Two Kinds of Movements

The first refers to the anti-nuclear movement and the second refers to moving pictures (i.e. animation). Today we visited Oguma 先生, a scholar and outspoken activist living in Tokyo. Afterward, we went over to the magical Ghibli Museum thanks to the persistence of our professors in obtaining the hard-to-get tickets.

Professor Oguma. a Japanese historical sociologist, answered our questions extensively and was a lot less intimidating than we expected. When asked about his unusual combination of academic and activist, he replied that he does not really identify as either. Another interesting part of our conversation was that he talked about how Japanese people don’t think there is a relationship between nuclear weapons with nuclear energy. He said a lot of foreigners like to relate events in Hiroshima with events in Fukushima, but they are separate events.

Although I wish I was more of a Ghibli fan than I am (I’ve only seen four Ghibli films), I had a great time at the Ghibli Museum! I love art so much. I think my second career choice would be to work in animation if I had a talent for it. Anyway, it was eye-opening to experience the museum’s portrayals of the creative process and food culture with Selinger先生there. She taught a class that included analysis of Ghibli films, so she had great input! I kind of wished we did an academic reading on Ghibli, but then again who knows if I would have finished it by the time we got the museum. Apparently, there was an optional reading about Spirited Away, but I didn’t see it on BlackBoard?

The museum heavily romanticized the creative process and food. As a someone who romanticizes on the daily, I was grateful to hear Selinger先生’s critique on the museum. The main exhibit was basically a walk-through an artist’s studio. The first part contained all kinds of artist drawings, from loose sketches to fully painted watercolors, all over the walls and on the displayed desk. The text that accompanied talked about how you have to keep on trying and put in a ton of work to get the few gems of usable pieces. There was another part about these little green creatures (怪人ジブリブリ) that gather around stressed artists when deadlines have to be met, and it’s not until the last second that creativity strikes and miraculously the work gets done. (I got a keychain of this cute-because-it’s-ugly character, and the text that went with it read “スタジオに発生するいきものでふだんは婆を見せませんが仕事がはかどらないスタッフの冷汗やあぶら汗をしたってまわりに集まってきます” but I forgot to ask for a translation L help?) It was all very beautiful; desks were messy but not too messy, reference pictures of scenery were laminated in giant photo books, shelves were lined with books from all over the world, and paint containers of pretty much every color were perfectly arranged in rows for us to gawk at. It was very much the creative process viewed through rose-tinted glasses. The museum showed a particular way the creative process happens, implying that it should operate that way. There was also a special food exhibit, which was also super beautiful (I love fake food). The various food scenes in Ghibli films are symbolic. Food is romanticized as the thing that unifies different cultures. Characters are able to explore, through food, what another culture is like in a particular way. What I mean by that last point is that Ghibli ignores certain factors like class and the foods’ political histories (e.g. rice riots) in these cultural exchanges.

My trouble with exCHANGE (pun intended). At the Ghibli museum, I bought a couple things at the gift shop… this was great, except for my freak-out moment of figuring out Japanese coins. I froze up, staring at my open palm full of change. Only panicked thoughts ran through my head, like: What denomination did each coin belong to again? Why didn’t I figure this out when I was in line? The nice cashier must have read the confusion on my face because he reached over the register, sifted through my change, and took the appropriate coins from my hand. I was so relieved and thanked him many times in Japanese.

Studio Ghibli

Hello blog, long time no see. I thought I might as well finish up my blogging days.

Thanks to our professors’ unwavering diligence, we managed to score some elusive tickets to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. Admittedly, I am nowhere close to calling myself a Ghibli fan, since I often more action-filled productions such as Kon Satoshi’s works. However, the museum had a special exhibition on food, which was exactly aligned with my interest. As Professor Selinger would agree, food is one of the most intimate and significant indicators of culture, society, and politics. Most of my Japanese food knowledge (besides through taste buds and stomach acid) is from a book called Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity by Katarzyna Joanna Cwiertka. As promised by the title, the opening pages of the book immediately jump to the colonial/imperial influences on food in Japan (exemplified by Emperor Meiji’s Western birthday party), especially focusing on the increasing preference and power exertions of Western foods and dining habits.

