Bodies at Play: Japan Embodied seminars resume Sept. 23

Series explores ‘pleasures of the flesh’ in Japanese culture

Japanese body art, elaborate tattoos, fashion and pre-modern pornography are among topics to be explored as the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis opens its fall seminar series.

Titled Bodies at Play, the fall 2011 program of the Japan Embodied: New Approaches to Japanese Studies seminar series opens at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, in Room 18, Busch Hall, on the Danforth Campus with a free, public program on body ornamentation in Japanese culture.

“We will have a distinguished art historian from London come to talk to us about sexuality in Japan as viewed in woodblock prints,” says seminar co-organizer Rebecca Copeland, PhD, professor of modern Japanese literature in Arts & Sciences. “And that same day, we will have a scholar talk on the history and current interest in Japanese tattoos.

“Later in the semester, we will have a professor from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and a senior curator from the Los Angeles County Museum come to talk about fashion in Japan — past and present. So, we are looking at the way the body has been designed, ornamented and enjoyed over time in Japan,” Copeland says.

In its third semester, Japan Embodied is a four-semester initiative designed to explore theories of embodiment in Japan within such contexts as the history of science, sexualities and medicine. Any member of the WUSTL community interested in the study of the body is invited to participate in some or all of the scheduled seminars. Advance readings will be assigned and audience participation is encouraged.

All of seminars will begin at 4 p.m. in Room 18, Busch Hall. The schedule:

Sept. 23 — Bodies as Ornament/Ornamented Bodies

Featured speakers include Timon Screech, PhD, professor of the history of art and archaeology at the University of London; and Mieko Yamada, PhD, assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne.

Screech is the author of Sex and the Floating World: Erotic Imagery in Japan, 1720-1810 (2009). His research explores such topics as Japanese art history, Edo period painting and prints, sexual history of Japan and contacts between Japan and Europe in the early modern period.

Yamada’s research focuses on the history of tattooing in Japan and examines the popular culture of tattooing and its cultural complexities. Her work explains the values, beliefs and practices associated with tattooing during the pre-modern period, and she discusses how these are shaped and modified by modern cultural practices and how they are being influenced by globalization.

Oct. 7 — Specialty Foods and the Girl Grotesque: New Scholarship in Japanese Studies

Featured speakers include Laura Miller, PhD, the Ei’ichi Shibusawa-Seigo Arai Endowed Professor of Japanese Studies and professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis; and Akira Shimizu, PhD, the Mellon Sawyer Postdoctoral Fellow in Japanese history at WUSTL.

Miller’s research interests include linguistic ideology, folk models, popular culture and gender representations in media and language, and writing systems. She is the author of Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics (2006) and co-editor of Bad Girls of Japan (Palgrave, 2005) and Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan (2011). Her current book project, Japanese Girl Stuff, builds on multiple interests and expertise in linguistic anthropology, Japanese popular culture, and gender and media.

Shimizu’s recent dissertation, Eating Edo, Sensing Japan: Brand Foods and Market Culture in Late Tokugawa Japan, 1780-1868, employed previously unused manuscripts from Japanese archives to explore the history of Japanese food culture in Edo (modern-day Tokyo). He will discuss regional speciality foods and tribute presentation (kenjo).

Nov. 4 — Fashioning the Body

Featured speakers include Yuniya Kawamura, PhD, associate professor of sociology at the Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York; and Sharon Takeda, senior curator and department head of costume and textiles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Kawamura’s interests are on Japanese youth subcultures and fashion. Her current work on Japanese fashion subcultures, Fashioning Japanese Subcultures, focuses on different districts in Tokyo, such as Harajuku, Shibuya and Akihabara, from where youth subcultures along with their distinctive styles and fashion emerge. She compares and contrasts the high fashion system and the street fashion system.

Takeda’s first LACMA exhibition, When Art Became Fashion: Kosode in Edo-Period Japan, and its accompanying publication won seven awards, including first place in the 1992 American Association of Museums’ Curator’s Committee Exhibit Competition and the 1993 Costume Society of America’s Millia Davenport Publication Award.

The Japan Embodied seminar series is supported by a $150,000 Mellon Foundation Grant, which was awarded to WUSTL’s Japan studies faculty through a highly competitive selection process. In their bid to bring the prestigious John E. Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Studies of Culture to Washington University, faculty organizers promoted the university’s existing strengths in Asian studies as well as strong interdisciplinary connections to faculty with related experience in the schools and departments across campus.

In particular, the grant proposal noted the university’s wealth of scholars with expertise in Western notions of the body in the departments of literature, psychology, anthropology and art history. It highlighted plans for the participation of faculty in the Women, Gender, and Sexualities Studies Program, many of whom have expertise in studies of the body.

For more information on future seminars and the required readings, visit the department website,, or contact Krystel Mowery at (314) 935-4448 or