Affiliate faculty member and East Asian Studies Assistant Professor Nathaniel Smith was awarded a Japan Foundation long-term research fellowship for the 2019–2020 academic year for his project titled “Kabukicho Renaissance: Multiculturalism, Marginality, and Urban Renewal in Tokyo.” He will be based at Waseda University in Tokyo beginning in August of this year.
Abstract: As Tokyo readies itself to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, its most infamous postwar red-light district, Kabukicho in Shinjuku ward, has been proactive in welcoming a growing number of tourists: it boasts new large-scale hotels, capsule hotels created for salarymen reinvented as low-cost options for tourists, and multi-language menus are now ubiquitous at local restaurants. A diverse Kabukicho, however, is not a recent development. The nightlife-oriented neighborhood has long been the home of multiple communities stigmatized in postwar Japan, including former colonial subjects cum ethnic minorities, new migrants, the political and artistic fringe, organized crime groups, and precarious workers in its prominent sexual services industry. How might these multiple marginalities create new potential for an increasingly diverse Tokyo?
This project will assess contemporary struggles over ethnicity and multiculturalism in Japan by drawing together Kabukicho as 1) social archive: how the history of post-WWII Kabukicho sedimented specific pragmatic and ideological perspectives on difference and marginality; 2) social world: how diverse ethno- national, subcultural, and political constituencies manage uneasily mingled lives amid ‘low-end globalization’ (Mathews); 3) political symbol: how the “Kabukicho Renaissance” (an anti-crime campaign) and the recent rise in tourism inflect Japanese populism and anti-foreign activism; and 4) economic model: how precarious and illicit work is coupled with an embrace of foreign labor, culture, and visitors. To analyze what this node of Tokyo’s megacity portends for social change in Japan, this project will extend work in the anthropology and history of urban Japan to examine how “native and newcomer” coexist in “neighborhood Kabukicho” of the present moment, as Japan grapples with demographic issues and potential economic decline yet speeds toward hosting the world for a second Summer Olympics. (Anthro News digest date: 4/19/2019)