Circulating infatuation: Japanese visuality, technology and sexuality in the Western imagery and imagination

3/2010

Katja Valaskivi

The article contextualizes the so called Cool Japan phenomenon and its’ features in Finland through three themes: visuality, technology and sexuality. Taking a historical approach, the article describes in what ways in the West in general and in Finland in particular Japanese culture has been used as the Other, as “different”: a mirror, through which perceptions of desirable and undesirable societal and cultural features have been discussed in the West. The article uses the concept of circulation as a tool for analyzing how visuality, technology and sexuality in relation to Japan have been represented in various (audio)visual materials since the opening up of Japan in late 19th century.

It is not the first time for Japan to be trendy in the West. In the current Cool Japan phenomenon there are many features of earlier periods of infatuation with Japan, starting with the Japonisme of late 19th century. Meanings, images and collective imaginaries circulate from culture to other and societal sphere to another through (audio)visual representations. Mental images of other cultures are building material of imagined (national) communities (Anderson 1983). (Mental) images on Japan have in different times served different national, political and economical purposes. Perception of Japan has been utilized for local purposes not only in Finland but generally in Europe and United States. Japan has provided a possibility to reflect utopian and dystopian imaginaries depending on the atmosphere, political situation and trade balance.

The article discusses how the otherness of Japan has been represented through visuality, technology and sexuality, and how the “difference” of Japan has been a part and parcel in the birth and sustaining of the infatuation both from the late 19th century Japonisme to the present Japanese popular culture craze as well as in dystopian perceptions during the Second World War and 1980s Japan bashing.