The boom of ‘Italy’ in Japan: Critical Reflections on Occidentalism and Italianism
AbstractIn the modern age, Occidentalism as a process of signifying practices based upon the notion of “the West” has played a hegemonic role in the configuration of collective identity and alterity. The imaginary geography of “the West” has been one of the most effective in inscribing the whole world and humanity along hierarchic and fluid lines of inclusion and exclusion, encompassing global relations of power in geopolitical contexts, as well as knowledge practices in geocultural spheres. In spite of post-colonial engagements aimed to de-naturalize the notions of “the West” and “the East”, little critical attentions has been paid so far to the inter-relational and complicit processes between Occidentalism, Orientalism and self-Orientalism. This paper shall explore the historical genalogy of discourses on Italy (Italianism) in modern Japan, which brought to the Italian boom in the 1990s, elevating at present Italy to the rank of the most-loved foreign country among Japanese women and youth. This study suggests that the prevailing image of Italy has been articulated and re-produced since modern age as an ambivalent icon: a superior-seeming and ‘archetypical West’ based on the insistence of its antique and classical features (Roman Empire, Humanism, Renaissance), and at the same time, an inferior-seeming and ‘backward West’ based on the insistence of its pre-moderns aspects (history, gastronomy, fashion, landscapes, cheerful people, etc.). The popularity of this configuration suggests the strategic relevance of the Italian looking glass self which enables to mediate deep rooted and contradictory pro-western and anti-western tensions in modern and contemporary Japan.
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