The Construction of Identity through the Deconstruction of a Single Line Representation
Understanding the Construction of Identity through the Deconstruction of a Single Line Representation came as a developing process in the last stages of the program. The key pieces were the Prof. Villega’s encouragement in diving into the heart of my personal agenda in constructing my own Japanese identity, and the serendipitous insightful visit at the philosopher and scholar D.T. Suzuki’s contemplative museum in Kanazawa.
Through Anderson’s Imagined Community, we discussed how nationalism is a constructive concept when communities get together in a constructed notion of common ground that binds groups of strangers. In that sense, the irrationality of a constructed narrative, that ultimately can define our identities, both in personal, community or national level really stood out. As I try to make connections with both Japan and United States single narratives in the national level, and try to understand why it benefits, the power dynamics and who is left out. It became clear over time, that a single line narrative, as a common threat of a group identity overlapped with the notion of exclusion, irrationality, and arbitrariness.
At the same time, my personal agenda in constructing my own Japanese identity led me to inquire more deeply when reflecting on the lectures, readings, site visits in contextualizing each event focusing on finding the main narrative represented or advocated, and identifying its place in a broader narrative. Particularly, which ways this narrative left marginalized perspectives when it was constructed? And to what extent the consequences of this narrative were felt and if so, how the marginalized narratives are either being suppressed or advocated? Is healing and strengthening of voices occurring and in which ways?
Those were underlying questions that I had as I tackled the complex puzzle of the construction of my personal identity by contrasting with the construction of national identities. Which values are being imposed, and which I ascribe to. Following, I have narrated some of these experiences in detail, and how it relates to the readings and other visited sites, and in its totality, have deeply broaden my understanding and led me to inquire on how both individually and historically as a nation, single line narratives were constructed, and the detrimental consequences of the marginalized voices, and how then if to deconstruct and single line representation, how can we perhaps construct a narrative based on confronting two contradictory representations as a way of understanding the multidimensionality of as a way of broadening a perspective, and I am particularly interested in the consequences of decisions made if applying this thought process. And what will we lose if we are to abandon a single line representation?
Imagined communities, Ono and Ono, Sugimoto, Murphy-Shigematsu and Mixed Race Identities.
In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson informed us about the concept of the construction of an identity, that have been at times so ingrained in the imaginary of a nation, as a formed and concrete fact versus an imagined set of common values binding strangers to each other through the advent of mass production and spread of information. With the campaign and continuation of policies advocated by our current president, and relies on rhetoric deeply in this sentiment that appeals to large groups in our society and was utilize and still does have a great effect in the US. Values perceived as true American, that nonetheless has been deeply ingrained and legitimized through 350 years of history, since the arrival of Europeans in this land, based on a single line narrative of whiteness and Christianess. A narrative that in consequence, overtly discriminates against all other representations in our society that does not fit into these two main categories. And the firmness of this narrative today has deeply divided the country and still does, as it exposes these values that once were thought to be extinguished. Arguably and understandably these values have lingered, as it was once deeply rooted, and not processed. It is a narrative that was suddenly marginalized in from the mainstream, and the community members who prescribed from these values, and in that sense, we can see that simply marginalizing a voice, without the process understanding, in whichever logical or political part of the spectrum, react in a similar way. The voice lingers and anger arises from the marginalization status. Furthermore, we can see this formed single line representation placed and the level of understanding it brings, and the consequential problems.
From the Japanese societal aspect, through Sugimoto and Ono&Ono readings, we have learned the ideology of the single line representation of Nihonjiron and the ethnic and racial diversity in Japan that is omitted in the mainstream narrative. From post-WWII, and the advocacy of a monoracial ideology theory, and its implications to this day, this value deeply relates to the understanding of Japanese identity, strongly tied to its consciousness and applied policies, particularly immigration policies. We have learned that officially, the statistics are 98% of the population is racially Japanese and how this statistic might hide the diversity of the population, mostly due to segregation and oppression that other groups face. Ono&Ono identified these main groups: The Ainu (native group), Burakumin (“lower cast”), the Korean and Chinese (community forced by during the colonial phase between wars), Nikkeijin (descendants of Japanese migrants, particularly from South America, that have returned to Japan), and mixed-race identities. The relevancy is that these groups for the most part were and still are coerced to fully assimilate and lose their identity, or being constantly reminded of the shameful lower foreigner status and stigma it carries. That opposing to the higher status given specifically to white European or American individuals. In that social cohesiveness, after generations, one might feel that after being born and growing up here, to identify themselves as Japanese, in its identity, cultural references, language and values, being referred to and considered as others, in contrasting with the purity of the Japanese narrative, but by possibly assuming its Japanese identity in the census, turned out to be reflecting a different status.
