Wish You Well

Graeme James

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Wish You Well



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Over the 1990s Japan’s gradual tilt toward Asia was clearly visible. Following a long retreat after the 1945 defeat, Japan began reasserting its identity as an Asian country only in response to the rising economic power of otherAsian states. It had never truly ceded its regional influence, but in fact, the new “Asia” Japan is rejoining has had, in cultural geographic terms, to be reinstated in the Japanese national imagination in the last decade. Japan’s so-called return to Asia, therefore, should be understood as a strategic project. Returning has involved Japan in a process of reconfiguring its position within a familiar prewar, pan-Asianist narrative that allows it to assign itself the (imperialist) mission of leading the “backward” Asian nations while simultaneously stressing cultural and racial commonality among Asians. While overall representations of Asian societies and cultures have risen dramatically, Japan’s historically constituted Orientalist trope of an “Asia behind the times” still informs most national media markets. In this conception Japan is always in and yet always above Asia. However, the problem is that 1990s “Asia” is no longer amenable to the older image of a traditional, underdeveloped neighbor available to Japan’s civilizing mission. In fact, Japan’s return to Asia is taking place largely in response to its own national imperative, since it is Japan that faces real challenges to its (re)constructed national/cultural identity in an era of widely proliferated Asian modernities. Consequently, it is also Japan confronting an increasingly visible gap that separates a discursively constructed “backward Asia” from actually industrializing or already highly modernized neighboring Asian states. This article thus focuses on Japan’s encounter with “Asia” through what I call popular Asianism. I mean by this term Japanese media representations of “Asia” generally, but in particular Hong Kong popular culture and Japanese audience reception of it. In this latest cycle of re-engagement, as Japan has struggled through the so-called bubble economy and confronted serious social contradictions, what I am finding is a tendency to characterize other modernizing Asian nations as possessing the social vigor and optimism Japan is alleged to be hemorrhaging or to have lost. I propose that while consumption of Hong Kong popular culture by Japanese audiences tends to be informed by nostalgic longing, more is at stake than nostalgia. Hong Kong is held to be the modern equal of Japan in saliently promoted and widely consumed cultural artifacts. This current nostalgia is thoroughly infused with something Japan actually never had, which is a different mode of non-Western mimetic modernity. So the recognition of Hong Kong’s synchronous temporality with Japan actually displaces the notion of Japanese cultural superiority and generates self-critical insights into Japanese modernity itself. Thus, while consumption of Hong Kong popular culture in Japan does not indicate a critical engagement or effort to dismantle prevailing conceptions of “Asia,” the consumption of popular culture has become a site where the continuities, rearticulations, and ruptures of historically constituted “Asia” in Japan are complexly manifested. It is these contradictions that I will attend to in this article. Capitalist Nostalgia for “Asia” Once regarded as a symptom of extreme homesickness, nostalgia has become a key term to describe the modern and postmodern cultural condition. Frederic Jameson has argued that nostalgia and pastiche are central features of late capitalist image production. Nostalgia is no longer what it was under modernism, the empiricist representation of a historical past; in the postmodern age, it has becomethe appropriation of “the ‘past’through stylistic connotation, conveying ‘pastness’ by the glossy qualities of the image.” At the same time, the acceleration of the transnational circulation of images and signs, contact with other cultures, and the expansion of tourist industries have facilitated “the global institutionalization of the nostalgic attitude.” As the development of communication technologies has intensified mediated contact with cultural others,5 the past images appropriated are no longer restricted to one’s own society but include the mediated images of other cultures. The appropriation of such cultural images from other places in turn evokes a “borrowed nostalgia,” a condition that finds people constituting memory on the basis of mass-mediated cultural forms originating from elsewhere. As Frederick Buell has pointed out, “We not only manufacture our present cultures in closer relationship with each other than before, but also more and more covertly commingle the inventions of our memories and pasts.”6 This politics of the transnational evocation of nostalgia is highlighted when it is employed to confirm a frozen temporal lag between two cultures, when “our” past and memory are found in “their” present. Graeme Turner argues, for instance, that the Americans’ discovery of their lost frontier in the Australian outback represented in the film Crocodile Dundee displays “how effortlessly Australian difference might be appropriated to American ends.” In this moment of appropriation the recognition of cultural difference (the Australian outback) is immediately transfigured into the comfortable affirmation of unequal relations between superior/inferior and advanced/backward (United States and Australia). The development of international communications has made transnational media consumption a site where an Orientalist gaze upon a dehumanized cultural other is seemingly invariably reproduced. In Japan, widely known to be a highly mediated consumer market, Orientalist nostalgia has played a significant part