nineteenth-century period of the "opening of Japan" is often described
as a time when that nation began to "learn from Europe." In the summer
of 1994, out on the Kii Peninsula, I reckoned this century-long class
was officially over when, in the middle of an outdoor arena show,
the Japanese-actor conquistadores started dancing the Funky
Chicken with other nearly naked actors (presumably Aztecs). A cartoon-costumed
hang-dog Don Quixote with a pudgy puddy-cat Sancho Panza came on stage
to save the day, and it became clear that Japan had already learned
just about enough from Europe.
And if today it seems that Japan can no longer
make up its mind which continent it borders, we have to remember that
we live in a time when cultural drift brings even far-flung continents
together. Not surprisingly, we can now find an Italian sea-coast resort
on a land-fill island near Osaka, a Dutch city not far from Nagasaki,
and the site I will be discussing below.
Within this recently-constructed
tourist destination, "Shima Spain Village," is a Spanish-style themed
amusement-park called "Parque Espana." The theme park consists of
several city plazas reproduced in scale and facade (but not in materials)
from various Spanish cities, juxtaposed to provide spaces for Japanese
tourists to enjoy. (Presumably, non-Japanese tourists have other places
to go, although a guide-book pamphlet in English is provided). Around
these plazas are stores and restaurants in which the tourists are
expected to spend most of their time and cash. There is also an amusement
park, an outdoor stage, a museum of Spanish handicrafts, and a boat
ride similar to the "Pirates of the Caribbean" at Tokyo Disneyland.
The surrounding "Village" also includes several large resort hotels
serving fresh local sashimi, and providing hot tubs (ofuro)
and Japanese-style futon beds, or Western accomodations.
Shima Spain Village is located
in Mie Prefecture on the Kii Peninsula, near the Grand Shinto Shrine
at Ise, so one can stop off there on the way back to catch the Shinkansen
bullet train at Nagoya or Kyoto. The park was planned during the economic
boom, and opened in 1994, hoping to attract several million tourists
a year. An average stay with train, hotel and entrance fees would
cost up to US$1,000 dollars per person for a long weekend, depending
on the exchange rate. A family of four could save big money by simply
catching a 747 to Barcelona. But Barcelona is now in Japan: the sashimi
is good, the bath is hot, and everyone speaks the same language you
do. It's just like being at home. And that's part of the problem,
or at least, of the cultural problematic of Shima Spain Village, namely,
the problematic of translating living historic places into domesticated
I use the term "domestication"
in two main senses. The first is the hegemonic "power-directed" reading.
A domesticated space is a place under paternalist control, a place
that services its owners. The domesticated farm animal serves a purpose
devised by its human owners, rather than a path determined by its
own internal goals. So too, a domesticated space has been thoroughly
stripped of unwanted and unexpected uses. The second meaning of domestication
is that of "familiarity" the space of others now joins the household,
thereby losing any exotic or dangerous connotations.
Why exactly are domesticated
spaces in East Asia or elsewhere of particular interest today? Why
is the commodification of places any different than the commodification
of things? A couple of reasons come to mind. Firstly, domesticated
Western spaces in East Asia announce an end to the claim of simple,
ideologically promoted Westernization (or Western-derived social/economic
development) as the primary feature of local cultural change. That
time has passed, and nothing so simple as this remains. Westernization
— as this also means a glorification of the West — gives way to a
playful denigration of the West. The West is now a civic pleasure
garden, and its colonizing history is displayed through the antics
of dancers and clowns. Japan, and Asia, now dances on the grave (or,
at least, the piazza) of Western imperialism.
In addition, these spaces
open up a post-modernizing place as a site of new cultural practices.
Culture here, the stuff of art and architecture (all fake, but good
enough to pass when the mood is light) is served up like so many MacDonalds'
burgers, without much attention to who is serving and how this might
have been done, or might still be done, in some real Spanish city
somewhere else on the globe. This is a new Spanish village, where
everything that happens is just as Spanish as everything else. Shima
Spain Village is a site of Western culture, as this has now become
indigenous to Asia.
In spatial terms, we
now find the production of Europe as a place internal to East Asia.
A place where East and West not only meet, they are in fact the same,
and without this sameness coming from a colonial past, but rather
coined from some well-spring of post-modern cultural imagination.
The effect of this sameness is to mark the decentering of the West
as a place and a culture external to East Asia. But this is not just
the end of a linear process of cultural borrowing from the West. Something
else is going on here. Borrowing gives way to ownership. Ownership
confers control, and control promotes familiarity. Together, ownership
and familiarity mark the ongoing process of domestication.
This notion of domestication
is not entirely my own. Victor Turner turned to "domestication" to
describe the use of symbols during rituals to render safe what were
formerly dangerous emotions among the Ndembu1;
while Susan Sontag noted that modernity seems to verge between two
impulses: surrender to the exotic, and the domestication of the unknown,
of the exotic, mostly by science2.
Marcus and Fischer's3 (1986) comments
on anthropology as cultural critique bring up an inverse notion—that
of defamiliarization, of making exotic what had previously or elsewhere
been domesticated. In his 1987 article on cricket in contemporary
India4, Arjun Appadurai commented
on how cricket, one of the "hardest" of British cultural forms, has
been domesticated within India. And we cannot overlook the literature
on gender and the domestication of women. Looking around most neighborhoods
in Japan and Singapore, and now, even in China, one can easily find
domestication at work. Domesticated spaces are today as ubiquitous
as the automobile. But who, we must ask, gets to drive them, who just
gets taken for a ride?
Of course, there are
times when the ride is all that matters. Here we find thousands of
families who would spend about the same amount of money to travel
to Shima Spain Village as it would cost to travel to Spain. These
customers are expected to enjoy the park as a reasonable alternative
to actually traveling somewhere (or to traveling somewhere actual).
This shows us a form of relentlessly middle-class entertainment, a
leisure activity that allows the consumer to relax into a childlike
sphere of safety.
All theme parks acquire
an interest in the safety of their customers. The risks therein are
not actually risky and none of the exotic visions here are meant to
disrupt any notion of the underlying familiarity of places called
home. Entry into this sphere of safety destroys what Pierre Bourdieu
— after Plato — has called the "playful seriousness" that actual childhood
allows: the free rein of imagination, and a fearlessness that is simply
oblivious to risk, rather than being conscious of the actual absence
of risk, as one is at a theme park.
From this perspective,
complaints that theme parks treat their customers like children does
a disservice to infancy, where novelty and risk are the order of the
day. However, instead of critiquing the bourgeois entertainment aspects
of this type of leisure destination, I want to look at how such spaces
are intended to represent history and culture at the level of the
nation-state, and how the proliferation of spaces in this mode have
created the space of the modern nation.
If Shima Spain Village
were an isolated, one-of-a-kind place, in the world or in Japan, I
would be offering it as a simple curiosity. Instead, let me draw a
larger picture. And here I want to start with the study of spaces.
Place and culture
Long histories of migrations of peoples and goods
combine with more recent conditions of industrialization to make every
local cultural space a geo-cultural mongrel: a site of multiple disputable
heritages. But then, as Doreen Massey5
notes, "places are always already hybrid." How to develop a grasp
of this hybridity, particularly when we are offered places that do
not seem complex at all?
"Look over there," we
are told by our taxi driver at a stop light in Kyoto, or Seoul, or
Paris, or New York. "That's the tomb of Emperor Sam." Then we get
the story of Emperor Sam, who defeated the enemy, and who upheld the
honor of his family and the rule of law — ideals that are today so
important to keep the country at peace with itself and at pace with
its economic development potential. This is why Sam's tomb is covered
in flowers once a year, and why school children come on pilgrimage
even now, centuries later. Then the traffic light turns green.
Much attention of late
has been given to transnational media and the impact of global culture
on local customs. But we must not forget the earlier effects of nation-state
formation. Emperor Sam and his story and his tomb are part of another
story: the story of the nation. And in most locales on the globe it
is the story of the nation that covers over all of the other meanings
of Sam and what he did or did not do, like the flowers that cover
his cenotaph. And with our interest in cultural critique, we are destined
not to join the parade of schoolchildren, but rather to ask all the
wrong people a lot of pointed and seemingly pointless questions about
how and where and for what purpose Sam's story is still today retold.
