- Traveling Texts and the Work of Afro-Japanese Cultural Production: Two Haiku and a Microphone ed. by William H. Bridges IV and Nina Cornyetz
Afro-Asian has become a term that scholars use to study the contradictions and like-mindedness of two distinctive regions across a south–south forum. And yet, scholars often refrain from including Japan in categorizations of the global south precisely because of its contemporary inclusion in world politics and economy as a G8 nation. Traveling Texts and the Work of Afro-Japanese Cultural Production: Two Haiku and a Microphone, edited by William H. Bridges IV [End Page 267] and Nina Cornyetz, however, expands upon Japan's industrialized positionality to one that engages and explores cultural productions from an Afro-Asian perspective. Including chapters on aesthetical forms, this edited volume is a wonderful addition to existing scholarly collections in Afro-Asian studies, Japanese studies, Africana studies, and cultural studies. The authors employ diverse methodologies to examine these interdisciplinary topics in ways that both build upon readers' knowledges of canonical topics. Chapters on well-known authors exist alongside other chapters on newer topics, such as "black" robots, Japanese hip-hop, and ganguro (顔黒, literally black face) girls to consider the flows of cultural exchange in an Afro-Asian context. Finally, the editors have compiled the volume to captivate an interdisciplinary reader, including chapters on Japanese studies alongside that of Africana studies. In short, the volume is dynamic, insightful, and engrossing for most readers.
Part I of the anthology, "Art and Performance," includes three contributions that engage in modes of transculturation from the specific vantage point of African American studies. The highlights of this section include Anderson and Cornyetz's chapters. Crystal S. Anderson's "Urban Geishas: Reading Race and Gender in iROZEALb's Paintings" examines how iROZEALb's reflects the interplay between African American culture, blackface, and ukiyo-e prints and iconography. Anderson locates the Afro-Japanese in the aesthetics of visual culture, ultimately suggesting that iROZEALb's paintings critique black stereotypes while also incorporating Japan into black politics, suggesting that these representations that engage race, culture, politics, gender, and sexuality traverse national borders, embodying the global from a very specific vantage point. This example of Afro-Japanese aesthetics from the point of view of an African American artist is followed by Nina Cornyetz's "The Theatrics of Japanese Blackface: Body as Mannequin." In this fascinating essay, she expands upon blackface and blackness by examining if gyaru (girl) subculture appropriates African American culture. More specifically, she questions if blackness is a sign or a symbol, attempting to understand its origin in contemporary Japanese culture. Finally, Yuichiro Onishi and Tia-Simone Gardner's chapter, "Abbey Lincoln and Kazuko Shiraishi's Art-Making as Spiritual Labor," considers the correspondence and collaboration between Abbey Lincoln, an African American jazz musician and Kazuko Shiraishi, a Japanese poet. These three chapters allow the reader to understand that Afro-Japanese cultural productions produce meaning not in the confines of area studies but through a transnational framework that transcends disciplines.
Part II of the anthology, "Poetry and Literature," moves from African American poetry to Japanese literature and cultural productions. The reader [End Page 268] approaches Amiri Baraka and Richard Wright alongside Ōe Kenzaburō's literature and depictions of "future-oriented" black robots in Shōwa (1924–1963) Japan. While seemingly disparate topics, each of these chapters focuses on how Afro-Japanese connections formed and influenced canonical writers. Michio Arimitsu examines Amiri Baraka's later poetry while Yoshinobu Hakutani's chapter on Richard Wright's haiku depicts the modernist techniques he showcased in his poetry. The latter part of this section, with chapters by Bridges and McKnight are especially interesting. William H. Bridges IV shifts to Japan in his chapter, "In the Beginning: Blackness and the 1960s Creative Nonfiction of Ōe Kenzaburō." He introduces and analyzes Ōe's essays and literary works, such as A Personal Matter (Kojinteki na taiken, 1964) and The Cry (Sakebigoe, 1963) through...