Bodies and Structures

What We Learned

David Ambaras

Bodies and Structures helps me to think comparatively about the kinopolitics of the Japanese empire and the larger region to which it related. The officially-organized movement of Chinese settler-migrants into the Xing An frontier zone differed from the pilgrimages to the Japanese metropole of elite colonial students like Cai Peihuo, or the journeys along informal migration circuits, often improvised and sometimes clandestine, of marginal men from Fuqing to Japan and Japanese women to Fuqing. But together, they make us think about the dislocations, large and small, that made people (as subjects or as bodies) available for incorporation into new projects of spatial control, while at times putting new forms of pressure on state territorial imperatives. Reading across modules also prompted me to think about how to situate the world inhabited by my Fuqing peddlers, who sometimes sold medicine alongside cloth and other sundries, in relation to the emerging spatiality of modern drug store franchise networks, and to that of the core urban department stores that offered different kinds of textiles and commodified dreams from those that were carried on foot into remote villages across the archipelago. Each of these commercial networks produced its own contact zones: the juxtaposition of modules opens possibilities for comparing them.

Working on this project has also enabled me to reflect more fully on the materiality of movement and the frictions attendant on it. Not only can one compare the experiences of the mobile bodies in the above examples; one can also think about the subjectivities of those who attempt to capture space as they move through and record it: the self-confident excursions of Charles Gail through the physical and social terrain of occupied Okinawa (but how was he seen?); the more tentative incursions of Japanese consular police officers into the unstable Fujianese hinterland; the positioning of Kon Wajirō and his modernologist students at their assigned stations as they sought to represent bodies in motion through a burgeoning urban consumer zone; or Ishikawa Kōyō's remarkably disciplined movements (conditioned by the protocols of civil defense) as he photographed Tokyo's transformation into a site of utter terror and devastation (this a stark contrast to the sense of complete spatial domination affected by American air raid planners and B-29 crews).

Going beyond the subject matter itself, can one draw on our varied reflections to create a different kind of narrative or analytical space? Clearly, Scalar offers the possibility for hyperlinked, nonlinear presentations involving a rich variety of sources. Each of us has explored some aspect of this digital writing process in our own modules, and the tag map and grid offer the possibility for visualizing crossings and connections. While developing these approaches further, I would like to see the collective start to experiment actively with the construction and performance of narratives and arguments that build from the ground up with elements from multiple modules.

Noriko Aso

Bodies and Structures lets me “read across places” in collaboration rather than in isolation. The modules present a range of different spatialities: peddler routes, ruinscapes, militarized borders, contested empire, island, and retail floor plans. Exploring my collaborators’ spatial arguments helped to open up and at the same time anchor the rapidly multiplying types of spaces bubbling up from the two-dimensional journal pages with which I began this project. Before Bodies and Structures, I had been focusing on the challenges of developing a coherent narrative regarding the conflicted nature of Mitsukoshi’s wartime journals. However, working with my collaborators helped me begin to catch glimpses of faintly visible maps hovering over and in the journal pages. It turns out a New Year’s gift box is not just about class and nation, but also the production and distribution networks necessary to put together the collection of savories and sweets. Such a ghost map might look a little like Ambaras’ peddler itineraries or Yang’s franchise store network. A running series on daughters of elite households offers data points to trace the contours of neighborhoods where the wealthy clustered, their ephemeral spatiality resonating with that of Wright’s vanished Okinawan sites. Reportage from the Japanese front lines starts to demand triangulation with the locations of Chinese and guerrilla forces, while essays celebrating luxury cruises to Southeast Asia reinscribe the imagined geography of empire contested by McDonald’s Cai Peihuo. Not only did the multiplicity of spatialities claimed by Mitsukoshi Department Store become increasingly apparent to me, but the method of spatializing our analysis made it possible for me to present the journal series in more depth, with more accuracy, and with more embeddedness than traditional narrative has hitherto allowed.

Kate McDonald

Bodies and Structures changed how I understood Cai Peihuo and the spatial politics of empire. In my own work, I put Cai Peihuo into conversation with other political activists and organizations of his era, including the imperial tourism industry. Through the process of conceptually mapping Bodies and Structures, however, I saw that Cai’s argument was in conversation with other modes of ordering and representing space. Some are fairly obvious. Cai’s proposal to recognize the unique character of Taiwan as a place and grant self-rule on that basis is one case of using spatial ordering to make a political claim, as is Mitsukoshi’s reporting on Asia. Others, however, only came to light when we completed the conceptual mapping process. Cai’s claims for self-rule are part of a discourse of “peopling place,” to use Aso’s phrase, that also included Kon Wajirō, a figure associated with consumer modernity in the metropole rather than empire. And, when seen alongside Dustin Wright’s critical reading of Charles Gail’s photographs of Okinawa, the conservative nature of Cai’s approach to the politics of place becomes clear.

