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Shinji Miyadai - Transformation of Semantics in the History of Japanese Subcultures since 1992

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A sociologist known for his work on pop culture phenomena and also something of a cultural phenomenon himself, Miyadai Shinji has authored and coauthored dozens of books on topics ranging from government policy and film criticism to sex and subcultures. These include Sabukaruchaa shinwa kaitai (1993, Dismantling the subculture myth, with Ishihara Hideki and Ōtsuka Meiko), Maboroshi no kōgai (1997, The phantom suburbs), and Kibō, dannen, fukuin, eiga (2004, Hope, abandonment, good news, film), to name just a few. The essay that follows reviews and updates some of his early work on subcultures, with an emphasis on formations relevant to the study of otaku and anime. Miyadai's focus is on the semantics (imiron) surrounding these subcultures. Semantics here is a frame informed by the work of Niklas Luhmann, what translator Shion Kono glosses as a set of concepts and statements that enable communication within a certain social context. Miyadai's essay is interesting for the way it investigates some of the conflicting images and stereotypes surrounding otaku and Japanese youth—that they are socially withdrawn spectators yet compulsive digital communicators; or sexual naïfs whose literacy lies in pornography; or ineffectual fans who harbor apocalyptic fantasies. Miyadai provides an overview but also complicates these tropes by arranging them into different phases or stages in the evolution of otaku and other youth subcultures. For example, he juxtaposes otaku with youth sexual cultures such as enjo kōsai—part-time sexual or dating relationships between young teenage girls and older sugar daddies. For Miyadai, these new kinds of sexual relationships and the world of the otaku are two sides of the same coin, both indicative of an age in which the paramount concern is maintaining the outlines of the self, whether through aggressive sexual engagement or passive withdrawal. Miyadai links these trends to broader currents in Japanese society. His equation of sex and religion as parallel sources of self-definition is striking, for instance. He situates the rising appeal of the withdrawn, fictional world that drives the rehabilitation of the otaku's image not only in terms of a reaction against youth sexual cultures of the early nineties, but also in terms of reaction against the violent intervention of the terrorist attacks mounted by Aum Shinrikyō in 1995. The association between Aum and otaku culture is a familiar one in Japan: there much of the media coverage that followed the subway gas attacks focused on Aum as a group, portraying its plots and personalities as part of a bizarre, science fiction-influenced cult, culture, or indeed subculture. Yet Miyadai brings new sophistication to such discussions. He shows, for example, how the changing profile of the otaku is intertwined with a shift from the Armageddon or apocalyptic tropes of Aum and Akira to a more intimate sphere of world type (sekai-kei) anime—domestic or school-days dramas that confine themselves largely to the protagonist's insular inner world. And he traces the shift from the world type to the battle royale. While the latter offers a more active, even combative form of social (often online) argument and engagement that appears activist, Miyadai argues that it nonetheless remains resolutely focused on the internal self. The battle royale's attempts at dialog always end in irony or self-reference. Finally, Miyadai's essay takes on a self-referential or ironic quality of its own, when he compares otaku and the other objects of his study to the culture of sociology itself, showing how the study of other worlds is not autonomous of their social production.
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  ~~\~\\\\\~~;~~·. ·.~:·:·. -\W. ·.~ .~:· ·.\ .;.,~\\\\~·.:.~~ \~'l.\W·::::·;:.-._o;,·.-.: . . ;,~ ãã ·~ ·····~··· ãã ··ã ãããã ã _ ã _ ~~\\~~~~~\\\\~·.:-.:.:-.~°{-.o;,o;.~~~~~}·~~=~~\\~{~~··~~:.:\.:·.:\\~· \.\·. ~~{·\·:~.~{~\\~: ~\:· :· :··§·\:1t~·~ \\:· :· :· · ;:~ ~ ..: :~· ~ : (?~~, '%~~:,':~;;:~~~[ fe\\i ,~;·· <~~:~\ ,\~\tY\,. r¥Y w3 ã ã · · ~ ã  ãIY D I SHINJI :rs.:ated y Shiol] ono ~ction y Thomas Lamarre ããã Transformation of Semantics in the istory of Japanese Subcultures since 992 Editor's Introduction A sociologist known for his work on pop culture phenomena and also some- ±mg of a cultural phenomenon himself, Miyadai Shinji has authored and ::;=iauthored dozens of books on topics ranging from government policy and mn criticism to sex and subcultures. These include Sabukaruchaa shinw kai-  li (1993, Dismantling the subculture myth, with Ishihara Hideki and Otsuka ~o , Maboroshi no kogai (1997, The phantom suburbs). and Kibo, dannen, ~n. eiga (2004, Hope, abandonment, good news, film), to name just a few be essay that follows reviews and updates some of his early work on sub- ~es with an emphasis on formations relevant to the study of otaku and mime Miyadai's focus is on the semantics imiron) surrounding these subcul- :mes. ·semantics here is a frame informed by the work of Niklas Luhmann, bat translator Shion Kono glosses as ·a set of concepts and statements that m.able communication within a certain social context.n   Miyadai's essay is interesting for the way it investigates some of the con-:3cting