The nation equation
Throughout East Asia, various national governmental
organs have taken on the role of reinscribing local sites of culture
as national sites of culture. The geographical rereading of local
culture as national culture is probably the most pervasive source
of change for locales throughout the region in the last several decades.
(The same organs of the nation are today the most vocal in their alarm
over international cultural influences—decrying everything from Levi
jeans to ideas of feminism and democracy). Nation-creation erases
local traditions in favor of refashioned national histories, and makes
cultural traditions the property of the state. The state assumes an
interest in managing the content and the meaning of cultural practices
that have acquired national stature.
Over the past hundred
years, one of the instruments of both the articulation of national
cultures and the state's interest in these has been a series of international
expositions, where nations have been invited to participate by sponsoring
a national pavilion and filling it basically with all the national
culture that fits. In order to determine which practices, and which
forms of these practices were actually national cultural practices—no
longer local, and no longer attached to some foreign point of origin—states
were forced to create genres of national cultural practice and artifacts,
and new stories establishing the national, indigenous origins of these.
Japan has been represented
by state-sponsored pavilions at virtually every major international
fair since the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1776. From
Paris to Chicago, to San Francisco, to London and New York, a story
and a history of authentic Japanese arts and architecture has been
assembled by the Japanese state for the international audience. This
story was also told internally, as the state built museums and other
venues for the display of these now internationally validated national
Exhibitions held in Japan
also attracted national pavilions from other nations, and so we can
say that the nineteenth-century notion of the world as a mosaic of
states where national cultures were carefully managed and protected
from outside influences continues to inform state-sponsored cultural
institutions in many nations, including Japan, up to the present.
Shima Spain Village could easily be seen as a simple elaboration of
this style of world's-fair entertainment. However, instead of being
able to wander through a dozen pavilions of different nations, one
meanders through a variety of Spanish plazas and streets—this permanent
fair is "all Spain, all the time."
All Japan, all the time
My own work is focused on the city of Kyoto, on
how Kyoto is managed as a national cultural place, and how a Korean
community in Kyoto is trying to break through this nationalism and
open up a counter-public space within the city. But, in order to grasp
the situation in Kyoto, I cannot reduce the locality to either a nationalist
or a multi-national space. It is at once both of these, and also something
more—but in important ways, it is also something less. It is the outcome
of carefully managed cultural domestication.
Kyoto, like other cities in Japan, but with some added emphasis, is
also coded as "all Japan, all the time." While the use of Spain in
Japan as an exoticizing cultural frame for an afternoon of consumerist
amusement —in a place where no one actually lives— is something of
an innocent curiosity, the ubiquity of national Japanese cultural
sites and practices throughout the city of Kyoto has transformed the
bulk of public places into spaces where local or counter-public imaginations
are unwelcome. Some of Kyoto's residents—particularly Koreans who
have been excluded both from being culturally Korean and from having
Japanese citizenship—have found that living in a city transformed
into the urban equivalent of a world's fair Japanese pavilion is not
amusing at all in everyday life.
Given the increasing
velocity of the local effects of global economic and cultural forces,
it is time to question the underlying assumptions of this form of
nation-state cultural management. But first, we need to also note
that domestication works through various channels simultaneously to
achieve a totalizing effect.
Take, for example, modern
state intervention into the household and education, an intervention
instrumental for what Michel Foucault has called a "pastoral" governmentality.
In this, the state is the shepherd, and we don't need a post-structuralist
to tell us who the sheep are. The state's interest in matters that
were once managed by families: that is, health care, education, hygiene,
diet, social customs, etc., is promoted through institutions that
are themselves sites of national culture in Japan, where schools,
hospitals, police and fire stations, and other government sites, are
managed under the supervision of the national state.