Juxtaposing Cai’s spatial politics alongside other modules underscored the particularity of Cai’s approach to space and place and more fundamental issues that structured spatial experiences in the era. Juxtaposing the mobility of Cai as a student against David Ambaras’s Fuqing peddlers illuminates how the elite nature of Cai’s encounter with empire shaped his approach to political activism. The juxtaposition of Kon’s representation of the gateway to the department store as the embodiment of the egalitarian nature of consumption with the intra-empire borders that colonized students faced, makes clear how the state and capital constituted people as both consumer-subjects and imperial-subjects – and that these identities were not two parts of a coherent whole “self” but which emerged in the encounter between a given body and a particular structure.

Dustin Wright

Okinawa is a place built on networks, some more obvious than others. Putting the photographs from The Okinawa Memories Initiative into dialogue with the other modules of Bodies and Structures has helped me to see more clearly the ways in which colonial and capitalist networks in postwar Okinawa shared many characteristics with similar prewar structures throughout East Asia. Okinawans today will often proudly tell you about their islands’ histories from centuries past, when the Ryukyu Kingdom was an important trade node and cultural transmitter between peoples throughout East Asia. This is no less the case when looking at the modern history of the islands. Anyone with an interest in Okinawan history will necessarily find themselves slipping into wormholes that deliver them to Tokyo, Honolulu, Beijing, and beyond.

While I’m excited to highlight these networks, Bodies and Structures also helped me to focus more on the things in Gail’s photos. The networks of consumption and commerce that appear in many of Gail’s photos of Okinawan markets and shops, some filled with repurposed American products, remind me of Timothy Yang’s insight in "The Global Space of a Drugstore." While Japanese companies like Hoshi Pharmaceuticals drew inspiration from a marketplace of ideas and were inspired by American corporate practices, Okinawan shopkeepers and small business owners relied on American military products and military currency to survive. Both the pharmaceutical giant on the Japanese mainland and the humble shopkeeper in American-occupied Okinawa were deeply connected to global commodities and contemporary business practices.

In thinking about Okinawans themselves (Gail’s preferred subjects), I was drawn to the concluding section of David Fedman’s module on the destruction of Tokyo, in which he considers how new approaches to mapping historical experience might allow us “to probe the nature of total war more generally.” The dehumanization of the enemy gave license to the targeting of Japanese civilians. Gail, in his own way, tried to rehumanize a people who only seven years earlier were targeted by the U.S. military and killed en masse during the bloodiest battle of the entirely of World War II. The Okinawa Memories Initiative, perhaps, helps to show that total war lingered in Okinawa long after the fighting ceased.

Shellen Wu

Working with Bodies and Structures has given me a much more complex and multi-dimensional understanding of the Japanese Empire by illustrating the multiple parallel and intersecting pathways of development and points of friction in the making of empire—multiple spatialities that the simple map cannot accommodate. In turn, following these pathways has led me to really think about the meaning of “deep mapping” and the importance of spatiality to history. It is one thing to see in a group of Chinese officers who set up a settlement in the borderlands between Chinese, Soviet, and Japanese interests as an example of counter-imperialist imperialism. The physical isolation of the Shing An Tunken zone, however, did not mean that it was not connected to the larger undercurrents of empire and empire-making. Working on Bodies and Structures has made me see much more clearly these undercurrents.

The module “Cai Peihuo’s Inner Territory,” for example, uses Cai’s 1928 manifesto to critique the spatial hierarchy of the Japanese empire. Along the way, Cai’s path intersects with the development of colonial science and unexpectedly takes the reader to other points of resistance. Cai Peihuo followed a very different life trajectory from Ogura Nobu and her Chinese husband Chen Zhaopin in the “Border Controls” module, and even more dramatically different from the Chinese officers, who attempted to modernize an isolated frontier territory using the latest globally circulating ideas in agricultural science, geology, and economic development. To navigate these pathways is to find oneself taken unexpectedly across the physical space of empire and along flows of ideas, peoples, and energy.

Timothy Yang

The deliberately comparative nature of Bodies and Structures improved my understanding of the spatial politics of circulation and consumption.  My module, "The Drugstore as Contact Zone," analyzes how Hoshi Pharmaceuticals, like other drug companies of the day, attempted to control the space of a drugstore in order to create consumer-subjects who believed in an ethos of self-medication and participated in capitalist modernity.  When read alongside Noriko Aso's module, the similarities between the idealized Hoshi drugstore and the Mitsukoshi department store are strikingly obvious and undoubtedly intentional -- it shows how drugstores and department stores were spaces that cultivated freedom of consumption and how medicines often proved to be no different from any other commodity. When viewed in conjunction with Shellen Wu's module, Hoshi's efforts to control the fraught point of contact between producer and consumer overlaps with Chinese officers' efforts to police the Shing An borderland, both of which notably depend on globally-circulating advances in social science.  And when seen with Kate McDonald's analysis of Cai Peihuo's colonized imaginary of the inner territory, the importance of the middleman (in my case, the drugstore clerk) as gatekeeper, arbiter, and potential resister becomes apparent.

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