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Nakagami, Japan
Buraku and the Writing of Ethnicity
Anne McKnight
University of Minnesota Press, 2010
How do you write yourself into a literature that doesn’t know you exist? This was the conundrum confronted by Nakagami Kenji (1946–1992), who counted himself among the buraku-min, Japan’s largest minority. His answer brought the histories and rhetorical traditions of buraku writing into the high culture of Japanese literature for the first time and helped establish him as the most canonical writer born in postwar Japan.

In Nakagami, Japan, Anne McKnight shows how the writer’s exploration of buraku led to a unique blend of fiction and ethnography—which amounted to nothing less than a reimagining of modern Japanese literature. McKnight develops a parallax view of Nakagami’s achievement, allowing us to see him much as he saw himself, as a writer whose accomplishments traversed both buraku literary arts and high literary culture in Japan.

As she considers the ways in which Nakagami and other twentieth-century writers used ethnography to shape Japanese literature, McKnight reveals how ideas about language also imagined a transfigured relation to mainstream culture and politics. Her analysis of the resulting “rhetorical activism” lays bare Nakagami’s unique blending of literature and ethnography within the context of twentieth-century ideas about race, ethnicity, and citizenship—in Japan, but also on an international scale.

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Nature in Translation
Japanese Tourism Encounters the Canadian Rockies
Shiho Satsuka
Duke University Press, 2015
Nature in Translation is an ethnographic exploration in the cultural politics of the translation of knowledge about nature. Shiho Satsuka follows the Japanese tour guides who lead hikes, nature walks, and sightseeing bus tours for Japanese tourists in Canada's Banff National Park and illustrates how they aspired to become local "nature interpreters" by learning the ecological knowledge authorized by the National Park. The guides assumed the universal appeal of Canada’s magnificent nature, but their struggle in translating nature reveals that our understanding of nature—including scientific knowledge—is always shaped by the specific socio-cultural concerns of the particular historical context. These include the changing meanings of work in a neoliberal economy, as well as culturally-specific dreams of finding freedom and self-actualization in Canada's vast nature. Drawing on nearly two years of fieldwork in Banff and a decade of conversations with the guides, Satsuka argues that knowing nature is an unending process of cultural translation, full of tensions, contradictions, and frictions. Ultimately, the translation of nature concerns what counts as human, what kind of society is envisioned, and who is included and excluded in the society as a legitimate subject.

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Navigating Narratives
Tsurayuki’s Tosa Diary as History and Fiction
Gustav Heldt
Harvard University Press, 2024
Drawing on both contemporaneous historical sources and modern literary criticism, Navigating Narratives offers unique insights into Heian Japan through a close reading of one of its most enigmatic and consequential texts. Named after the province once governed by its creator, Ki no Tsurayuki (d. 946), Tosa nikki (The Tosa Diary) purports to be the record of a voyage kept by an anonymous woman in the entourage of an ex-governor returning to the capital. This split between fictional narrator and historical author has usually led readers to place the diary in narratives privileging one of those two figures, with the result that Tosa nikki has been valued primarily as either the first Heian woman’s memoir or the last aesthetic manifesto of a man whose writings shaped the Japanese poetic tradition for centuries afterward. Navigating Narratives attempts to steer away from the anachronistic assumptions and author-centric readings informing these accounts. By focusing instead on the diary’s reception as a parody by its earliest readers, Heldt argues that it merits attention for the discursive practices, representational conventions, and non-elite social contexts it illuminates as the world’s first short novelistic work of fiction.

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