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The South Atlantic Quarterly 99.4 (2000) 841-863

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The “Wild Child” of 1990s Japan

Andrea G. Arai

In the summer of 1997 a powerful set of representations of a “wild child” exploded onto the media scene in Japan. 1 Occupying one portion of this image arena, the blood-smeared face of the young heroine of Miyazaki Hayao’s all-time smash hit, Mononokehime, was featured on everything from posters to pencils. Occupying the other, the image of a “child” revealed to be the perpetrator of a series of heinous acts against younger school-aged children, Shonen A, was reproduced in lurid detail everywhere but pictured nowhere. 2

In the 1990s in Japan, “the child” and its development became the site of a newly intensified nexus of social anxiety. Disclosed in what for the most part became household terms during this period, kodomo ga hen da (children are turning strange) and gakkyu hokai (collapse of classrooms), a larger discourse of social crisis and collapse made “the child” its focus. Taking this anxiety as my focal point, I examine the production of these images of “the child” and the concerted body of associations about nature, culture, and history, particular to this moment in Japan that they evoke. The sociohistorical significance [End Page 841] of these images lies in what they reveal about this social anxiety, how the anxiety itself obscures a recognition of the historically specific location of “the child” at the center of national-cultural narratives, and in turn, how this anxiety shields from view the linkages between this specificity and the everyday realities of the Japanese child and family at the turn of the century.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, tightly woven linkages that graduated to the level of the commonsensical between economic success and the uniqueness of the “nation-culture” Japan turned the development of the child and the parent-child relationship into a sui generis ground. This is not to say, however, that the general education of the child was not an object of national attention prior to the postwar period, but rather that the nature of this attention and investment has changed. 3 All too often overlooked in the intensification of the site of “the child” in the postwar period has been the complex contribution of foreign narratives and otherwise expert explanations of Japan’s postwar national development. Crossing here at the site of “the child,” the modernization theory of early postwar Japan studies and the idea of relative culture(s) in an American cultural anthropology of Japan from Franz Boas and his students contributed to the production of a discursive milieu from which emerged a native psychological anthropology of identity. 4 This native psychological anthropology, exemplified in the 1970s by the writings on amae by Takeo Doi, fix on the development of the Japanese child as a means of naturalizing the different development of the Japanese nation-culture.

As part of my present work on “the child” in modernity, I am examining the postwar genealogy of this native psychological anthropology of identity. In tracking the emergence and development of these theories of the uniqueness of the Japanese psyche, or personality, by Doi and other notable figures like Kawai Hayao, I am interested in how the discipline of psychology—a discipline of modern subject formation—is employed to argue for the nonindividuation of the Japanese subject, in how “the child” is made to support a sense of a different development in time, at once traditional and modern, of the Japanese nation-state, and in what effects the increasingly inward movement of the national form has had on the historical subjects themselves. 5

In analyzing the conjunction of these “wild child” images of the 1990s in Japan, I want to emphasize that neither the discourse of the fear for/of the child nor the shock and disbelief that have accompanied the discoveries that a futsu no ko (a regular kid) from a “regular family,” can commit “monstrous” [End Page 842] acts against their intimates are unique to Japan (whether this be Shonen A or Kip...