On the contrary, the exhibit at Ghibli (was beautifully illustrated of course) saw food as a magical element of healing and bonding to construct a certain purified view of a national identity that may or may not exist. To Miyazaki, food is the best unifier of cross-cultural differences, since as organisms, we all must eat to sustain ourselves, but he ignores the inequality in food across socioeconomic and political differences. The onigiri, simple and Japanese, that Chihiro eats to not vanish/stay human is very different than the gluttonous “Western” meal that her parents devour. Just as Miyazaki has used the furusato to paint a nostalgia for a past that never existed, the Japanese rice ball is used to ground Chihiro physically through a display of the simplistic, minimalistic Japanese identity (which can be easily debated). The exhibit was beautifully curated with dazzling fake foods, but food is not always shining and glittering. The fruit box in Ghost in the Shell had no signs of damage or war, not even a single scratch. While it basked under its own mini-spotlight, Setsuko’s representation and the children of the war are erased.

I came to the realization this semester that as a self-labeled foodie and person who really wants to look at the “everyday,” there is no better cross-over than looking at food culture. When examining food, it is not about who ate what, but more importantly, why did they eat such things (or why not). Furthermore, who didn’t eat what and why did they not eat are also important questions. For example, the white rice, presently so symbolic of East Asian/Japanese culture, was only available to a very specific group of people. The change in the military diets of the late 19th/early 20th century to strengthen the forces to defeat/imitate Western powers changed the palates of the young men. Combined with increased production amounts, the steaming bowl of white rice then became a national symbol. Fascinating, eh? This is similar to why I study religion. I am very interested in the commonplace rituals that, for many, has lost its original meaning and understood more through “doing” than “thinking.” Similar to food, we eat without giving much thought to where our food comes from (I am talking about the origin-origin, corn in North America, etc) and how they got to the table. Always remember, pepper > gold, and countries would bring out extreme forms of power for that speck of spices.

Tell the Historical Sociologist

Today we had the honor of visiting Oguma Eiji, the historical sociologist, Keio University professor, guitarist, and documentary filmmaker who directed “Tell the Prime Minister”–at his house, no less. To be honest, I was really nervous beforehand. Was my reading and preparation adequate? Did I watch his documentary in enough detail? Would I ask good enough questions?

In the end, I wound up just listening and observing. It was very interesting hearing how Oguma Eiji got to where he is today. Apparently, he studied physics and agricultural biology as an undergrad, did his master’s thesis in sociology, and his doctor’s in foreign policy. Oguma Eiji was interested in how invisible desire or collective consciousness is present in anthropology, and also how that plays into the Japanese identity. I was also intrigued by how he didn’t really self-identify much as an activist or writer. I was also very impressed with how fluent his English was.

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Later, we went to the Ghibli Museum. As an avid fan of anime (insert shameless plug for Bowdoin Animation Society) who’s interested in the environment, this was a really fascinating visit, since many of Miyazaki’s films deal with the environment and technology (looking at you, Princess MononokeNausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, etc.). As a bit of a sketch artist myself, it was wonderful to see the early concept art and sketches for various films I had seen, such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited AwayGrave of the Fire FliesHowl’s Moving Castle, and others. One particularly interesting exhibit was the exhibit on food in Ghibli movies; afterwards, we had an engaging discussion pn food culture with Selinger-sensei sitting outside the museum gift shop (yes, I caved and purchased Spirited Away playing cards). It really took me back to first year fall, when I took Selinger-sensei’s Japanese Animation freshman seminar. As a slightly relevant aside and another shameless plug, if you (as the reader) are interested at all in any Ghibli films, or anime films in general, Bowdoin has a number of films on reserve in the Library Media Commons (in the basement of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library). I’m still working on compiling them all, but a partial list can be found here (yes, yet again a shameless plug):

http://students.bowdoin.edu/bowdoin-animation-society/