Japanese studies speakers to give public presentations

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Photo of Japan.

Speaker series runs March 12 through April 15.

KALAMAZOO—The Soga Japan Center at Western Michigan University has scheduled five talks in March and April as part of its pre-modern Japanese Studies Speaker and Workshop Series.

The talks, which are free and open to the public, range from readings of Japanese poetry to academic presentations on Japanese theater, religion, literature and culture.

They are supported by funding from the Japan Foundation and the WMU Department of World Languages and Literatures as well as the Soga Center. For more information, contact Dr. Jeffrey Angles, director of the Soga Center, at jeffrey.angles@wmich.edu or (269) 387-3044.

Tuesday, March 12

Dr. Judit Árokay, professor of Japanese studies at Heidelberg in Germany, will speak on "Travel Accounts in Early Modern Japan: Poetic Patterns of Representation" from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in Room 3025 Brown Hall. In her presentation, Árokay will discuss the surge of travel in Japan during the peaceful Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868).

Infrastructure underwent spectacular changes, and despite bureaucratic restrictions and obligatory travel permits, people from all social classes found ways to escape from the confines of their everyday lives through travel. By introducing some examples of early modern travel writing, Árokay will try to show how travelogues are structured and how they are informed by literary tradition and history as much as by personal experience.

Wednesday, Mar. 27

Yoshizumi Higuchi, an editor with Iwanami Shoten, Japan's foremost academic publisher, will speak on "Premodernity in Japanese Theater: A View from the Stages of Edo-Period Kabuki" from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the University Center for the Humanities, Room 2500 Knauss Hall. The talk will be in Japanese, with English translation and PowerPoint slides. In his presentation, Higuchi will examine the struggles over the meaning of early the 17th century as expressed from the stage.

In that era of great social stratification, the stage became a spot of freedom and resistance from which the lower classes could express their feelings toward the ruling samurai class. Actors of the time began giving outdoor performances, singing and dancing on riverbanks in the city of Kyoto. This kind of performance grew enormously popular, spread and became the basis of kabuki, which is now recognized as one of Japan's most important theater traditions.

Thursday, March 28

Takako Arai, an associate professor at Saitama University, will give a poetry reading and talk titled "Poetic Women: At the Crossroads of Textile and Tradition" from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the University Center for the Humanities, Room 2500 Knauss Hall. The presentation will be in Japanese, with English translation. Arai is one of the leading feminist poets of the young generation in Japan and is known for her dramatic and powerful readings. Her WMU appearance is supported in part by Saitama University and WMU's Gender and Women's Studies Program.

In her presentation, Arai will feature her hometown of Kiryū, Japan, which has been known for its textile production for more than 1,000 years and whose key textile industry figures have always been women. The unique culture of women's bonding that developed over the industry's silk cocoons has a deeply poetic quality to it. Arai will weave her poetry together with a discussion of those women, their lives, their legends and the many changes between their past and present.

Thursday, April 11

Dr. Micah Auerback, an assistant professor of Japanese religion at the University of Michigan, will speak on "The Buddha You Never Knew: Reimagining a Prince of Ancient India in Japan" from 5 to 6:15 p.m. in Room 3025 Brown Hall. In his presentation, he will explore why tales about Buddha began to change by 1600--just as the story of this Indian prince who gave up everything to become awakened began to appear in printed commercial texts and on the stage.

At that point, Buddhism had been in Japan for most of a millennium, so why did writers begin to change the tale? Auerback will look into portrayals that this new Buddha was beaten by his master and started to visit courtesans and as well as investigate how an Indian prince became a Japanese hero. He also will delve into what all of that says about Buddhism in Japan.

Monday, April 15

Dr. Shelley Fenno Quinn, associate professor of East Asian languages and literatures at Ohio State University, will speak on "Yume ka utsutsu ka, Dream or Reality?: Exploring the World of Dream in Japanese Noh Theatre" from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the University Center for the Humanities, Room 2500 Knauss Hall. In her presentation, Quinn will discuss the thin membrane between dream and reality and between the living and the dead in Japanese medieval Noh theatre.

One large grouping of plays in the repertoire is called mugen nō, which may be interpreted as "dream Noh" or "phantasm Noh," and in which the lead role is played by a supernatural being who appears as if in a dream. Especially dramatic are plays that feature ghosts returning to occupy the dreams of the living. Quinn will focus on a selection of such ghosts in Noh and discuss what makes them appealing as dramatic heroes and in what ways ghosts can be more compelling on stage than ordinary humans.