reading through that jez costume thread
why do so many people have such huge boners for “japanese culture”
there are several people commenting who are like “i’m white but i was literally born during a japanese tea ceremony and i have dedicated my life to studying geisha and i live in japan now and japan japan japan japan japan ANTHROPOLOGY”
and i just… why? i can’t think of any other culture with such rabid fans.
It wasn’t always thus. There was the virulent racism against Japanese and other Asians in the 19th and early 20th centuries that led to the Exclusion Acts and Gentleman’s Agreements, as well as the eventual detention of Japanese Americans during WWII. There was a revival of racist anti-Japanese sentiment in this country when Japan was an economic rival/threat in the ’80s and ’90s—similar to what we’re now experiencing with China. But that was slightly tempered by the fact that Americans helped shape modern Japan (after nearly destroying it, that is). So my harebrained theory is that the American rebuilding of Japan after WWII is why Whites in this country have a weirdly possessive feeling about it.
I have a more sinister hare-brained theory that, to White people, the Japanese are the Whites of Asia: ‘civilized’, ‘rational’, and ‘advanced’. Plus, the Japanese violently colonized other nations and justified their violence with ideas about racial purity.
DL, I don’t think your theory is hare-brained at all, although it’s definitely sinister. The Jezfail, and past weeks of racefailing all over Halloween costumes, made me think a bit about why modern American society fetishizes Japanese culture the way it does. (Or what it perceives as Japanese culture, which is probably substantially different than what “Japanese culture” actually is.) And the answer I came up with was pretty much your second paragraph, with a healthy dose of social conservatism tossed in.
It seems like the three most popular “ethnic” costumes in the US are blackface, geisha/samurai, or Native American. The last plays into myths of the noble savage and the “freedom” of the American West (while ignoring centuries of genocide and oppression), the first into stereotypes of minstrelsy and black comedy (I don’t think I’ve seen anyone go as WEB DuBois, not that that wouldn’t still be horrific and revolting), while the second is… what you said. Not only is Japanese culture viewed as civilized and rational, but it’s* structured with a complex hierarchy and rules of conduct that seem to appeal very strongly to certain American sensibilities regarding class that are rarely expressed openly. The fascination with samurai and geisha, in particular, reminds me of American nostalgia for older forms of British aristocracy that embody our preoccupation with preserving class stasis—witness the fascination with Austen and the Brontes (I think someone remarked that, when people fantasize about living back in the early 1800s, it’s always about the landed gentry, not the lower classes). The notion that Japanese culture is tightly ordered and more or less static, with everyone in their proper places and governed by hard-and-fast rules, is immensely appealing, moreso because the people who do fetishize that view of Japanese culture will always imagine themselves among the elite, whose positions are more or less guaranteed to be secure.
So, TL;DR, blackface and the fake war bonnet move between lowbrow and primitivism; the geisha and samurai are convenient and exotic calques for a lot of what lies underneath American pretensions to equality.
* - these are not meant to be declarative statements, but rather to indicate how certain individuals perceive how a culture operates. Which are very different propositions.
The Japanese are colonizers, so it’s almost natural for white imperialists to identify with them. You know, if they were gonna pick one.There’s quite a bit of discourse on this, actually. Anyways. Reblogging for commentary ^^
Reblogging for commentary as well.
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