in representations of an idealized “backward” Asia. This is the “Asia” where Japanese consumers find their lost purity, energy, and dreams. Dorinne Kondo’s analysis of popular magazine articles published in 1990 identified two types of Japanese (masculinist) nostalgia vis-à-vis Asia. Nostalgia for a preurbanized, unspoiled nature appeared primarily in relation to Bali in the material she surveyed. This first mode of Asianist or Orientalist nostalgia made Bali into a site affluent Japanese tourists consume in the interest of their own “spiritual renewal.” Kondo’s second typical nostalgic trope cathected the pre-modern innocence of Thailand in a process that Renato Rosaldo had called “imperialist nostalgia” in order to describe a Western hypocritical sense of yearning for what uncivilized non-Western societies are losing on their alleged path to Western-led modernization. It is “a particular kind of nostalgia, often found under imperialism, where people mourn the passing of what they themselves have transformed.” Rosaldo was especially concerned with how an apparently innocent yearning can hide the collusion of such a nostalgia with the exercise of cultural and economic domination. The dominant (West) mourns what the dominated (non-West) is losing, while knowing that such a loss is inevitable if the other is to become civilized and modern “like us.” What Kondo shows to be Japanese nostalgic representations of “Asia” can be called imperialist, or more precisely, capitalist, since Japan was not only an imperial power in the past but continues to play a major role in the contemporary global spread of capitalism that is violently and exploitatively transforming many developing Asian countries. In this regard, recall that Japan’s postwar geopolitical policies install amnesia in relation to its imperial past while at the same time actively advancing the state’s economic interests into Southeast Asia. An example of this process is the way that Japanese political and economic leaders have used the issue of war apology and compensation in the form of official economic aid that expands Japanese state and corporate capital investment in that region. Japanese capitalist nostalgia does not just mourn what is destined (in part through Japan’s own actions) to be lost in Asia. More emphatically, what is mourned, through the predicated destiny of premodern Asia, is what Japan itself supposedly has lost or is about to lose. Kondo’s illustration of a Japanese representation of an apparently innocent Thai waitress makes this point very well: “Exposure to Japanization, Westernization, urbanization, and other worldly forces will despoil this Thai flower’s shy purity and turn her into a tough, threatening hussy,” Kondo’s exegesis points out. “But by mourning the fate of Thailand through [the Japanese journalist’s] projection of the waitress’s fate, the journalist also mourns what he clearly perceives to be the ravages of modernization and the loss of identity undergone in Japan.” It is precisely in this “capitalist nostalgia” as in more pedestrian yearnings for unspoiled nature that Japan’s economically dominant position vis-à-vis other Asian countries is consolidated. Moreover, its privileged position assures Japan that its own losses are not irretrievable. As Kondo observes, “Through consumption, Japanese can (re)experience their lost innocence without jeopardizing the comforts of advanced capitalism that ensured its originary loss. Japan’s neocolonial economic dominance assures access to spiritual renewal.”14 In the nostalgic representation of premodern “innocence,” Japan is not engaging in a dialogue with “Asia” but consuming it for the transient pleasures of recuperation and refreshment. Nostalgia for Modernizing Energy The magazine articles Kondo analyzes appeared in 1990 at the apex of the Japanese bubble economy and consequently a moment when the Japanese sense of Japan’s hegemonic position in the world was most acute. Japan’s economic power enabled Japanese to somehow pleasurably indulge themselves in a nostalgia for premodern innocence that Japan had lost. By the mid-1990s, however, nostalgia had more to do with the deterioration of Japan’s economy and society. Postbubble nostalgia has arisen in the context of a prolonged economic recession and a series of gloomy social incidents, including highly publicized, brutal murders by teenagers and nerve gas attacks in the Tokyo railway system by the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo. Nostalgia for Asia is no longer just a matter of pleasurably yearning for what Japan had lost. This new nostalgia seeks to recuperate what Japan has supposedly lost through a process of identifying itself with the promised land, a formation called “Asia.” In the prevailing pessimistic atmosphere of the mid-1990s, the object of Japan’s nostalgia turned to ascendant Asian nations enjoying rapid economic growth. The consequent nostalgic yearning is not simply a desire for the economic development of Japan’s immediate past but also a longing to reestablish its own society’s energy in the present linked to futurist long- ings that Japan nostalgically projects onto modernizing Asia. As an article in Dime, a weekly magazine, reported, “As we[Japanese] walked around Hong Kong and Bangkok, we found the energy of the people to be overwhelming. It was the same kind of raw vigor that Japan had once had during the high economic growth era.” While not exactly conceived to be “premodern,” what the Japanese observer endeavors to see is not neighbors inhabiting the same temporality but “the kind of sympathy that identifies with the Other and yet denies him ‘coevalness,’ which is constitutive of ‘the Orientalizing of the Other.’” A good version of old Japan is to be found in the landscape of an ever developing Asia. Japan’s Asia is not conceived as an equal interlocutor but marked by a frozen, immutable temporal lag. Vietnam’s modernizing