Through Murphy-Shigematsu’s readings and the documentary on mixed-race identities in Japan, we have learned the ambivalent status that a mixed race individual face in the Japanese society. It is worth to mention that contrasting with the US, mixed-race couples were considered illegal until late 60’s when it was finally abolished in the iconic case of Loving & Loving. The taboo of mixed-race identities is deeply rooted, and have historically been marginalized in both societies. However, it was curious to observe and acknowledge that at the same time, today, there is a mixed-race fascination in Japan, represented in many advertising as an ideal type of beauty. There are many layers to this phenomenon, but in comparison to the framework of marginalized groups in the Japanese society discussed, it is a group that nonetheless is stigmatized and the individuals are categorized in its otherness as a consequence of the single line mono-racial ideology.
Yasukuni Shrine, Military Museum, Hiroshima Ground Zero and Peace Memorial Museum contrasting with Art and Healing through cultural manifestations
Through Dr. Fulco’s ongoing research in the area afflicted by the earthquake and tsunami, we’ve learned first-hand her experience on how the community in the Tohoku region is healing after the traumatic and devastating events. Particularly her focus on Kataribe. Described as the oral tradition of passing down a folktale, myth, historical facts, dialects, proverbs or precepts; or in a deeper meaning, the passing of a feeling from one to another person. According to a CNN report recently updated, the summary of the aftermath of the combo 9.11 earthquake and 30-foot wave Tsunami resulted in over 22,000 confirmed dead and missing, and about 185,000 were evacuated due to the instability of the Fukushima Daini and Daiichi Power plants. It was a massive catastrophic event of destruction and displacement. Tohoku was the epicenter and the community most affected. Dr. Fulco’s shared experience highlighted on how healing process has been a mixed experience. From the government interests and perspective, the yet to see if the planned massive protective walls along the coast, that seem to have a very negative impact in the environment, fishing economy, public accessibility, would have any real positive impact; to the reference on Hiroshima and the healing on the community level, and how new narratives are being developed and constructed.
Upon reading James Orr’s perspective on Japanese ideologies of peace and national identity post-war, we were informed by the different national perspectives played in the consciousness of Japanese society. Earlier in that week, we visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine and Military Museum and were presented and informed of a narrative that leaned towards justifying the military role of Japan in WWII. Although most of the exhibit had a traditional detached perspective narrating the consecutive historical events, its site has enshrined class A war criminals and ignoring the role as colonial aggressors by sitting on the mea-culpa position. It is a line of narrative legitimized by a large group in the Japanese society, including politicians who make a point of visiting the site as a political statement and fundraising today. The narrative of Japan’s colonialization as a liberator role in Asia is still believed in certain groups, and Yasukuni Shrine became an emblem of this narrative. But this point of view has not played well with the affected countries, particular issues on the comforting woman and other atrocities committed by the Japanese military during the occupation in Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria specifically.
Contrasting to that narrative, during my visit to Mori Art Museum, I have experienced a powerful exhibit on bringing the voices of Southeast Asian communities today. The exhibit is a culmination of a two-year collaboration between two major arts organizations in Japan and organizations in the 12 countries represented. It resulted in a beautiful exhibit of raw and powerful conceptual representations of the contemporary marginalized population within these countries. In a larger scale, we could see the conflicted role play of power and oppression, and its ramification in the community level and the majority of ordinary lives affected. Either in reference to the mass genocide of Cambodia in the 70s and their path of healing and reconstructing a national narrative, to a depiction of a shared single room family living in its minimal realistic details. The resourcefulness on maximizing living limitations, drawing to understand what really matters to the members of the community, and to us, as humans in a survival level. It also invited us to think about the crucial role of cultural manifestations, particularly the role of art in processing and creating and recreating a narrative, educating and healing.
