In Situ: Drama & Narrative in Japan

7 Jan

Program Director: Ted Mack, Asian Languages & Literature
Dates of Instruction:
September 10 – 23, 2008

When Japanese narrative forms (kabuki, Noh, bunraku, film, plays, comedic dialogs, storytelling, etc.) are studied in the United States, they are seen as exotic objects that are, as printed texts in translation, almost entirely stripped of the qualities that make them art.  If “poetry is what is lost in translation,” as Robert Frost famously wrote, then one can only imagine all of the things that are lost when dramatic performances lose not only their original language, but all of the other sensory elements that are so essential: sound, spectacle, sociality, music, motion, and moment.

In Situ” will provide an opportunity for students to experience the richness of these various narrative modes in their “natural setting,” Japan.  During the course, we will attend performances in a variety of genres: kabuki, Noh, bunraku (puppet theater), rakugo (storytelling), Takarazuka (all-female musical theater), “Western” theater (e.g., a play by Chekhov in Japanese translation), and film. We will also visit museums and get backstage tours of some of the venues we visit.  At the same time, we will explore parts of Tokyo that are famous venues for many of these narratives, such as the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters of the Edo period (1600-1868), the Sumida River, Ginza, Shinjuku, and the Tokkaidô Highway’s origin in Nihonbashi.  Not all of the cultural forms we will study will be classical ones: one of our stops will be the Ghibli Studios, the museum dedicated to the work of famed animator Miyazaki Hayao (“Spirited Away,” etc.).

This exploration seminar will take place in and around Tokyo, the cultural and political center of Japan. Tokyo has the greatest density of cultural institutions in the country, allowing easy access to a wide variety of performances.  The city is safe, accessible to English speakers, and exciting.  Japanese language ability would enrich the experience, but it is not necessary.  Many of the performance venues provide simultaneous interpretation headphones, and we will read translations of the works to be performed in advance (when available.)  When neither translations nor simultaneous interpretation is available, we will focus on the precise elements left out of the courses offered here at the University, all of which are fully comprehensible even to non-Japanese speakers.  Music, rhythm, movement, expression, timing, choreography, and spectacle are readily accessible, particularly when we discuss these elements in advance.

The experience of seeing these performances in person, in Japan, will achieve the primary goal of the seminar.  A secondary goal, however, will be an informal ethnography.  Students will be encouraged to think about the “naturalness” of the settings of these performances.  To what extent have many of these performances become exotic for the very Japanese who come to see them?  Going to Japan to watch these performances is the best way imaginable to overcome the greatest hurdle in learning about foreign cultures: the belief in that culture’s absolutely “otherness.”  Even as we are immersed in the palpable “strangeness” of these performances, we will also look for the common desires, motivations, and expectations that drive them.

Students will receive five credits of JAPAN 395 (Foreign Study: Japanese Linguistics or Literature), which fulfills the VLPA requirement or CHID 474 Asia Study Abroad (I&S).  Participants should check with their advisors to determine how these credits can count towards departmental requirements.

Student costs:  
$2,000 Program Fee
$200 IPE Fee
Additional costs include: round trip travel to Japan, health insurance, meals, course materials and personal expenses.

Apply Now - Click here for application


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