vigor, for example, became the theme of a popular Japanese TV drama series, Doku, which was broadcast in a prime-time slot between October and December 1996 and attracted wide audiences. Basically, it dealt with the relationship between a Japanese language teacher, Yuki, and her Vietnamese student, Doku, in Japan. The relationship is asymmetrical, as Doku is assigned the role of a “savior” who invigorates lifeless Yuki. This is symbolically represented in the very first scene of the series, in which Doku saves Yuki, who is unable to cross a busy (thus vigorous) street in Vietnam by herself and is nearly run over by a motorbike. The publicity for the program also included the following catchphrase: “Asian dreams will come true: She teaches Japanese, he teaches hopes and dreams.” During shooting in Vietnam, the Japanese actor playing Doku19 and a producer were reputedly overwhelmed by the energy of the Vietnamese, young and old, who were willing to discuss their dreams.20 In the first episode, the Japanese heroine, who visits Vietnam to see her friend, is bewildered and entranced by the liveliness of the Vietnamese. Asked why she suddenly came to Vietnam, she tells the friend that while looking at herself in the mirror in Tokyo, she realized how expressionless and dull her face was. She confesses to her friend that she is now seriously considering the meaning of her life, and she wonders if it is her fate to live this dull life for good. Her friend replies, pointing at the Vietnamese around them, “People in Vietnam seem so marvelous. Energetic, forward-looking, never looking back; they would never give way under hardship. In their company I feel I can be like them.” She glances at a Vietnamese girl, who smiles back at her. “What a wonderful smile, don’t you think? I wish I could keep smiling like that for the rest of my life.” As the heroine admits, the vivacity of the Vietnamese people stands in sharp contrast to the monotony of her life in Japan. This vitality is both Japan’s vanishing present and its desired future. Because they are still not quite modern, Vietnamese are energetic and can afford dreams of a bright future; hence they are expected to unilaterally afford Japanese people spiritual nourishment. A well-received 1996 film titled Swallowtail Butterfly also utilizes this characteristic trope of nostalgia in relation to Asian immigrants to Japan. The fictional story follows Chinese immigrants who are lured to Japan by the prospect of securing their future and who settle in the lawless suburb of a Japanese mega-city, Yen Town. The film’s main motif is the power and the energy of the migrants who enthusiastically engage in every kind of shady business in their pursuit of the almighty yen. It represents a semi-imaginary, multicultural situation in Japan where Chinese, Japanese, English, and a fictional migrant language are all constantly in play. “Yen” symbolizes the uneven and destructive forces of globalized capitalism that intensify the widening gap between haves and have-nots, the violence among migrants, Japanese discrimination against them, and the immigrants’ growing sense of despair. In spite of its attempt at representing multicultural chaos in Japan, however, strikingly absent in the film is any “real” encounter between Japanese citizens and the Asians. Not considering the otherness of Asian migrants seriously, the film instead represents what Japanese have lost through these imagined others. The director, Iwai Shunji, made the point quite bluntly when he stated, Tokyo has become a hospital, which offers the resident every sort of service. We can somehow live our lives without demonstrating our inherent instinct for self-defense and surprise....I simply yearn for the power and energy of migrants who come to Japan, abandoning their home country or work in a foreign city for their families. I want to produce a story about them.22 The story is, in fact, about “us,” and as Iwai’s remark suggests, the otherness of Asian migrants is utterly inconsequential to him. Yen Town is where imagined others live energetic lives full of dreams as well as frustration. But it exists only for Japanese audiences who can no longer live out such dreams. The film, like other media representations mentioned above, projects its nostalgia toward the (imagined) past when Japan was still “Asia,” when Japan was displaying “Asian” vigor. However, what is suppressed in this telling is the fact that the much vaunted vigor was itself the source and manifestation of Japanese economic domination and exploitation of much of Asia after the Pacific War. Furthermore, the perceived loss of Japanese social vigor conceals the reality that Japan’s asymmetrical and exploitative relation with other Asian countries has not been terminated to this day. Thus, Japanese media representation of nostalgia for Asia does not simply refuse to recognize “Asia” as equal interlocutor; it also suppresses the history of subjugation of other Asian countries that has constituted Japanese moder- nity. Swallowtail Butterfly starts and ends with a superimposed title in a sepia scene overlooking Tokyo as a voice intones, “Once upon a time, when the Japanese yen was the strongest force in the world. . . .” A futuristic story conveying a permeating imperialist/capitalist nostalgia ahistorically positions Japan’s cultural others as consumable signs in Japan’s lost dreamland. Japanese Promotion of Fashionable Hong Kong. Another conspicuous trend in popular Japanese Asianism in the 1990s was mounting interest in other Asian popular cultures undergoing processes of media globalization. The development of communication technologies in the advent of giant transnational media corporations such as News Corp. and Disney has facilitated the simultaneous circulation of media images and texts on a global level. At the same time, media globalization has generated the de-centering of Western (U.S.) cultural hegemony. Non-Western