Going back to Japan’s national narratives, our visit to Hiroshima was unique. We all had some level of deep-rooted connections and associations as it is a well-known tragic historical event and intrinsically connected with US history. Visiting the ground zero site Hiroshima and the extensive exhibit at the Peace Museum was powerful. The correlation between Hiroshima nuclear bombing, as well as Nagasaki, gave voice to a mainstream humanitarian and to some extent, victimization narrative. I have not seen throughout the museum extensive exhibit any direct reference of blame to the US, or being a victim of war, but rather a factual account of Japan’s participation in the war and the other countries participation in the war. There was a great emphasis on community healing: the accounts of a personal narrative of people who have lived through the bombing and how their lives and those surrounding have immediately changed. Of those who were impacted by the radiation, who have lived through or later perished, particularly 9-year-old girl Sadako Sasaki. The popular legend is that anyone who folds 1000 cranes, is granted a wish, and during the short period when Sadako, a survivor who was 2-years-old at the time of the bombing, suddenly fell ill due to the radiation, and inspired by the legend, folded 664 cranes until she was too weak to fold, and soon passed away. It became the symbol of the humanitarian main message displayed: that nuclear bombing to never happen again. Many accounts of civil rights activism, including the education on the consequences of radiation over the population, were told to emphasize the message. A diorama displayed the folded paper cranes and a handwritten message of peace written by then-president Obama. It has been the main national narrative in reference to Japan’s stance war and nuclear power, until recently, as Prof. Govella presented in the current international political influences, to be a more active player in the international relations in the unstable Asian dynamic, particularly with China and North Korea, as well as the current US government position and the forced role of Japan in the current conflict between the US and North Korea.
My own Japanese construction and bias: From my Brazilian-Japanese roots, Nikkei upbringing and my fourth time in Japan – from blue-collar experience to Kanazawa: D.T. Suzuki and Zen Buddhism, Traditional Arts and Crafts, Ofuro and bathing in community. Journey to self-discovery, construction of a personal lens and the concept of intellectual construction – beyond assigned boxes and contrasting assigned and ascribed identities.
I was born and grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in the thick of the largest Japanese community outside of Japan. We are a community of roughly 1.5 million individuals, in a 200 million country population, making us a minority of less than 1 percent of the Brazilian population, and yet, if you are in Sao Paulo area, one would get the impression that Brazil has a large percentage of Japanese descendants. As informed by Ono&Ono, since Japan’s economic boom of 1980’s, and the need of blue-collar labor to cater the booming industry, paired with Brazil’s deep recession and political unrest, as we have just come out of 40 years of dictatorship in the mid 80s, in addition to occasional governmental incentives, have created the background environment for a massive migration wave and roughly 275,000 Brazilian Nikkeijins are currently living in Japan, in a temporary or permanent capacity. The nuance of the Brazilian Japanese community in Japan situation is purely derived from the racial construction reinforced by the mentioned Nihonjiron ideology. Unlike other migrant groups who have remained deeply marginalized and in illegal status, such as Pakistani and Bangladesh, who came at the same time to fulfill the same types of jobs, and the long-standing communities of Korean and Chinese; the Nikkeijin community were granted special visas and a legal status of living and working, a privilege purely based on the logic that by having Japanese ancestry we could adapt, assimilate and integrate better into the Japanese society. Which to the surprise of many who assumed that, it turned out we are culturally different, and as a standard to marginalized communities, we have been given stereotypes of loud and uneducated, and unable to fully integrate – meaningfully assimilate to Japanese standards, to the point of invited to move back to Brazil (2009). Which is a very symbolic event in where the Japanese society is on opening to a needed diversification due to the doomed aging of the society and low birth rate.
The construction of my perceived identity in my formation years, being Japanese was, by and large, the majority part of my identity. As part of a racial minority group in the Brazilian society, I was always referred to as the Japanese girl, and as all my Brazilian Japanese fellows, we were strongly defined by the Brazilian society by our Japanese otherness. As well as my Nikkeijin status was strongly reinforced within by my family, via instilled values based on Japanese ancestry and culture, community participation, such as Japanese school after regular school, that many of us endured in our childhood, as well as community events. In our family’s experience, my father’s participation in the Fukuoka Kenjinkai, an organization sponsored by the Fukuoka government, based on the province of ancestry, was a strong point of reference in our upbringing. There was a reference to his experience as a grad student sponsored by the Fukuoka government at Kyushu University, as well as other family members who also participated later, and how it affected our perception of Japanese roots, pride, and cultural values. Those were experiences that he was very grateful, and we have and still certainly are collecting the fruits of this experience. Recently, I have taken a role in actively participating on the board of the local Seattle-Tacoma Fukuoka Kenjinkai, and also being part of the local Japanese American community.
