Semiotics of Pop-culture — Focusing on the analysis and effects of the Japan Pop
Chair: Hisashi MUROI
Focusing on some latest developments in Japanese pop culture, this round table attempts to look for new approaches in the study of contemporary pop culture. After postmodern transformation of culture, we have witnessed the borders which used to divide between high and low, elite and popular, or indigenous and imported elements in our culture. We will also pay attention to the formation of new cultural groups according to any one of diversified cultures, as well as to changing attitude of the state or society to deal with pop culture. Today, especially in Japanese intellectual context, pop culture is not just a "subject" of academic study, but a so deeply penetrating environment that we cannot take a safe objective distance from it. In a way, talking about pop culture means talking about ourselves.
Hiroshi Yoshioka will be discussing the complicated relations between Manga (Japanese comics) and fine arts, in the context of education, museums, and public competitions. He has chaired ICOMAG (the International Conference of Manga, Anime, Games and Media Arts) organized by the Agency of Culture, the conference in close relation to Japan Media Arts Festival.
Morihito Satow has worked on history of photography and photographic representation of the world. He will show one of the most peculiar and popular phenomena in the age of digital photography called "Purikura," a widespread practice among young generations to take portraits with a ‘Print Club’ photo-sticker machine and exchange them. Based on this case, he will discuss on the issues of indexicallity of photography in the age of digital media.
Hiroshi Yoshida is an aesthetician specialising in the history and theory of sensation, perception, and cognition. His work has recently become oriented in the theoretical and aesthetic studies of video game.
Hisashi Muroi will be giving a theoretical review about the possibility of a new semiotic approach to pop culture in general.
“Preface: a theoretical overview on pop culture”
Hisashi Muroi is a member of IASS/AIS executing committee and the former president of Japanese Association of Semiotic Studies (2001-2007) and he will be giving a theoretical review about the possibility of a new semiotic approach to pop culture in Japan and in general.
2. Miki OKUBO,
"Development of Japanese-pop infantilism abroad - Observation of contemporary fashion and specialized makeup".
I will analyze Japanese contemporary fashion and makeup observed among today’s youth, on both girls and boys. Japanese-pop fashion characterized as "Kawaii" (“very cute” in Japanese) embraces an infantilism, or babyishness. Its influence has taken a profound hold in some European countries. I will present a theory of universal characteristics in Japanese contemporary fashion.
I am especially interested in the remarkable crossing over of bizarre Japanese pop culture into western populations who don’t share any cultural background. Foreigners who take special interest in this original culture have brought attention to it in their own countries, where it takes hold progressively and develops in different manners in different places. European countries have a completely different geological context in comparison to Japan. Japan is an isolated island while European countries are loosely connected to one other. This geological difference affects cultural issues. The surpassing of cultural frontiers and international acceptance of the specialized universe of Japanese pop means the potential to become something universal and ubiquitous.
Several years ago, in my class, I introduced emoticons (Kaomoji, in Japanese, ex.o(^-^)o ) along with a sociological analysis of the effect of frequent emoticon usage. I suggested that these typographic representations of human facial expressions meant to imitate real human expression and portray emotion could, in turn, affect human gesture and behavior. To my surprise, at that time, European people found my suggestion ridiculous, declaring these effects relevant only to Japanese people, not to Westerners. However, today, I can point out clear influences from Japanese animations and mangas on various behaviors including gesture, facial expression and onomatopoeia. Emoticons have become very familiar and young people are influenced by their appearance
In general, socio-cultural studies focusing on Kawaii culture and the infertility of Japanese contemporary fashion deal with extreme style such as Lolita or Gothique Lolita. Then there are studies of radical or eccentric cultures such as Cosplay. In my opinion, Japanese pop culture is something like “air” surrounding us daily and its penetration into foreign cultures is absolutely significant. In my report, I attempt to theorize a study of traversing cultural borders, focusing not only on extreme style but also a fashion loosely accepted and appreciated by ordinary people.
3. Morihiro SATOW (Professor at Kyoto Seika University )
“Self in Purikura: Photography and Japanese Popular Culture”
First sold in 1995, purikura (abbreviation of “Print Club”), or photo sticker booth has been popular among Japanese youth culture, especially in the female youth subculture. Shooting self-portraits with friends, digitally manipulating them, inscribing texts, images and signs, and exchanging them with their friends, this machine and the photo-stickers has been an important communication tool besides mobile phones and SNS. Although purikura is heavily dependent upon today’s digital technology, it shows significant materiality as an object-image; you can paste it on your notebook or cell-phone.
In this presentation, I will investigate the mode of communication and the materiality of images in the age of digital reproduction referring its predecessor, such as photo booth and instant camera.
4. Hiroshi Yoshioka will be discussing the complicated relations between Manga (Japanese comics) and fine arts, in the context of education, museums, and public competitions. He has chaired ICOMAG (the International Conference of Manga, Anime, Games and Media Arts) organized by the Agency of Culture, the conference in close relation to Japan Media Arts Festival.
