Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Article // The Indigenous Shôjo: Transmedia Representations of Ainu Femininity in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993–2019 (Forthcoming)

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “The Indigenous Shôjo: Transmedia Representations of Ainu Femininity in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993–2019.” Journal of Anime and Manga Studies 1. Forthcoming 2020.

ABSTRACT

TBD

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Webinar // Irankarapte: An Introduction to Ainu Culture in Japan

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “Irankarapte: An Introduction to Ainu Culture in Japan,” webinar delivered at the Japan America Society of Minnesota (September 3, 2020).

ABSTRACT

“Irankarapte” is an Ainu greeting. While often translated as “hello,” it means “allow me to touch your heart.” The Ainu are an indigenous people of Japan with their own language, religion, and cultural identity. Together with Dr. Christina Spiker, explore the development of Ainu culture and history through art, language, and material artifacts. This webinar will examine both historical and contemporary aspects of Ainu culture, including the surprising ways that Ainu and American history intersect in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We will also explore the recent 2020 opening of the new national museum dedicated to the Ainu in Shiraoi, Hokkaido, and Ainu representation in popular media.

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Website // Minority Visual Representation in Asia: St. Olaf College Independent Research 2020 (WordPress)

CITATION

Spiker, Christina, Adele Gordon, and Julianne Stewart. Minority Visual Representation in Asia: St. Olaf College Independent Research 2020. WordPress. 2020.

DESCRIPTION

Our interdisciplinary collaboration with one another in Spring 2020 was born out of a shared interest in learning about how minority groups within Asia were represented in visual culture. Prof. Spiker had research experience in dealing with representations of Ainu visual culture in the 19th and 20th centuries in Japan, while Julianne Stewart ’20 and Adele S. Gordon ’20 had an interest in learning about Taiwan and China.

One recurring question for us was this: “what is the difference between representations of a group by the dominant culture and being represented by one’s own community.” This vacillation between representations “of” and “by” became a touchstone for us as we navigated the complex visual economy of minority visual representation in Asia.

Our collaboration included (1) developing a shared reading list on this subject, (2) meeting weekly to discuss said readings, and (3) each collaborator developing an independent digital humanities project using StoryMapJS by the knight lab at Northwestern University. This was the students first experience using this particular program.

Digital // Analyzing Textiles with an Ainu Attush Robe (StoryMapJS)

DESCRIPTION

An analysis of a 19th-century Ainu robe from the Cooper Hewitt Collection at the Smithsonian Design Museum. This was produced as part of independent research conducted with students Adele S. Gordon ’20 and Julianne Stewart ’20 at St. Olaf College. Each collaborator created their own “story map” using StoryMapJS and used it to explore minority visual representation within Asia. The StoryMapJS was accompanied by a website.

Presentation // Golden Kamuy and the Discourse of Ethnic Harmony: Defining a Multi-Ethnic Japan in Anime and Manga

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “Golden Kamuy and the Discourse of Ethnic Harmony: Defining a Multi-Ethnic Japan in Anime and Manga,” paper planned to be delivered at the 50th Annual Popular Culture Association Conference, Philadelphia (April 15-18, 2020). [CANCELLED DUE TO COVID-19]

ABSTRACT

The question of Japan’s status as a multi-ethnic nation has been intensively debated by scholars such as Tessa Morris-Suzuki since the 1990s. The development of a new national museum in Hokkaido dedicated to the indigenous Ainu minority called The Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony (民族共生象徴空間, or Upopoy in the Ainu language) has renewed many of these debates on the eve of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. While many scholars, such as Morris-Suzuki, have discussed the concerns with this new contemporary site and the line between celebration and exploitation of indigenous culture, these perspectives have not adequately addressed the role of popular visual culture in spreading an ideology of ethnic harmony in relation to Japan’s indigenous minorities. My paper addresses this issue in a case study of the popular visual cultural representation of the Ainu in the historical manga and anime Golden Kamuy (manga 2014-; anime 2018-) by Noda Satoru. I argue that the way that this show introduces Ainu culture to a non-Ainu majority is in line with many of the issues we see playing out in the political sphere regarding the tension between Ainu recognition by the Japanese government and the government’s unwillingness to take responsibility for past colonial aggressions. In conclusion, by examining Golden Kamuy we can begin to acknowledge the role of visual culture in informing a widespread understanding of indigeneity as we approach the Tokyo Olympics and the torch relay race that will go through this new ethnic museum and park in Hokkaido, Japan.

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Presentation // The “Nakoruru Problem”: The Malleable Ainu Image in Samurai Shodown, 1993-2019 (Mechademia)

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “The ‘Nakoruru Problem’: The Malleable Ainu Image in Samurai Shodown, 1993-2019,” paper delivered on the “Queered Through the Foreign, Fictional, and Fetishized Body” panel at the Mechademia Conference for Asian Popular Culture, Minneapolis College of Art and Design (September 27-29, 2019)

ABSTRACT

Very little scholarly attention has been given to the visual representations of Native peoples in popular culture, even though media circulation has a role in forging most stereotypes of indigeneity. This void of scholarship is exacerbated in Japan, where the indigenous Ainu were only recognized as an indigenous group in 2008 and legally recognized in 2019. Even before their recent acknowledgment by the Japanese government, images of the Ainu steadily trickled into Japanese popular culture. Before the recent success of manga/anime Golden Kamuy (2014–present), two female heroines from the arcade fighting game Samurai Shodown—Nakoruru and her sister Rimururu—formed a dominant expression of Ainu identity in visual culture beginning in the mid-1990s. This paper examines their complex representation from three distinct angles: (1) the “official” image of these sisters as found in the game franchise, (2) the fetishized image of the women as coopted in fan-produced dōjinshi comics, which plays upon indigenous stereotypes of closeness to nature to further zoophilic rape fantasies, and (3) the adoption of the Ainu women as a local mascot to support Japanese environmental policies related to deforestation and clean water. In exploring the flexibility of the Ainu image as embodied in these two characters, this paper examines the ambivalence of desire and derision that exists between fan and official cultural productions, and the Ainu community response to what Ainu researcher Chupuchitsekor calls the “Nakoruru Problem” (Nakoruru mondai).