With that life experience, I have embarked in this program to understand more in depth what my strong sense of Japaneseness, as a Nikkeijin, contrasted with my status and value within the Japanese society. In line with unrealistic assumptions from the Japanese society, many Nikkeijin community members, as well as myself in the past, have assumed that our status and cultural similarities would have been very close, and shocked to realize that we have culturally grown apart much further than imagined. The expectations curiously lie also in the fact that Japanese society has also drastically changed since my grandparent’s generation. The values and understanding of the Japanese culture of a rural Japan in the 1920’s, or a student brief passage in Japan in the late 60s, are very different than Japan in 2000s. But we are naturally very close to our Brazilian, Latin American or American birth culture, and force that assimilation connection is still an ongoing debate on assimilation as a higher status identifier, or understand our uniqueness of self-appreciation and value.
During our 3-day free time, Tobi and I spent two days in the ancient city of Kanazawa, the second largest spared during WWII. Reflecting today, my interest in the city can only be described as serendipitous. This is the fourth time I have been in Japan, and the first to explore this part of the country. Other than being referred to as the little Kyoto, and an old city, I had no special awareness of this place. From the beginning, the exquisite quiet elegance of Kanazawa, from the train station, left me feeling I have found a Japan that I had been looking for. The constructed ideal notion of Japan that I deeply connect with, is the sense of traditional Japanese culture in fine art forms, particularly ceramic and patterns, architecture, Zen Philosophy and bathing – Ofuro. As derived from the Buddhist philosophy, to bring the mundane to a sacred status, cleansing has been also made to an art form. When I get to experience these cultural aspects, as it has beautifully combined and lived in this medium-sized city, I felt for a moment seductively intertwined in this narrative, and tempted to forget all other aspects of what I know of Japan, and embrace this feeling as a totality of what is and what I want it to be as the same thing.
In the presentation, I made a reference to the Sendai’s text and D. T. Suzuki’s scroll displayed at the museum and reflective space. This passage was an attempt in making sense of the concept of the construction of a narrative, by trying to pinpoint the beginning of this thought process by connecting Zen Buddhism philosophy and the construction of the Universe. By acknowledging and transporting the multidimensionality as a fundamental part of the process, and contrasting with the limitations of the linearity of a single line representation and its implications.
If I were to hold on to single linear representations on a personal level and ascribe to them, I would have limited my self-understanding in a place value, amongst other complex values, of a lower-class migrant, lower class immigrant status that in both Japan or the US place in my immigration status. Or racially as a lower status, nonwhite in the US, or Nikkeijin in Japan. Those are boxes outside of myself and that does influence my sense of self and integration, however, by acknowledging the single linearity of these narratives, and the representation and dynamics it derives from, I was able, in an ongoing capacity, to construct a more contextualized place for these narratives, and develop a multilayered understanding, that resulted in an increased awareness and constructive engagement. And conversely, I believe that this thought process can be transplanted from the individual to a community and national level.
Kataribe. Website. Accessed 23 September 2017.http://www.kataribe.cc/eng/kataribe.html
2011 Japan Earthquake-Tsunami fast facts. CNN. Website. 5 March 2017. Accessed 23 September 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/17/world/asia/japan-earthquake—tsunami-fast-facts/index.html
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities (1983) [excerpt].
Sugimoto, Yoshio, Introduction to Japanese Society. Cambridge University Press, 2014. 4th Edition.
Green, David. “As Its Population Ages, Japan Quietly Turns to Immigration,” Migration Information Source (March 28, 2017).
Shibuichi, Daiki. “The Yasukuni Shrine Dispute and the Politics of Identity in Japan: Why All the Fuss?” Asian Survey (2005)
Ono, Hiroshi and Ono, Hiromi. “Race and Ethnic Relations in Contemporary Japan,” The International Handbook of the Demography of Race and Ethnicity (2015),
Hafu, the film. Dir. Nishikura, Megumi and Perez-Takagi, Lara. Documentary. 2011. Accessed September 2017. http://hafufilm.com/en/
Visited sites mentioned
Yasukuni Shrine and Military Museum, Tokyo http://www.yasukuni.or.jp
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Hiroshima http://hpmmuseum.jp/?lang=eng
Mori Art Museum, Tokyo http://www.mori.art.museum/en/
D.T. Suzuki Museum, Kanazawa http://www.kanazawa-museum.jp/daisetz/english/