restricted access 3. Tourists, Anthropologists, and Visions of Indigenous Society in Japan
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45 3 Tourists, Anthropologists, and Visions of Indigenous Society in Japan Tessa Morris-Suzuki The Ainu as Cultural Entrepreneurs In 1994, scholar of globalization Jonathan Friedman published one of the few accounts of Ainu society to appear in a general English-language study of cultural representation. For Friedman, the Ainu are the archetypal representatives of one extreme strategy for preserving and transmitting culture in the modern world. In contrast with the Bakongo people of the Congo, who express their cultural identity though the hyperconsumption of Western material goods, and with indigenous Hawaiians, who resist the objectification of their culture by others, the Ainu (according to Friedman) express their identity above all through the commercial production of their culture for tourists. Within the Ainu cultural movement, writes Friedman, “there is no interest in political autonomy, but rather acceptance on equal terms with the majority population.” However, the search for acceptance involves efforts to achieve recognition of Ainu culture as distinct from, but of equal value to, majority Japanese (Wajin) culture. Drawing on the researches of Katerina Sjöberg, Friedman describes villages where traditional-style houses have been deliberately reconstructed for ceremonial uses and to attract tourists . Japanese and other visitors “are invited not only to buy Ainu products , but to see how they are made, even to learn how they are made and to experiment in making them themselves. [Tourists] can also hear about Ainu mythology, ritual and history, taste Ainu food and live in Ainu homes, 46     Tessa Morris-Suzuki especially when the few boarding houses are full” (Friedman 1994, 110; see also Sjöberg 1993). This strategy of tourist display, he suggests, is instrumental in “recreating or perhaps creating a traditional culture” (Friedman 1994, 111). Friedman’s attitude to this production of “culture-for-others” seems ambivalent. On the one hand, he writes, “Just as we might suspect the hyperconsumerism of [the Bakongo], the [Ainu’s] orientation to the tourist market would seem to be nothing short of cultural suicide.” This view (according to Friedman) is “not simply a Western intellectual position,” but a position taken by others including “contemporary Hawaiians” (Friedman 1994, 111–112). On the other hand, though, he presents the varied strategies of the Bakongo, the Ainu, and the Hawaiians as representing different ways of addressing common problems of local identity in a globalized age. Each of the three cases illustrates the extent to which “traditional culture” is actively created in changing local circumstances. The contrast between the strategies is a question “not simply of cultural difference but of global position .” For this reason, “to understand the strategies themselves it is necessary to account for their historical emergence” (Friedman 1994, 113). Friedman’s account, interestingly enough, has had some influence in Japan itself, where it has been discussed in the writings of the cultural anthropologist Ōta Yoshinobu—though Ōta’s (1998, 79–84) account of the relationship between culture and tourism is more nuanced than Friedman’s. While I agree with Friedman’s emphasis on the need to understand local culture as something constantly re-created in an increasingly global context, his discussion seems to me to raise very large problems about the representation of culture. In the most basic sense, one problem raised by Friedman’s analysis is one of simple factual accuracy. To what extent does his description of Ainu cultural strategies accord with reality? This is a real concern, given the fact that Friedman’s account of Ainu society relies entirely on a single source. As historian Richard Siddle rightly points out, Katarina Sjöberg’s study, on which Friedman bases his analysis, is one of the very few pieces of research to address the fusion of culture and politics in contemporary Ainu society, but her work is “unfortunately marred by numerous errors and misinterpretations ” (Siddle 1996, 7, 202). But, more profoundly, Friedman’s study also raises conceptual issues about the relationship between Indigenous traditions, academic research, and the public display of traditions through museums and tourism. These issues operate at two levels. First, there is the problem of how the Ainu (or Tourists, Anthropologists, and Visions of Indigenous Society     47 more precisely, various Ainu groups and communities) choose to preserve and represent their cultural heritage. (The word heritage is something that I shall return to later.) Second, there is the problem of how academics like Friedman, Ōta, or myself represent Ainu representations of culture to an audience of people most of whom have no direct contact with Ainu people. Skeletons in the...


Subject Headings

  • Japan -- Ethnic relations.
  • Ainu -- Study and teaching.
  • Ainu.
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