanese space entrepreneurs and Japanese space policy. She was recently invited by The Economist to present at MIT’s The New Space Age Conference in 2018.

Kenneth B. Pyle’s new book, An Unnatural Intimacy: Japan in the American World Order, will be published by Harvard University Press in 2018. In 2017 he published the third edition of his textbook, The Making of Modern Japan (D. C. Heath).

Student Highlights

Student Workshop

“The Summer 2017 Workshop on Contemporary Japanese Literature and Culture at the University of Washington: Looking Back at the 1980s and 1990s” was hosted by the Department of Asian Languages and Literature through support from the UW Japan Studies Program. Held on August 5 and 6, the two-day workshop welcomed presenters from universities all over the U.S. and Japan and boasted nearly 30 audience members. Presenters included faculty members Keith Vincent (Boston University), Yukiko Shigeto (Whitman College), and Raechel Dumas (San Diego State University) and graduate students Tetsuya Hattori (Keio University), Haruka Fukuo (Nihon University), Mariko Takano (UCLA), Daryl Maude (UC Berkeley), and Chris Lowy, Yuta Kaminishi, and Sarah Clayton from UW. Two UW faculty, Davinder Bhowmik and Andrea Arai, participated as discussants, with additional commentary from Professors Ted Mack, John Whittier Treat, and others.

Presentations included work on tanka poetry by Tatsuhiko Ishii, perhaps the only example of “AIDS literature” written by a gay man in Japan, a new take on Natsume Sōseki* as a literary theorist, art criticism by Kiyoteru Hanada and Ichirō Hariu, science fiction and the “monstrous feminine,” radical 1960s film director Nagisa Oshima’s transformation into a media celebrity, Hiromi Itō’s poem “Kanoko koroshi” (Killing Kanoko) read in the context of debates over women’s reproductive rights in the 1980s, a queer reading of futurity in the work of Okinawan writer Shun Medoruma, language-as-violence in Okinawan writer Tami Sakiyama, and a reading of Norihiro Katō’s 1990s essays “Haisengoron” (On defeat) and “Sengo-goron” (On the post-postwar) on subjectivity, war responsibility, and the meaning of “literature.”

Keith Vincent summarized the success of the event when he said “the talks were really inspiring and thought provoking. It was a weekend that made me feel very good about the state of our field.”

* In this Japanese name, the family name is Natsume. All other names are listed with surname following given name.


Notable Student Awards 


Blakemore Scholarship for Japanese Language: Christopher Kessler

Kitto Scholarship: Ryan Brill

Japan Foundation Doctoral Fellowship: Christopher J. Lowy

Distinguished Teaching Assistant was awarded to graduate student Nathaniel Bond for his skill and dedication in teaching Japanese language classes.


Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship: Mackenzie McMillan

UW Japan Studies scholarships

Ayako Betty Murakami Scholarship: James Darnbrook, Fatuma Muhamed, Sayo Sakamoto

Kristen Kawakami Dean Fellowship in Japan Studies: Muyang Chen

JSIS Japan Studies scholarships: James Darnbrook (declined), Enzo Marino, Mackenzie McMillan (declined), Dylan Plung, Monica Twork

Kasai-Buerge Scholarship: Andrew Thompson

UW Graduate School awards

Top Scholar Award: Daniel White

GO-MAP Graduate Tuition Award: Enzo Marino

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