October 24, 2016/ 12:30 PM

Royce 314

Iphigenia in the China Sea: The Politics of Sacrifice and Repetition in Contemporary Japan

Presentation by Christopher Nelson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In the aftermath of the Battle of Okinawa, the American military turned its efforts toward fortifying its new strategic outpost in the Pacific. Okinawan survivors were left to rebuild their lives in the ruins of their farms and villages. The dead were buried deeply and quickly. Decades later, a massive urban development project was undertaken in Naha to create a new cosmopolitan Japanese city in the space of an abandoned American military base. However, construction unearthed the unremembered and perhaps unwanted remains of a legion of Imperial Japanese soldiers. My current project considers the ways in which Okinawan artists, activists and ordinary citizens have come together in order to make sense of the material remnants of an army that had sworn to protect them during World War II, but chose instead to sacrifice them to preserve the emperor and the Japanese state. My goal is not simply to illuminate some forgotten event or to determine those accountable for past injustices. Their exhumation—their return—comes at a point when the ideology that defined their death irrupts again into everyday life. The dead cannot be left to bury the dead when they figure so importantly in the projects of the living. I hope to show that these moments of the past extend into the present, exerting a powerful force on the configuration of the nation and those whose practices constitute it.

About the Speaker

Christopher T. Nelson is a cultural anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since 1996, he has been conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Okinawa, Japan. Nelson's broader research interests include the relationship between history and memory; the critical study of everyday life; storytelling, ritual and performance; value, exchange and sacrifice. His first book, Dancing With the Dead: Memory, Performance and Everyday Life in Postwar Okinawa (Duke University Press, 2008) considered the ways in which ordinary people come to grips with the burden of their past. Along with Anne Allison and Harry Harootunian, he is a co-editor of a recent issue of Boundary2 that explores crisis and catastrophe in a Japan devastated by earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. He is currently at work on a project entitled, Dreaming of the Dragon King: Death, Hope and Creative Action, an ethnography of laborers, artists, ethnologists, political activists, shaman and the dead in contemporary Japan.

Cost : Free and open to the public!

Download file: 10.24.16-NELSON-0e-lp1.pdf

Sponsor(s): Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies