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Brian Bergstrom

October 30, 2011

Brian Bergstrom’s interests and accomplishments are varied and many, and so it is with great pleasure that we at east306, spoke with him on topics that move him and are most relevant to Japan and the world. He is a doctoral candidate with the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Currently, he is a sessional instructor at McGill and a visiting researcher at the Centre for Asian Studies. But his academic presence extends further than McGill and University of Chicago. Brian has taught at universities in Canada, the United States, and Japan, and has published scholarly articles as well as translations.

Some articles of particular relevance for the following interviews include, “Revolutionary Flesh” in the journal positions, which can be found here, as well as an article in Mechademia entitled “Girliness Next to Godliness: Lolita Fandom as Sacred Criminality in the Novels of Takemoto Novala,” which can be found here.

In addition to his current research, he plans to release an upcoming book of translations of short stories by Tomoyuki Hoshino in 2012.

In the first interview, we discuss the phenomena of otaku and hikikomori and the problem of criminalized youth in Japan, as well as the commodification of “national cool” and the marketability of perceived Japaneseness. This commodification of “national cool” can be seen exemplified in a Reuters article published in September of 2008 entitled “Japan’s next PM Aso a ‘cool old dude,'” which can be read here.  According to the article, as Prime Minister, Aso has been credited with pushing a “manga diplomacy”, which includes the creation of a new, “international prize for manga artists in an effort to use soft power to further Japan’s diplomatic reach.

This concept of marketable Japaneseness is expanded upon in another article,“Japan officials promote hip home,” published in May of 2009. Following Prime Minister Aso’s declaration of the robot cat ‘Doraemon’ to be the nation’s first “Anime Ambassador,”  Takehiko Yamamoto, a professor of international politics at Waseda University, expressed his support for manga diplomacy. He later went on to say, “Japan has been too quiet… and hardly made itself felt”, stating that the use of anime and manga was “one of the few ways in which Japan can exert influence on other countries.”

 For those readers who may not feel comfortable with the terminology regarding otaku and otaku “movement” present in the interview, be sure to check out  McGill Professor Thomas Lamarre’s articles on Otakuology and the Otaku Movement that can be found here.

The first interview is avaliable for download here. To stream the interview, simply click the arrow below and listen away!“

Those interested in delving deeper into marketing of Japaneseness under Prime Minister Aso can read “Akihabara: Conditioning a Public Otaku Image,” which tells of the transformation of Akihabara into a tourist attraction under the Aso administration. Bringing attention to the economic, social, and political conditioning of the otaku image and what is now called the “Akihabara boom” and “Otaku boom.”

The interview brings up many compelling points, including the production of “bad youth” and the creation of a paternalistic government, one that changes youth from an autonomous body to a group of potential delinquents, uneducated and irresponsible. Society was seen as a vehicle that could change the direction of youth and therefore reorient the nation in the direction of enlightenment. Education was also seen as an assurance of development, and social policies formed around “helping” those orphans, at-risk youth, and poor children from the perceived failures of their parents. While these social policies could be considered more compassionate towards the fate of youth than the previous system, there is a blatant disregard for understanding and combatting the systems that created these “uneducated” families in the first place. Larger structural problems were not critiqued and this led to a systematic marginalization and repression of youth autonomy. This is not particular to Japan alone and it is important to recognize in all systems, ranging from the size of a country to one as small as a university campus. This is just one of the topics touched upon in the interview. I highly recommend a good listen to get even deeper into the issues involved.

In light of the crisis in Japan and inspired by the mobilization efforts taking place around the world and at McGill University, a second interview was conducted to ask Brian about the state of Japanese Studies since the disaster, the relevance of the Teach-Ins and translation projects initiated by Adrienne Hurley, and the concepts of disaster capitalism, from Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, and disaster communities (or disaster utopia), from Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell as they apply to this crisis.

Brian is pictured below, demonstrating his passion for fantastic mugs, in addition to Japanese Studies.

The second interview is available for download by clicking  here. To stream audio, simply click on the arrow below.“

In this interview, Brian urges listeners to seek alternative sources to learn about how the crisis in Japan is affecting the Japanese people on the ground. Nowadays the word “Japan” is synonymous with disaster, but this connection obscures the different responses and experiences that are present within Japan.

He emphasizes the misuse of culture-based explanations for Japaense reactions to and resistance against nuclear energy. He mentions the homogenizing quality of media accounts, accounts that frame the Japanese locals as naive and unaware of the perils of nuclear energy. In fact, there had been a consistent voice of opposition within Japan towards the use of nuclear energy, a voice that the government chose to ignore.

If you are a new reader to east306, peruse the blog and learn about the many passionate resistance movements that don’t get enough attention in the daily media.

Project east306 would like to thank Brian Bergstrom for providing such stimulating and insightful material and Olivier Marin for conducting the two interviews.

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