by Krystian Woznicki
Techno Culture Japan
by Krystian Woznicki
Abstracted from Krystian Woznicki's lecture Techno Culture Japan
Public Netbase t0, Institute for Culture Technologies, Museumsquartier Vienna 18.04.1997
It's not about reinstating (cultural)difference as the inscrutability factor. Nor is it about trying to enroll a discursive program to make difference legible. It's much more about inquiring how the Other/otherness are organized and perceived along a changing economy of exterior and interior,- particularly, if speaking about technology(/culture/Japan)... Just need to look a bit beyond that 'wave' of techno-dreams/nightmares emitted from contemporary Japan, and will have to, probably not wanting, face (well let's say) some incongruencies with respect to the role afforded to technology within the formative forces of modernization(1868-): technology, on the one hand demonized as the imperialist Other, while mobilized as counter-capital opposed to newly marginalized and colonized subjects, on the other. Both are, for an emerging nation- state, self-defining principles (1) from the vantage point of being nearly colonized, and (2) as internal colonizer. Since late 1800 technology comes to be ideologized as opposed to (Japanese)culture, thus at once constituting Japan at the level of culture, which would remain unharmed by technologization. Technological development, thereby, becomes palatable, hence feasible. The question of the nation-state and Japanese culture is posed anew in the 90's, which is also to be traced back to the changing role of technology. Taking Techno Culture Japan as separate, yet interrelated concepts/entities, the recent history shows -to the point of multiple reversals- telling moments of recodification. Both, the anticipated impact of the current Internet Bubble, and technological nation-state building, introduced as a policy during the 80's, are to be problematized as crucial transitory junctures. Within this framework I trace (representations of) nature -once codified as the intrusive Other, now as the source for national cultural mobility/sovereignty- as the discourse clinching technology and culture. Talk of the 'decline of the nation state' is, particularly in new media circles, no novelty at all. Yet (regardless of medium) Japanese techno-culture remains (perceived as the core of something Japanese) surprisingly intact: isolated, and thereby dislocated fragments assume the role of representing the national whole. Misconceptions of this kind arise, despite the Net, from a spatial/temporal distance that is mutually felt.
A recurring leitmotif is travel. At the very core lies the notion of information ...that travels. On whose demand, for which purpose, to be presented/deployed in which context? On a more concrete level, a culture based on the vision of a Japanese technological spirit, contains this moment of departure('departedness') seen through sci-fi glasses, however, maintaining the seatbelts on (after all national security could be at stake!), with one eye focused on the urban space radar. Looking at recent techno trends through 'multicultural glasses' representations of travel are insightful. But instead inmigration, the focal point is the phenomena of so-called return migration,- a discourse of pseudo-ethnic cleansing underlying the import of 'Third World' labor and cultures introduced with a revision of the Immigration Law in 1.June 1990. And rather than tracing restructured mechanisms of domestic travel, seizing the trip-ing abroad, particularly into Asian countries seems rewarding: Japanese techno-pop (since the late 70's) celebrates 'tourism' to Bali, India, etc. Eclecticism, stylistic collage indicate what the media have called a generation "world open" and "outer-national". It's inherent futurism involves only further detachment from what one would call 'roots', 'tradition' -as articulated in the nature discourse "which by turns denies, invents, or finds refuge in the past"- but is it the harbinger for a happy multiculturalism? Isn't it rather a (latent panic) site split between its subversive potential and the commodifying market forces sustained by 'homogenous Japan'?
Thoughts on fashioning the Other/otherness brings, besides ethnic minorities, also the location of crime to the fore, of which Japan seems exempted (sustaining the rationalization of technological progress). Crime, in fact, is marginalized/contained by the practically unmonitored 'yakuza' and irrationalized/ riddled among youth. Despite recent 'journalistic propaganda' the juvenile crime rate is decreasing in an increasingly aging society. But rather than relying on (crime rate) statistics, emphasis on the construction of crime is placed. Less looking at the content, but more so at the narrative and representational level, relating spectacular criminal and Japanese Cyberpunk 'events' of the 80's and 90's discloses an intricate rendering of what finally escapes mediation/narrativization. The routine of daily life and mass culture in the world's most densely mediated communication node demands cultural manifestations that involve a disruption (such as event and intervention), thereby generating large scale attention. Monuments (besides bringing things to a halt) introduce a further dimension, being media, deployed as oasis-like sites for the distribution of cultural meaning. The recent Cyberpunk animation "Evangelion" is a highly articulated event, with no end in sight. On the one hand, being constantly recycled, but also newly developed, it soon assumes the role of a monument with references to the Aum Shinrikyo event. Resisting closure, hence fraught with an unsettling moment that escapes narrativization and that permeates the public conscience, it is the powerful intervention of the 90's, on the other. Japanese techno culture between crime, minorities and nature... My seemingly arbitrary stretching the boundaries of techno/culture, not only accounts for the immensely flexible notion of culture in use today, or the hard-to-grasp nature of edgy technologies, but much more for a (not limited however) narrowed scrutinizing of Techno Culture Japan.