Written Assignments

The Origins of Japanese Popular Culture


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Tokugawa Japan
Read about the history and culture of Tokugawa Japan; I want you to especially focus on Tokugawa philosophy.,

The Origins of Japanese Popular Culture   In the last assignment, you explained the meaning of the performances or thematics of one of the greatest works of Japanese cinematic art, Ran . This film is solidly rooted in Tokugawa popular culture, particularly Kabuki theater. While Kabuki theater and other arts of the floating world are now considered landmarks of Japanese culture, during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, they were little more than popular culture. They were considered vulgar; members of higher classes, such as the samurai, would sneak around with large hats in order not to be recognized whenever they frequented the Kabuki theaters or other pleasures of the ukiyo .
   Kabuki, like popular theater throughout the world, is a ritualized and socially sanctioned (partly) way of discussing issues that are normally taboo or forbidden. The subjects of kabuki, as you know, are issues that lurk beneath the sanctioned world of society and yet can't be talked about.
   Most Japanese performance art, especially film, owes its origins to the popular culture of the ukiyo : the puppet theater, the novels about ukiyo life (ukiyo-zoshi ), and especially kabuki. However, the real inheritors of the ukiyo and kabuki traditions are the various genres of Japanese popular culture: comic books, animation, television, and popular film.
   On this assignment, I want you to research contemporary Japanese popular culture and explain it in terms of the performance traditions or the thematics of kabuki theater. In other words, I want you to do for Japanese comics, animation, or popular film or television what you did for the movie Ran .


Research   On this assignment, part of your assignment will involve choosing the material that you wish to discuss on the assignment. You can choose any piece of Japanese popular culture that you wish. You must, however, provide a one paragraph summary of the work that you're defining. Once you've chosen the work of popular culture, your next job is to explain the meaning of that work using either what you know about performance traditions or the thematics of kabuki theater. You can refer to the section, What is Kabuki?, or elements of the kabuki glossary in the module, Kabuki, in order to provide an argument about the meaning of Japanese popular culture. Our goal here is to read Japanese popular culture as a Japanese might read it. The various performance styles and thematics mean something different in Japan than they do to you. You can access that meaning by understanding this popular culture in terms of the popular culture that gave rise to it.


Discussion   This is a discussion quiz, so I want you to build on ideas and insights that other students have. Look closely on what aspects of kabuki that they focus on and how they apply it to the work that they're explaining. You should either expand on their arguments or refute them with insights of your own.


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