images and stereotypes surrounding otaku and Japanese youth- = at they are socially withdrawn spectators yet compulsive digital communi-::ators; or sexual naifs whose literacy lies in pornography; or ineffectual fans who harbor apocalyptic fantasies. Miyadai provides an overview but also  complicates these tropes by arranging them into different phases or stages in the evolution of otaku and other youth subcultures. For example, he juxtaposes otaku with youth sexual cultures such as njo kosai part time sexual or dating relationships between young teenage girls and older sugar daddies. For Miyadai, these new kinds of sexual relationships and the world of the otaku are two sides of the same coin, both indicative of an age in which the paramount concern is maintaining the outlines of the self, whether through aggressive sexual engagement or passive withdrawal. Miyadai links these trends to broader currents in Japanese society. His equation of sex and religion as parallel sources of self-definition is striking, for instance. He situates the rising appeal of the withdrawn, fictional world that drives the rehabilitation of the otaku's image not only in terms of a reaction against youth sexual cultures of the early nineties, but also in terms of reaction against the violent intervention of the terrorist attacks mounted by Aum Shinriky6 in 1995. The association between Aum and otaku culture is a familiar one in Japan: there much of the media coverage that followed the subway gas attacks focused on Aum as a group, portraying its plots and personalities as part of a bizarre, science fiction-influenced cult, culture, or indeed subculture. Yet Miyadai brings new sophistication to such discussions. He shows, for example, how the changing profile of the otaku is intertwined with a shift from the Armageddon or apocalyptic tropes of Aum and Akira to a more intimate sphere of world type sekai-kei) anime domestic or school-days dramas that confine themselves largely to the protagonist's insular inner world. And he traces the shift from the world type to the battle royale. While the latter offers a more active, even combative form of social (often online) argument and engagement that appears activist, Miyadai argues that it nonetheless remains resolutely focused on the internal self. he battle royale's attempts at dialog always end in irony or self-reference. Finally, Miyadai's essay takes on a self-referential or ironic quality of its own, when he compares otaku and the other objects of his study to the culture of sociology itself, showing how the study of other worlds is not autonomous of their social production. TRANSFORMATION O SEM NTICS IN THE HISTORY O J P NESE SUBCULTURES SINCE 992 Since 1993 I have been describing the history of postwar Japanese subcultures by using the framework of social systems theory, in such works 3 MIY D I SHINJI  .~chaa shinwa kaitai (1993, Dismantling the subculture myth). z The ~ Ork of social systems theory is a monistic model based on commu axon, in which the dynamism of a system is described without requiring . ent other than communication, unlike the dualistic model based on a»estt ucture and infrastructure. :rom the era of postwar economic recovery to the era of high economic J IW [h, in other words up to the early 1970s, Japanese subculture could eas ã :e explained through economic determinism or infrastructural determin  sc But since the mid-197os, when durable consumer goods reached most mc:seholds and a level of material affi.uence had been achieved, Japanese lillxulture has fragmented, and it has become difficult to get a clear perspec  :R on it. The significance of my book from fifteen years ago lies in the fact ........ it described the dynamism of subcultures in this era of Japanese post::a.-demity using a coherent framework. In this work, I divided the history of postwar Japanese subcultures at the 5?5 1955, 1964, 1973, 1983, and 1992. During the fifteen years since the book '%rst appeared, there have been a few major shifts in Japanese subcultures. In ;:;;nicular, the shift in 1996 and the shift in 2001 should not be overlooked. :i? this essay, I wish to discuss these two shifts. THE SHIFT OF 996: THE EQUIV LENCE OF REALITY ND FICTION :::i order to describe Japanese subcultures since the 1990s, it is necessary to JSe the modified Mita Munesuke schema,· which I also used in Sabukaruchaa shinwa kaitai According to sociologist Mita Munesuke, postwar subcultures shi t from the age of idealsã (from the war's end in 1945 to 1960) to the age of dreams· (from 1960 to 1975) to the age of fictionã (after 1975). 3 In Sabuka- ruchaa I fine-tuned this schema: the age of idealsã was renamed the age of order·; the age of dreams· became the age of futureã; the age of fiction became the age of the self ; and I divided the age of the selr into two periods at the year 1996, when the series of Aum Shinriky6-related incidents came to a close. The early period (prior to 1996) can be called the age of Armageddon and the late period (post-1996) can be called the age of post-Armageddon. Let me explain the meaning of those terms as concisely as possible. In the age of ideals or the age of order, people evaluated reality by referring to an ideal order. Boys referred to the Great East Asia Coprosperity Sphere, an ideal order the size of a nation. Girls referred to a home with TR NSFORM TION OF SEM NTICS 233
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