“ Cultural Politics of Sexual Fantasy: A Study on "Boy's Love" Fictions”
The first question we should ask in regard to "popular culture" is about the very meaning of being “popular." What do we actually mean by calling something "popular,” today? Perhaps the simplest sign of popularity will be understood by the fact that something sells. Regarding today’s society so deeply controlled by media and industry, however, the mere number of the sales does not simply tell that a certain cultural product is actually loved and shared by a large number of people, i.e. the product is “popular" in the true sense of the word.
What is popular culture, then? The question can perhaps be asked in another formulation: does there still exist “populus,” or people sustaining their own culture, which in some way separates itself from, or confronts with, "high culture" (whose survival in the present world should also be put into question). The meaning of popular culture, in its essential sense, depends on that of high culture.
A recently developed genre in Japanese manga and novels called “Boy’s Love” (I will shorten it into “BL”) raise some fundamental questions of popular culture. “BL” or “Yaoi" refers to a group of fictions in which romantic and sexual love stories between "male" characters are told and illustrated in various situations. I have to call your attention to the two crucial facts, to understand correctly works in this particular genre. 1) they have nothing to do with real homosexuality, and 2) they are created mostly be female writers, edited mostly by female editors, and enjoyed mostly by female readers, although the stories focus on love between males.
Here, is BL “popular"? More than twenty BL magazines, as well as a large number of new books, are constantly published in Japan. The size of the total market related to BL is about two hundred million dollars (more than a quarter of that of total American comics.) While it occupies a considerable part in the world of manga and novels, BL is supported by a distinct group of people, and it forms a distinct culture. The community of BL appears to be closed. This makes it hard to know what happens inside the community, for those who are not BL fans, like myself.
From my point of view, however, BL reveals important and universal questions about the basic structure of sexual fantasy in the modern society, which has long been dominated by masculine imagination. I attempt to formulate a style of cultural politics based on a study of BL fictions.
5. Mika Maruyama has worked on the politics of the body in the field of contemporary art. She will discuss the phenomenon of Art as popular culture and the presence of body with historical adoption of Art in Japan.
“Art as Popular Culture in Japan".
6. Hiroshi Yoshida is an aesthetician specializing in the history and theory of sensation, perception, and cognition. His work has recently become oriented in the theoretical and aesthetic studies of video game.
"Early Decades of Video Game Culture in Japan."
7. Hristina AMBAREVA,
“Translating Japanese Animation to the Language of the Western Culture”
Hristina Ambareva, PhD, Institute for the Study of Society and Knowledge, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (firstname.lastname@example.org) will present several examples of the influence of the Japanese animation on Western movies. It will discuss the differences between the Japanese and Western style representation. The analyses of the concept of “kawaii” and bishounen/moe style images will point to the semantic difficulties in their cultural translation.
8. Simona Stano
Simona Stano (www.simonastano.it / email@example.com) recently gained a Ph.D. in Sciences of Language and Communication from the University of Turin (Italy) and a Ph.D. in Sciences of Communication at the “Università della Svizzera Italiana” (Switzerland), receiving the highest grade (Summa cum Laude). During her doctoral studies, she was a visiting scholar at the University of Toronto (Canada), where she also obtained a Research Fellowship. She also holds a M.A. in Communication Studies (University of Turin), a B.A. in Communication Studies (University of Turin, Italy, and “Universitat de Valencia”, Spain), and a postgraduate degree in Intercultural Studies (“Universitat Autònoma of Barcelona”, Spain). She deals mainly with Semiotics of Food and Semiotics of Culture and has several articles on these topics, many of which presented as papers at national and international conferences. She has also published several articles and chapters of books on communication, mass media, and visual and urban studies.
“Between Tradition and Translation: Japanese Sushi and its Ethnic Variations”
According to the Western imaginary, sushi is undoubtedly the most representative element of Japanese cuisine. Often overlooking other elements typical of washoku — “the traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan 2012) —, many Japanese restaurants abroad offer menus basically centred on this food, which, although certainly being emblematic of the Japanese foodsphere, is not its only constituent, and — which is even more important — is frequently subjected to re-semantisation processes that “translate” it according to the features od the foodsphere where it is consumed. At first, we will focus on a preliminary analysis of sushi, embracing both the material and the semantic level and trying to relate its structural configuration and main characteristics to the particular aesthetics and principles underlying the Japanese semiosphere. Secondly, building on the analysis of relevant mass media communications and the observation of specific case studies, we will present some emblematic examples of “fusion-sushi”, pointing out the main dynamics related to the transposition of one of the most representative element of washoku to external realities — that is, its “ethnic” or “Western” variations.
Keywords: sushi, fusion, tradition, translation, ethnic, semiotics.