Alternative Politics:

Youth, Media, Performance and Activism in Urban Japan

Paper Abstracts


Panel One
Alternatives, Exits and Withdrawal: Is this Politica

Producing Locality: a case of Shonan-Fujisawa

Yuka Hasegawa, University of Hawaii at Manoa

This paper examines three projects organized by youth-oriented residents of Shonan-Fujisawa that includes producing bio-diesel oil, promoting sea glass as a local currency, and encouraging voter registration. Based on interviews with organizers, as well as analysis of blogs, newspapers and leaflets, I demonstrate how the act of publishing turns the liminal space of Shonan-Fujisawa into what Appadurai calls a locality. I argue that performance allows people to make sense out of a contested past while producing an alternative context where their performances are rendered socially meaningful.


Sequestered Space: Intimacy and Performance in Tokyo's Live Houses

Kim Jirik, Tokyo University

In small live houses scattered across Tokyo's inner suburbs, young people are forging new spaces of performance and self-expression. Digital space and Web 2.0, glorified internationally as a site for new forms of independent activity, are being all but ignored by certain sections of Tokyo's youth, who content themselves with the cultivation of a more intimate form of community. This study uses preliminary observations to argue that these spaces, and the grassroots activities of the artists involved, indicate a rejection of the affordances of digital space, but in so doing have created a more intimate community that avoids the kind of mainstream assimilation that currently characterizes Web 2.0.


Local Spaces Rediscovered: Alternative lifestyles in contemporary Tokyo

Heide Imai, Hosei University

Cities like Tokyo have undergone a rapid urbanization in the 20th century and face recently new, complex urban challenges. However, responses to the changing urban space are often reflected in the emergence of e.g. new social movements, cultural revivals or the forging of unknown, hybrid subcultures, which can be understood when studying the diverse ways people (re-) occupy, reconstruct and (re-)interpret local, urban space. This paper will discuss the development of hybrid forms of lifestyles of young artists and creatives found and studied in two local neighborhoods in central Tokyo, posing the question: in what sense are these lifestyles political or an alternative to the political?


Plenary Panel
Technologies, Rhetorics and Resources of a New Politics of Protest

Mapping Protest Tokyo: New Media and the Politics of Representation

Sharon Hayashi, York University

Mapping Protest Tokyo is a website that archives the ways in which political movements and artistic interventions since 1960 have subverted urban space and interfaced with the architecture of Tokyo. In this paper I will explore how recent political protests have deployed new media to question representational politics and to perform an archaeology of local spaces in order to re-map what is now visible, intelligible and possible.


Precarity, Public Protest, Life and Survival

Carl Cassegard, University of Gothenburg, Kyoto University

The precarity movement represents a startling revival of public protest in Japan. This revival can be understood as a turn to a more confrontational stance within an already active current of freeter activism. My aim is to throw light on this shift by focusing on some of the texts emerging from the General Freeter Union / PAFF milieu in Tokyo and compare it to Dame-ren, one of its important predecessors. I give particular attention to the rhetoric of "life" and "survival" in the precarity movement, which shows how the precarity movement builds on the Dame-ren while crucially transforming its legacy.


Reconsidering Cultural-Political Movements in Japan in the Age of 'Freeter'

Yoshitaka Mouri, Tokyo University of the Arts (Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku)

Since the collapse of the bubble economy in the early 1990s, young people have developed new ways of involvement with politics in Japan. Within their politics, diverse cultural practices, such as music, dance, performance, painting, photograph, designing DIY media and presentation of new ways of everyday life, have increasingly become important elements. Looking back its short history from foreign immigrant and homeless people support movements in Shibuya, Yoyogi and Shinjuku in the mid-1990s via new life style movements, Dameren and Shiroto no Ran, to the recent protest movement against Nike Park project in Miyashita park, I would like to examine the way in which young people have used cultural practices in their politics and discuss why culture has become an important category in the political movements in the age of 'freeter'.


Panel Three
Making Public Space Political

Reclaiming the streets … for whom? Mapping Tokyo's contested geographies

Christian Dimmer, University of Tokyo

No single day and place could have been more suitable to show the growing tensions of Japan's public spaces, than Shibuya on May 4th. Sponsored by the local business community and controlled by private security forces, a globally oriented creative class staged a temporary art event in Shibuya's Park Avenue, boldly announced as 'Art Re-Public Shibuya'. Only few steps aside and ignored by the masses of shoppers, an entirely different scene played out. In close-by Miyashita Park a group of resident activists employs art as a means of resistance against the privatisation of the public park and the expulsion of its homeless population. This paper argues therefore that after decades of neglect, public space in urban Japan matters again and that it has become highly contested. For the first time after the turbulent 1970s public space reemerges as political battleground and catalyser for protest. At the same time it functions as event stage for neoliberal place marketing strategies of the entrepreneurial city.


"Our actions make park!" (Re-)discovering public space in Miyashita Park

Love Oskarson-Kindstrand, Sophia University

The campaign against "Nike-ification" of Miyashita Park entered a new phase in March 2010, when a group of artists and activists siding with the evicted homeless population took up residence inside the park. Exploring the confines of "the park" as contested public space, these "artists in residence" are at the center of a radical experiment in community-building and collaborative creative expression. My study examines how notions of public, private and intimate space are employed and transformed by these groups in their reappropriation of Miyashita Park, and how such communal spatial practices intersect with ideas of democracy, inclusion and resistance.


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Sophia University Institute of Comparative Culture
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