This paper is a bit of a “break” from my recent research on visual and material culture in the late Meiji period. I will be chairing a panel at Console-ing Passions (International Conference on Television, Video, Audio, New Media and Feminism) on Japanese visual culture, with papers presented by Colleen Laird from Bates College (“Screened and Not Heard: The Transnational Treasure Text of Kikuchi Rinko”), and Sho Ogawa of the University of Kansas (“Internalizing Hybridity: Japan’s Gay Boom and Reconfiguring National Identity”). Our diverse panel will explore the convergence between media and gender studies in and out Japan.
The paper I’m presenting is titled “Recasting the Indigenous: Virtual Ainu Ambassadors in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993-2008.” This project has been on the back burner for a little while, but it is fun to get back into contemporary visual culture for a bit. I will be discussing the role of two female Ainu video game characters–Nakoruru and Rimaruru–from the video game Samurai Spirits (Samurai Shodown in the US). As the title hints, I have been trying to think through the role of these characters as cultural ambassadors in 1990s Japan. The topic feels timely with the impending creation of the new Ainu museum in Shiraoi in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where the marketing of Ainu culture will undoubtedly be important for Hokkaido tourism. In addition to investigating their domestic popularity, I’m also looking at the localization of these characters in the US. This is inspired by a class that I just finished teaching, Visual Culture in Modern Japan, where issues of localization kept creeping into our discussions. I’ve been thinking long and hard about the transformation of Ainu/indigenous visual signifiers when transported abroad to a culture with no framework to understand them.