Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

On Tuesday, April 3, professor Emeritus of sociocultural anthropology at UC Berkeley, Nelson Graburn, gave the talk “Kokunai Kokusaika … Japan’s Domestic Heritage of Foreignness,” based on his travels and research in Japan’s Gaikoku Mura or foreign villages. Graburn played a foundational role in the anthropology of tourism. His chapter “Tourism: the Sacred Journey” in “Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism” argued that in modern society, people’s lives are, in part, defined by a “profane, ordinary” life. Life, he says, is punctuated and given meaning by “sacred” periods in which they travel to places and/or have experiences which are different enough from their “workaday lives.”

Graburn began his talk, which took place in the Business and Public Management building, by recounting the history of Japan. First, he discussed the Tokugawa period during which the Japanese shogunate held to a strict policy known as Sakoku or “closed country.” This banned travel out of and into the country and restricted foreign trade to a single port controlled by the Dutch in Nagasaki.

He also said, “The Japanese used the Dutch as a conduit for knowledge of what was going on in the rest of the world, and learned of the many scientific advances over the 200 years that the country was closed. So they really knew what was going on through the Dutch, in fact they set up elite schools to teach ‘Dutch knowledge,’ while at the same time many Europeans infiltrated and kept abreast of what was happening in Japan.” Through information from the Dutch, the Japanese learned of European colonialism and there was one “manuscript written by a Japanese in 1832, which said ‘the Europeans are gobbling up the world and we’re going to have to catch up or get left behind in the dust.’”

Graburn explained that the Sakoku policy was abandoned “after European and American incursion, which began in 1853. Japan was forced to open itself up under threat of gunfire from English, American and Russian navies. They just fired on the ports and said ‘Let us in, you’ve got to let us trade.’” Then during the Meiji era, “Japan took to rapid urbanization and modernization,” and later built “Meiji Mura, which means Meiji Village, where they put all the old railway engines and buildings from the Meiji era to keep them … which is near Nagoya, and it’s also near Little World Park, and most of my talk is about Little World Park.”

Graburn explained that after the second world war, “with increasing opportunities to travel abroad, the majority of Japanese felt great anxiety about their ignorance of foreign countries, foreign languages, foreign foods and so on. And about how they would be treated as former enemies of many countries so they got an influx of tourists coming in to see the bullet train to go to Kyoto and Tokyo, but very few Japanese had ever been abroad except the soldiers. But now they were a rich nation, as rich as western nations, they were expected to go abroad … and in 1964, the same year as the Summer Olympics [in Tokyo], the government lifted exchange controls, which meant … they could get as much foreign currency as they wanted and they could travel everywhere.”

This growing expectation and desire of foreign travel combined with anxieties about foreign countries led to “a flurry of commercial building of foreign villages, foreign towns and foreign environments so the Japanese could familiarize themselves with life overseas, recognize famous places, learn to eat new foods with knives and forks, which 99 percent of the people had never tried before and to buy foreign products.” He said that although designed to promote foreign travel “for many Japanese this was as foreign as they wanted to get, they spent their leisure time in these foreign theme parks and never actually went abroad.”

Graburn then showed a number of photos of examples of these foreign theme parks on his PowerPoint presentation. For example, there was a recreation of the house of Anne of Green Gables “who is considered very romantic by many young Japanese men and women as the hero the Japanese could be: an independent, strong minded young woman … and people go [to the recreated house] to get married. It’s the most romantic thing they can think of.” There was also an English village,  Russian town, Spanish park and  “one of the biggest ones is made by Disney at Japanese invitation, called Disney World, which is a recreation of all the great port cities of Europe: Hamburg, Rome, Venice, etc. all built with incredible authenticity.” Parks like these are “where the Japanese go to experience foreignness, to experience being a Japanese in a foreign place, to take photographs of each other.”

Aaron Gallant is a third-year student majoring in urban and environmental planning with minors in anthropology, Spanish and Latin American and Latino studies. ✉