The household space is
also "nationalized" in the sense that national standards for diet,
hygiene and other social customs are provided to each household, and
each household is to some extent (less now than before WWII) monitored
by the state. Residence laws in Japan require that each family maintain
an official residence that is registered with their local government
and now tracked by a central state computer system. The modern state,
in this case, Japan, thus redefines domestic spaces as a locus of
What Baudrillard termed the "hyperreal," applying
this ironically not to Disneyland, but rather to the surrounding city
of Los Angeles6 — overlaps at the
level of practice with my use of the term "domestication". However,
while the naked unreality of Disneyland served in Baudrillard's argument
to falsely warrant an assumption of reality for Los Angeles, here
the claim of authenticity of Shima Spain Village serves as a mirror
for the claims of authenticity made about Kyoto's sites of national
culture. In both places, the construction of a story of cultural continuity
supports a logic of simplification that replaces the messy plurality
of voices and desires in a locale with a single, purified, sanctioned
story, a story made to look more real than reality by its lack of
ambiguity and conflict.
A visit to Shima Spain
Village offers an easy journey to faraway Spain, represented by that
most European of places: the broad agora surrounded by arcades.
A visit to Kyoto, and such visits are arranged by the state for tens
of millions of school children every year, offers an easy journey
back to an unbroken imperial past, where the monuments of centuries
of absolutist rule—the remaining castles and palaces, temples and
shrines—are glorified as the foundation for a modern democratic society,
and a state that has not allowed modernity to interrupt its ancient
Although in Kyoto it
is the state, rather than the capitalist market, that offers up domesticated
cultural desires, these desires share a common aspect with those provided
for in Shima Spain Village: they are beyond the control of the residents
of the city, who are all treated like the tourists to Spain Village,
welcome to watch and spend, but not to act on their own to rearticulate
these. For a domesticated national cultural place cannot be appropriated
by local residents, it has already been reduced to a single meaning,
and this meaning can only be spoken by someone else with authority.
So, it is not only the
foreign, exotic space that is subject to domestication. Domestication
also describes a process that produces places "of the state" from
a former landscape of local spaces. The nation-state domesticates
plural local histories (which are dangerous to national "unity") into
a single national history.
The domestication of Europe
in Shima Spain Village tells us much about the process of the domestication
of Kyoto's past into Japanese national history. To say that Shima
Spain Village is perhaps as authentic a representation of Spanish
history as Kyoto is today a representation of Japanese history is
merely to point out how thoroughly the state has domesticated Japanese
history within the city of Kyoto. Curiously, while cultural critics
can be counted on to react strongly when the marketplace offers simplistic
pastiche as history, the same critics are often silent when
the state uses this same sort of practice as a feature of its own
cultural production. It is past time that we allow the state’s interest
in culture to determine the texture of local cultural resources. As
much as local residents may need to domesticate their own city—to
make it their own—they should not need to do this against the power
of the national state.
1 Turner, Victor W. 1969.
The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine
Pub. Co. p. 42.
2 Sontag, Susan. 1966. "The
Anthropologist as Hero." in Against Interpretation and other Essays.
New York: Doubleday. Pp. 69-81.
3 Marcus, George E.
and Michael M. J. Fischer. 1986. Anthropology as Cultural Critique:
An experimental moment in the human sciences. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.
4 Appadurai, Arjun. 1987.
"Decolonizing the Production of Culture: Cricket in Contemporary India."
in The Olympics and Cultural Exchange. Shin-pyo Kand, John MacAloon
and Robersto DaMatta, eds. Institute for Ethnological Studies, Hanyang
University. Pp 163-190.
5 Massey, Doreen. 1995. "Places
and their pasts." History Workshop Journal. 39. Spring. Pp. 182-192.
6 Baudrillard, Jean. 1983. Simulations.
Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman, trans. New York: Semiotest(e).
Former Kyoto resident
Bruce Caron, now living in Santa Barbara, California, has contributed
key articles to KJ on themes of festival and national identity—see
KJ#33, "Science and Blood in Modern Japan" and KJ#27, "Heritage
Management for Kyoto: History, Place and Festivity."
Or check out his website: