Section 5 | Anthropology and Sociology | Session 1B, Panel
Panel organiser: Elise Edwards (Butler University)
Scholars have long been interested in the cultural meanings, purposes, and effects of a range of sartorial categories, including high fashion, costumes, bodily markings, and uniforms. Recognized as intricately linked with the rise of nation-states, uniforms have been theorized as tools of social regulation and psychological discipline, modes of symbolic performance, means for shaping identities, materials enabling “distributed personhood,” and apparatuses of stratification along gendered, national, ethnic, and class lines. This panel aims to examine some of the cultural and historical specificities of uniforms in Japan. By exploring various locales, both historical and contemporary, where uniforms have been invented, adopted, imposed, resisted, and re-designed, we hope to better understand the range of meanings, intentions, and beliefs attached to uniforms by their wearers, and those who require or entreat their wearing. An ultimate goal will be to open new avenues for exploring the mechanisms and technologies of Japanese modernity. In addition, participants will contribute to anthropological theorizing about the social power and qualities of clothing as material that literally mediates ideology and bodies. The six currently accepted papers in this panel address the gendered, social, political, and theoretical meanings of uniforms in modern Japan found in early twentieth century eugenic organizations, wartime household kitchens, sports teams, schools, and the Japanese military in the past and present.
Jennifer Robertson (University of Michigan)
Clothing and dress have figured centrally in anthropological discourse since the 1880s, and a chapter on dress, broadly defined to include body painting and tattooing, was a fairly typical feature of (Anglophone) ethnographies written through the 1960s. Whereas one or two of the earlier ethnographies were entirely devoted to dress, today clothing is a popular and prominent subject of fieldwork and anthropological analysis. Uniforms are one category of clothing and fashion that is invested with particular theoretical salience. Social control, ideology, gender politics, class stratification (“distinction”), identity, and communication are among the most typical frameworks within which uniforms are theorized. Moreover, linguistics (e.g., explorations of the “language” or “grammar” of clothing) seems to be a dominant analogical and analytical model. In the course of researching the Japanese eugenics movements of the early twentieth century, I realized that uniforms, as distinctive or characteristic clothing advocated by eugenicists, constitute forms of instrumental action, objectify complex intentionalities, and mediate social agency. Rather than focus on elaborating on the role of uniforms in legitimizing certain ideologies or sustaining social hierarchies, I will engage with the specificity and efficacy of uniforms themselves. I will also invoke the concept of “distributed personhood” to show how uniforms themselves, and not just their wearers, can exercise social agency.
Katarzyna Cwiertka ( Leiden University )
In 1902, the pupils of the Akabori Cooking Classroom (Akabori Kappō Kyōjō) became acquainted with a new piece of equipment – the coverall kappōgi apron. Thus far, professional and amateur cooks protected their clothing by the maekake apron – a piece of cloth fastened in the middle – and used to tuck up the sleeves of their kimono with a cord for free movement. The revolutionary kappōgi was similar to a physician’s coat, covering the entire kimono, including the sleeves, but it was fastened in the back, allowing enough space for the obi sash. The Western concepts of hygiene and convenience were clearly reflected in the form and design of the new apron, which soon turned into a classic component of Life Improvement Campaigns ( s eikatsu k aizen u ndō ) Within two decades following its introduction, kappōgi became a standard attire worn at housekeeping classes at girls’ schools and diffused among progressive middle-class housewives. The 1930s marked the era of kappōgi as the uniform of The Greater Japan National Defence Women’s Association (Dai Nihon Kokubō Fujinkai). The federation, which from 1932 was under the control of the Army Ministry, mobilized the nation’s mothers and wives to send off soldiers, comfort the wounded, and perform social work. During this period, kappōgi developed into a powerful representation of ‘good wife and wise mother’ and the synonym of female sacrifice for the family and nation. In this paper, I will trace the trajectory of kappōgi from a kitchen innovation to the symbol of womanhood.
Christopher P. Hood (Cardiff University)
In 1987 Japanese National Railways (JNR) was broken up and privatized. JNR had been famed for its uniformity and the existence of a special culture that tied the workers to the organization. This paper will look at the situation in the JR companies today by seeing whether certain differences in practices and outward appearance are a reflection of differing cultures, both from what JNR was and from what the other JR companies are today. In particular, the paper will consider the imagery, design and usage of the different Shinkansen operated by four of the JR companies, the meishi at these companies, and the uniforms at these companies. The paper will question whether some of the differences are symbolic and reflect changes that have occurred within the companies or are being used as a means to attempt to alter the culture of the companies. This will further lead to discussion about the relative significance of these differences and whether it is possible to talk of a particular ‘JR culture’, a common ‘JR Group culture’, or even ‘a Japanese culture.’