players now actively collaborate in the production and circulation of global media commodities. In most non-Western markets, locally produced media products are better received than Western (U.S.) counterparts. Furthermore, the predominance of Western (U.S.) culture has been seriously challenged by the intensification of intraregional cultural flows and connections in the non-West.23 Since the 1990s, media interactions among East Asian countries have also surged.24 While at the moment Japanese popular culture plays the central role, the flow of popular culture from other parts of Asia into Japan has also increased, and other kinds of Asian (particularly Hong Kong) films and pop music captured wider media attention and broader viewing audiences in the 1990s.25 Nostalgic tropes predominated in Japanese media discourses on the East Asian popular music scene in the mid-1990s, too, with particular reference and little to no evidence to a correlation between female pop singers who are alleged to represent the rise of other Asian countries and the relative decline of Japan in economic terms. As one men’s magazine put this relation, “Idols emerge where a society is vigorous. The sharp contrast between Japan and Asia in terms of the idol markets elucidates a decline in the predominance of Japanese idol markets.”26 Even where the flourishing of female pop idols is interpreted positively as a sign of social vitality, a feminized “Asian” vigor is posited primarily to reconfirm the temporal distance between Japan and “Asia.” This focus on Asian female idols reflected the change in the Japanese music scene of the 1990s. In Japan itself the idol system peaked in the mid-1980s and was replaced in the 1990s by an arguably more directly Western-inflected dance and band music.27 The void opened with the withdrawal of Japanese idols coincided with the collapse of the Japanese bubble economy, which is no doubt why the Japanese media depicts the development of local popular music, particularly the rise of female vocalists, in other Asian countries in terms of a retrospective sense of déjà vu. A feature article in the popular men’s monthly magazine Bartcontained a typical version of this argument that “Asian female idols sing ‘Asian’ popular songs that Japan has forgotten.”28 A vanished Japanese popularmusic, in other words, is inherited by Asian female idols as if Asia’s present were Japan’s past.29 Critics and commentators, that is, find in Asian pop music more continuity with Japan’s vanished scene but without appreciating the cultural specificity of the new location. Yet considering the promotion and consumption of Hong Kong popular culture in Japan, the picture becomes more intricate than would first appear. The prevalent sales message in markets for Hong Kong popular culture is significantly different from the nostalgic representation I discussed above. Japanese media industries seem to recognize that the appeal of Hong Kong culture, never fully captured in nostalgic tropes, given its economic strength and advanced cultural production, can nonetheless be sold to a public accustomed to viewing it as backward and dowdy. The main strategy is to sell “modern” and “fashionable” images of Hong Kong. An example of a firm pursuing this tactic was film distribution company Purénon H. To improve the image of Hong Kong, Purénon H organized a Hong Kong film fan club, the Hong Kong Yamucha Kurabu, and established a Hong Kong film shop, Cine City Hong Kong, in atrendy Tokyo neighborhood, Aoyama, where young people gather for window-shopping in elegant surroundings.30 In 1995, Purénon H distributed Wong Kar-wai’s film Chungking Express in Japan, and the film was a phenomenal hit. This was due in part to the quality of the film, which Japanese critics praised because it refrained from playing on Hong Kong’s alleged exoticism and, instead, made Hong Kong look like a generic major European city such as Paris.31 The Purénon H management also sought to avoid publicity that would reflect the dominant images of kung fu or vulgar slapstick comedies in Hong Kong film. From more than two thousand possibilities, the company fastened on the Japanese title Koisuru Wakusei (A loving planet), totally unrelated to the original title, with the objective of giving the film a modern and accessible sound that would ap- peal to Japanese popular audiences.32 The success of Wong Kar-wai’s stylish collage films and the Japanese media industries’ promotional activities in the period leading up to Hong Kong’s return to China in July 1997 increased interest in “modern” Hong Kong popular culture among Japanese media consumers. The rise of the Japanese interest in modern Hong Kong culture was not confined to a masculine gaze; on the contrary, women played a leading part in it.33 Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau, Leslie Cheung, and Kaneshiro Takeshi (Jin Cheng Wu, in Chinese pronunciation)34 all play in Wong Kar-wai’s films, and Japanese production companies have contractedthe male stars for media appearances.35 Since December 1995, Hong Kong’s so-called four heavenly gods have all given concerts in Japan and increased their appearances in Japanese media.36 In 1995two Asian pop music magazines, Pop Asia and Asi-pop, were launched in Japan. By early 1995, sales figures had already shot up to twenty thousand copies for Asi-pop and a staggering forty thousand for Pop Asia. deal with Asian pop, broadly speaking they in fact focus on Hong Kong and Taiwanese male singers.Pop Asia had initially been more comprehensive, but to retain its female consumer base, more than 85percent of its readership, the magazine had to place more emphasis on Hong Kong male pop stars.38 Since the mid-1990s, women’s magazines have also featured articles on trendy Hong Kong male stars.39 Elle Japon, for example, featured two articles about them in 1997, one in June, just before the return of Hong Kong to China, and the other, titled “Sexy Asian Guys,” in November of that year. Although this latter essay dealt with stars from Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, it focused particularly on Hong Kong film stars. “Gallant, sexy, and with a sensitivity so delicate as to appeal to the maternal instinct,” the copy read, “Asian stars have all the factors of a seductive guy. They attract attention not only in Asia but all over the world because they have an overwhelming star aura and vigor.” “Japanese women,” the essayist insisted, “who are quite sensitive to the new trend, can sense male sexiness in Asian guys now. It is something Japanese guys do not have. With the economic development in the region, Asian guys are becoming more and more stunning and beautiful.”40 Representations in Elle Japon seem to demonstrate shifts in Japanese attention from “premodern” to “modern” and from Southeast Asia to East Asia, however. A feature article on Asia in a 1994 issue of the women’s magazine Crea, for example, carried a pictorial of attractive boys in Bali and Phuket. Captions drew an association between the handsome boys and the natural beauty of each place, using phases like “pure and tender gaze,” “calmly conversing with nature,” and “their pure hearts undistributed by urban noise.”41 Elle Japon also depicted so-called Asian charm as “simple and supple, power articulated in chaos” in a feature article on Asian culture in 1994.42 Simple capitalist nostalgia had disappeared in the 1997 Elle articles, which over-whelmingly stressed that “modern Asian (Hong Kong) guys” were marking a new trend.37 Although their names suggest that the magazines might Japanese Fandom and Hong Kong Pop Stars These efforts to promote Hong Kong popular culture are patently mediating the way Japanese are consuming that commodity.43 Emerging depictions of Hong Kong as modern and trendy have in the eyes of many endowed it with great novelty value. In the course of my research surveys, fans have overtly and covertly informed me that their interest in Hong Kong films and stars arose in part from their desire to prove their modish and sophisticated taste. It is worth noting that whileWong Kar-wai’s movies attract a relatively wide audience, fanlike or avid consumption of Hong Kong popular culture is still confined to a small community of aficionados. In Japan, access to Hong Kong films and information about Hong Kong actors in the mass media is still not readily available. Hence joining fan clubs and frequently visiting the few shops that handle Hong Kong pop cultural products is an essential means o obtaining access and, certainly equally important, of publicly acknowledging that one is a devotee of Hong Kong and Taiwanese movies and movie stars.44 Japanese fans, I have observed, are keen to talk to one another about the films and about their shared passion for the movie stars. As in Henry Jenkins’s depictions, social communication plays an important role among adherents in the Japanese fan community organized around Hong Kong movie stars. Jenkins had pointed out that this identification as “members of a group of other fans who shared common interests and confronted common problems” gives the “pleasure in discovering that they are not ‘alone.’”45 Most fans I interviewed mentioned that their friends and colleagues tended to regard their fondness for Hong Kong pop stars as somewhat unusual. Since this material is still excluded from the media mainstream in Japan and most interviewees told me about the difficulty they experienced sharing their interest in Hong Kong stars with their friends, constituting a community of taste is thus an important part of participation in the protocols of Japanese fandom. This does not mean, however,that the Japanese fans I interviewed consider themselves to be marginalized or “labeled a subordinate position within the cultural hierarchy,” which Jenkins’s account of the solidarity and creativity of fan communities in the United States sought to demonstrate.46 Japanese fans, on the contrary, apparently pride themselves on their appreciation of a not quite mainstream Hong Kong popular culture. This better approximates John Fiske’s position that “fandom offers ways of filling cultural lack and provides social prestige and self-esteem that go with cultural capital.”47 For some Japanese fans, Hong Kong popular culture is a resource for obtaining cultural capital. The arduousness of the fan’s calling—the information must be collected, the fan club established and maintained, the media texts sought outside the mainstream, and so on—only enhances the pleasure of self- styled sophisticates who wish to differentiate themselves from otherwise mass-mediated cultural “dupes.” Japanese fans’ ambivalent feelings about the popularization of Hong Kong stars make my point quite clear. On one hand, they want other Japanese to recognize how attractive Hong Kong stars are in order to show off the fans’ good taste to the mainstream audience. But on the other hand, fans also want the objects of their fascinated desire to remain the best-kept secret in Japan and fear that commercial promotion may actually diminish the “real” attractiveness of the Hong Kong stars, who will be deformed through such frivolous consumption. In her late twenties, a female fan of Kaneshiro Takeshi expressed to me her anxiety that Kaneshiro might become another garish, throwaway commodity if he were broadly available to vulgar teenagers. She was upset that Olive, a popular teenage magazine, had run a feature story on him and that another fan magazine’s readership had elected him as the fourth most popular male idol. Betraying a sense of elitism, she remarked that Kaneshiro should not have been covered in Olive because its readers, mostly high school students, are too easily manipulated by the mass media to appreciate his “real” charm. In fact, this elitism is ill founded. Most fans began following Hong Kong films and stars only after the intensive promotion of these products in the mass media after 1995 as the 1 July 1997 date approached.48 Media attention may bolster the confidence of fans in their taste and judgment, as it gives them the sense that they are at the vanguard of the latest trends. For instance, a woman in her late twenties told me, “I felt that I was surpassing others by appreciating unknown Hong Kong stars just as Hong Kong is now attracting a lot of media attention.” For all their attempts to distance themselves from the “mindless” consumers of the mainstream, such fans are themselves a product of that very media. Reflexive Nostalgia for a Different Asian Modernity Japanese consumer fascination with Hong Kong popular culture is a much bigger phenomenon than the familiar story of a novelty-hunting subculture attempting to carve out a distinctive place for itself in a media-saturated society. What is as important is their view of Hong Kong’s social and cultural formations, which consumers admire and which they report poses for them a sharp contrast to Japanese equivalents. This contrastive idealization of Hong Kong is reminiscent of Karen Kelsky’s argument that “internationalist” Japanese women’s sexualized desire for Western men is closely related to the women’s frustration with male-dominated contemporary Japanese social structure and workplaces.49 While in my interviews Japanese fans of Hong Kong popular culture did not explicitly express a feminist agenda, their prevalent dissatisfaction with contemporary Japan (unambiguously male dominated) seemed to feed their eroticized longing for Hong Kong and to motivate them to spend the extra money and effort required to be a fan. Yet while the women Kelsky studied voiced their belief that the West is “progressive” in contrast to “backward” and “feudalistic” Japan, the appreciation of Hong Kong seems to fuse Hong Kong’s present to Japan’s past so that Hong Kong is believed to evoke what Japan used to be. Here female fans of Hong Kong male stars apparently share with Japanese male magazines’ representation of Asian pop idols a nostalgic orientation toward Asian cultural icons. Take, for instance, the articles I mentioned earlier on Hong Kong male stars in Elle Japon. Even there, where the emphasis is seemingly placed on contemporaneity and not on temporal distance, the “modernness” of Hong Kong is still marked by a sense of “not quite.” “Japanese women,” the story posits, “are sick of Japanese men, who have become too effeminate to achieve strong masculinity.”50 Taken together with the belief that economic development is the main cause for the emergence of “sexy Asian guys,” there is a strong suggestion that Japan’s loss—what Japanese masculinity has given up in the course of Japan’s high economic development—is now being projected onto a modern yet still behind-the-times Hong Kong in the person of its virile male stars and media texts. Such a contradictory, nostalgic longing for “modern” Hong Kong stars represented in popular media texts can be discerned in interviews I conducted with Japanese female fans. Hong Kong stars satisfy interviewees’ appetite for recuperating the lost stardom of Japanese performers. The most common response to my question “What makes Hong Kong stars attractive?” is “their charismatic aura of stardom.” According to the fans, Hong Kong stars are completely professional, as they are well-polished, are trained to sing and act, maintain the mask of stardom, and are extremely skillful at entertaining the audience. Fans furthermore interpret a sincere and friendly attitude as an aspect of true stardom because it shows the star’s willingness to value the fans. Hong Kong stars unashamedly maintain their own narcis- sistic world, in other words, and never betray the idealized image fans have of them, while at the same time appearing to establish an intimacy.51 It is this aura, according to Japanese female fans of Hong Kong stars, that Japanese idols had, at least until the mid-1980s, previously maintained. Most fans I observed in Japan were in their late twenties and thirties; some were even in their fifties.52 This relatively high average age might be due to the fact that Hong Kong stars themselves are in their thirties, while most members of the target audience in the Japanese idol system are in their teens and early twenties. The more mature Japanese women fans often explained their attraction to Hong Kong idols by referring to the heyday of the Japanese entertainment world of the fans’ own teen years. A female fan in her mid-thirties told me that she became fascinated with Hong Kong male stars around 1990. This was a time when her generation, then in their late twenties, no longer found Japanese popular music and idols appealing. It excited her to find a familiar world of pop music idols in Hong Kong, which in her experience had previously existed only in Japan. As the organizer of the Japanese Leon Lai fan club put it in an interview with me, “Hong Kong stars remind us of a half-forgotten longing for heroes of our own generation.” Hong Kong stars today evoke adolescent memories of a glittering Japanese entertainment world of yesteryear.53 More importantly, perhaps, a deep sense of disillusionment and discontent with Japanese society is fueling this nostalgic yearning for Hong Kong popular culture. Consumers linked their attraction to the films and performers to what they view as Japanese society’s loss of energy and power in general. As one woman in her late twenties told me, “There are no dreams or passions in Japanese TV dramas. I sometimes enjoy watching them but still feel young Japanese actors [compared with Hong Kong actors] lack a basic power and hunger for life.” Another respondent in her late thirties remarked that “Wong Kar-wai’s films always tell me how human beings are wonderful creatures and how love and affection for others are important for us to live. These are things that Japan has lost and forgotten.” The consumption of Hong Kong popular culture in Japan has made Japanese fans feel that regaining the vigor and hope lost in the grind of daily life might be possible. “I think,” said another female subject in her mid-twenties, “people in Hong Kong really have a positive attitude to life. My image is that even if they were to find out they had a fatal disease, they would not be pessimistic. This is in sharp contrast to present-day Japan. I become vigorous when I watch Hong Kong films and pop stars on video. Hong Kong and its films are the source of my vitality.” This association of present-day Hong Kong with Japan’s past and losses, it can be argued, testifies to the Japanese consumer’s desire for an idealized Asian other and a concomitant refusal to consider Hong Kong and Japan as persisting in the same temporality. However, as I listened carefully to these fans, I came to think that their sense of longing for vanished popular cultural styles and lost social vigor did not exclusively attest to a perceived time lag. It also manifests the Japanese fans’ appreciation of differences between Japanese and Hong Kong cultural modernity. Here it is possible to see the ambivalence in Japanese nostalgia for a different Asian modernity: the conflation of a nostalgic longing for what Japan has lost with the longing for what Japanese modernity has never achieved. In this structure of cultural consumption Japan’s lack is as important as Japan’s losses. I have argued elsewhere that Taiwanese viewers express the cultural resonance they find in watching Japanese TV dramas in terms of a perceived sense of cultural proximity but that this should not be interpreted in terms of a static attribute of “being.” Rather, it signifies a dynamic process of “becoming.” Taiwanese viewers’ perception of cultural proximity is intertwined with their emerging perception of living in the same temporality, which is brought about by the spread of global consumer culture as well as the disappearance of the economic gap and developmental time lag previously separating Taiwan and Japan.54 Ever-increasing intraregional cultural flow within East Asia and the narrowing material conditions between Japan and Hong Kong display slightly different space-time configurations in the Japanese consumption of Hong Kong popular culture in Japan. Almost all Japanese interviewees also told me that they, like Taiwanese audiences of Japanese TV dramas, can more easily relate to Hong Kong stars and films than to Western ones because of perceived cultural and physical similarities linking Asians. However, in distinction to Taiwanese audiences of Japanese TV dramas, this sense of cultural and bodily similarity tends to strengthen the Japanese fans’ perception of a cultural difference between Japan and Hong Kong. What is crucial here is that such perception apparently arises from a recognition that the temporal distance separating Japan and Hong Kong is shrinking. As a female respondent in her late twenties told me, “I think that Hong Kong films are powerful and energetic. Hong Kong is apparently similar to Japan in terms of physical appearance, but I realized that its culture is actually completely different from ours. [This is clearly illustrated by the fact that] Hong Kong has also achieved a high economic development but retains the vitality that Japan has lost.” This Japanese fan did not assume that Hong Kong was in the process of losing something important or “becoming like us,” precisely because Hong Kong had already achieved the same degree of modernization and material affluence as “we have.” What set Hong Kong apart in her testimony was neither primordial cultural difference nor a developmental gap. Rather, the difference had in her view become evident in the modernization process, especially in the way Hong Kong and Japan had each negotiated Western cultural influence. One critic has argued that the recent interest of Japanese fans in Hong Kong and its popular culture reflects the increasing numbers of young people who sense a resonance between Japan and Hong Kong, which he calls “the aesthetics of cultural borrowing.”55 Yet I suggest that what Japanese fans value in Hong Kong popular culture is, rather, a different mode of Asian modernity, one that antithetically demonstrates what has gone wrong with Japan’s modernization process. This is closely related to the wholesale way that Japan has absorbed Western culture. As a respondent in her late twenties observed, “I think Japan is looking to the West too much. Lots of Japanese look down on Asia, but this does not match the reality. Japan has been too influenced by the West to retain its own ways, but Hong Kong retains its own style and system.” Another woman, in her early thirties, felt that Japan appeared to be too modern. “In Hong Kong and perhaps in Taiwan as well,” she said, “things traditional and modern coexist even after high economic growth. Japan has thrown away the good old things so much that everything looks ostensibly Japanese but actually is merely quasi-Western.” This consumer is suggesting that the Japanese mode of cultural absorption has increased the insularity of Japan’s society and culture in relation to other parts of the world. By contrast, because Hong Kong is truly cosmopolitan, the market for Hong Kong stars is pan-Asian. “I do not think Japan is superior to Hong Kong,” another interviewee in her late twenties told me. On the contrary, in Hong Kong, East and West coexist without melding with each other. Japan in contrast has absorbed and indigenized Western cultures at its convenience (attempting to suppress traces of the original to make them exclusively “Japanese”). Consequently, Japanese culture has become closed and lost a meeting point with other cultures. I am very wary of this. It seems that Japan has come to a kind of dead-end situation and has no further possibilities left