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Public Lecture // Indigenous Modernity in Hokkaido, Japan: the Complexities of Ainu Representation in Photography and Illustration (Macalester College)

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “Indigenous Modernity in Hokkaido, Japan: the Complexities of Ainu Representation in Photography and Illustration,” public lecture delivered at Macalester College. Co-sponsored by Art and Art History, Asian Studies, and the Office of Academic Programs (September 19, 2019).

ABSTRACT

The Japanese island of Hokkaido experienced a boom of travel at the turn of the twentieth century as explorers sought out the indigenous Ainu—a people who were often idealized as a singular white race stranded in the North Pacific. These travelers reproduced countless representations of the Ainu; images that would come to define their culture in the Euro-American imaginary. This presentation explores notions of indigenous modernity through photography and illustration from 1870 until roughly 1930. In what ways did the visual field preclude the existence of modern indigenous subjectivity in Hokkaido? How did photography play a role in the construction and reinforcement of native Ainu stereotypes in Japan and abroad? This lecture will examine some key examples of Ainu photography by popular studios and discuss engravings and newspaper collages based on these original photographic works. It will also explore how Ainu producers of image and text—such as Takekuma Tokusaburō and Katahira Tomijirō—engaged with these dominant representations. Understanding the gradual development of optical consistency from photographs to the illustrations based on them can better illuminate the calcification of Ainu stereotypes at home and abroad, as well as expand our understanding of photography as a visual medium in Meiji and Taishō Japan.

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Presentation // Comparative Itineraries: A Digital Humanities Approach to Understanding Authenticity in the Exploration of Hokkaido

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “Comparative Itineraries: A Digital Humanities Approach to Understanding Authenticity in the Exploration of Hokkaido,” paper delivered at the Travel is Life, Travel is Home: Representing Travel and Landscape in Japan Conference, Iowa State University (April 4-6, 2019)

ABSTRACT

If you could ask any late nineteenth-century Euro-American explorer about their travels in Hokkaido, Japan, they would all tell you variations of the same story. After a voyage by a steamship, the traveler arrives in the port of Yokohama and confronts a Japan that is both foreign and familiar. After a few days exploration and orientation, they arrange passage to Hakodate by ship with the hope of traveling into Hokkaido’s frontier to meet the indigenous Ainu. Sometimes, these explorers frame the Ainu as savages beyond redemption; at other times, they describe them as naive indigenes in need of religion and civilization. But regardless of how they visually or verbally illustrate the Ainu throughout the text, you would undoubtedly hear tales about how it was this traveler who ventured farther and deeper into Japan’s interior than anyone who came before. As I read these various travel accounts of travel to Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido in the form of explorer’s reports, memoirs, and travelogues, I started to question the exceptional nature of their claims. Did they travel as far as their hyperbole indicated? And when they finally met the indigenous inhabitants of this island, the Ainu, did they really have to navigate “impenetrable jungles,” as one traveler would have it, to locate the ideal “savage” specimen? My paper investigates the role of Hokkaido in three travel narratives written by authors Isabella Bird, Arnold Henry Savage Landor, and Frederick Starr in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I describe the various approaches that these travelers take to exploring the island and employ a digital humanities method to physically plot out the geographies of their route in CARTO DB and ArcGIS. In addition to making a case for the scholarly utility of this method, I use the example of my SCALAR website Mapping Isabella Bird talk about how such digital projects can serve a pedagogical function in posing questions about travel narratives and claims of authorial authenticity.

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Presentation // The Shôjo and the Indigenous Body: Representations of Ainu Woman in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993-2008

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “The Shôjo and the Indigenous Body: Representations of Ainu Woman in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993-2008,” paper delivered on the “The Shôjo Body as Indigenous, Ubiquitous, Balletic and Beautiful” panel at the 67th Annual Midwest Conference for Asian Affairs (MCAA), Metropolitan State University (October 19-20, 2018).

ABSTRACT

With the 2014 release of Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa), a puzzle-platformer developed by Upper One Games in conjunction with the Alaskan Cook Inlet Tribal Council, academics and gamers alike have begun to examine the potential for video games to explore native culture as a form of both entertainment and interactive storytelling. In Japan, where its indigenous Ainu minority was recognized as recently as 2008, the relationship between the Japanese and Ainu population remains strained. This paper investigates the role of representation in creating an accessible version of indigenous culture repackaged for the Japanese mainstream. Focusing on Ainu sisters Nakoruru and Rimururu who are featured prominently in the fighting game Samurai Spirits (1993–2008), this paper examines battling indigenous shōjo heroines as virtual ambassadors of culture. While these two characters are marked as Ainu through their clothing and relationship with nature, their indigenous identity is often secondary to their portrayal the shōjo, or “young girl” archetype. In conversation with the work of Sharalyn Orbaugh, this paper questions how the archetype of the “busty battlin’ babe” translates when dealing with the bodies of Ainu women. I argue that Ainu-ness is represented as a form of narrative excess that the character can don as a costume and remove just as easily. By analyzing Nakoruru and Rimururu’s official representation in the franchise, in addition to fan interpretations as presented in self-published comics (dōjinshi) and the erasure of their Ainu backstory upon import to the United States, this paper negotiates various representations of indigenous Otherness against the backdrop of Japanese racism and indigenous activism in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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