Covering Gender and Pop Culture in Japan was a hefty topic because there are so many different ways that gender emerges as an issue in pop culture. For the presentation I focused on the way in which contemporary art has chosen to deal with issues of feminism and sexuality. Yoshiko Shimada’s work is really interesting as it brings together feminist issues and a critique of Japanese national identity surrounding WWII. In the center of Shimada’s work Shooting Lesson #11 from 1992, Japanese women are shown learning how to shoot guns during WWII. In each of the four corners of the image Shimada shows an image of a Korean comfort woman. Bringing these two images together Shimada contrasts the idea of Japanese women as defenders of the nation and the exploitation of Korean comfort women. Shimada also teamed up with BuBu from Dumb Type (the collective Oto discussed before which deals with contemporary issues of sexuality in Japan). BuBu is also a sex worker and her pieces often address the issue of prostitution. The work brings together a montage of images which recall the experiences of US soldiers in Japan, the Japanese military, prostitution, and Japanese housewives. The title Heal and Repair indicates her view that sex workers can be skilled practitioners, who can “heal” a nation through desire rather than violence and war. There are also several artists who draw on contemporary pop culture aesthetics in order to parody their use. Makoto Aida embraces the anime aesthetic in his piece The Giant member Fuji versus King. The work combines a children’s sci-fi film called Ultraman with a famous Japanese erotic print. Bringing these two images together in a bizarre and jarring manner, Aida comments on the intersections of anime and pornography. Similarly, Minako Nishiyama addresses the conflict between products marketed to young girls and the sex industry. For, The Pinkù House, Nishiyama constructed a life-sized version of a Rika-Chan House (a Japanese version of a Barbie House), however, Nishiyama uses the forms and colors seen in Japanese love hotels. Similarly in Moshi Moshi Pink, Nishiyama depicts a Telekura phone club, a place where people can call each other and meet up for dates, and sometimes sex. However, Nishiyama decorates the room using a cutsie aesthetic reminiscent of children’s toys such as “Hello Kitty.” In doing so, Nishiyama contrasts cuteness with the sex industry. All of these works pull together important issues for those considering and contesting gender and sexual norms in Japan. While this short list of artists is certainly not exhaustive of all of the gender issues important to contemporary artists, I think it gives us some insight into the way in which artists of Japan are addressing gender today.
Gender in Contemporary Art