open. In the view of this Japanese fan of Hong Kong popular culture, Japan’s cultural modernization does not match Hong Kong’s because Japan has been reluctant to link itself to the outside world. Whereas Hong Kong, according to this respondent, was always in touch with the outside world, the fact that this “openness” was forced, as Hong Kong itself was a former British colony, remains unacknowledged in her testimony. Skillful indigenization and domestication of foreign (Western) cultures has conventionally been celebrated in Japanese nationalist discourses as a significant factor in Japan’s elevation to the status of a global power.56 Underlying these fans’ determination to transcend the narrow-minded life of a self-contained society, to be cosmopolitan and connected to the larger world are a perceived crisis in the national identity and the promise that consuming Hong Kong pop culture holds out. The introspective apprehension about Japan’s relations with other Asian nations is, in other words, not just the terrain of Japanese critics. “Ordinary” consumers of Hong Kong popular culture also experience it. “Hong Kong” presents Japanese female fans with an opportunity to rethink the idea that Japan is superior to Hong Kong and to judge this view not just politically incorrect but also emotionally and culturally untrue. Here I suggest that the sense of coevalness Japanese fans feel toward Hong Kong finds expression in critical reflection on Japanese cultural modernity that accompanies the fans’ efforts at self-transformation. This is what John B. Thompson calls “the accentuation of symbolic distancing from the spatial-temporal contexts of everyday life” in a media-saturated age.57 The abundance of information, ideas, and images of other cultures and nations urges one to keep a healthy, reflexive distance from one’s own life, culture, and society. A working woman in her early thirties expressed to me how Hong Kong popular culture had transformed her. Of course I cannot devote myself to Hong Kong 100 percent. I sometimes soberly observe myself consuming Hong Kong stars and films. I know I am looking for something through my consumption of fictional, dreamlike Hong Kong star and film worlds that I cannot get in my boring company life. In so doing I have become more positive than before. Now I am more interested in knowing about the language, the history of Japanese invasion, and Japanese prejudice against Hong Kong. My view of Japan has also changed a lot. I realize how we Japanese are short- sighted and that our affluence has been achieved at the expense of so many important things in life. Unlike women who have “real” contacts with Asian men and immigrate to other Asian nations through international marriage,58 these Japanese fans seem less concerned with transforming their lives by actually leaving Japan or encountering cultural others in the form of non-Japanese men in real situations. Nevertheless, exposure to Hong Kong popular culture has encouraged some of these women to become more critically aware of Japan’s experience of modernity and its imperialist history. A self-reflexive praxis thus marks their appreciation of Hong Kong’s distinctive cultural modernity. Capitalist Coevalness in East Asia The Japanese representation and consumption of “Asia” in the 1990s that I have analyzed in this article shows Japanese pop culture consumers attempting to recuperate something they believe their country has lost or is losing. Whether Japan ever had the social vigor these fans are projecting onto Asian popular culture is highly debatable—and ultimately irrelevant.59 The important points are that nostalgia arises from a sense of insecurity and anguish in the present and that it is directed toward present circumstances. Indeed, nostalgia has played a significant role in how people confronting rapid modernization and globalization have imagined Japan’s cultural authenticity and identity. Intensification of the encounter with the West has generated nostalgic desire among Japanese, “a longing for a pre-modernity, a time before the West, before the catastrophic imprint of westernization.”60 A similar longing forthe purity and authenticity of primordial life underpins Japanese media representations of, and backpacking trips to, “premodern” Asia. But Japanese reception of Hong Kong popular culture, my research demonstrates, formulates a nostalgia that is projected onto a more recent past, not before but after the advent of the West, or more precisely, a past that is conjoined with the West’s presence. This nostalgia for a modern Asia is not fed by a nationalistic impulse to get rid of Western influence or to recuperate an “authentic” Japan. Rather, the issue at stake is how to live with Western-induced capitalist modernity, how to make life in actual, modern Japan more promising and humane. A mounting sense of urgency helps in part to explain why Asia has been made the object of nostalgia. The newly imagined “Asia” Japanese consumers tout serves as a contraposition to a society of their own, commonly regarded to be suffocating, closed and rigidly structured, and deeply pessimistic about the future, given the prolonged economic recession with still no end in sight. In this context, “Asia” is perceived not simply as an idealization of how things were in Japan but, rather, as an alternative, more uplifting cultural modernity elsewhere that might encourage people in Japan to reflect critically on their own lives and society. Here I have highlighted the ambivalence of this Japanese consumption of “Asia” in the reflexive nostalgic mode. Still, I conclude on the suggestion that personal feeling and anguish seldom smoothly overlap with a critical consciousness of Japanese national history; this projection of personal desire does not admit Japan’s own imperialist impact on the very cultural modernity of Hong Kong that so infatuates the Japanese consumer of it. Critical consciousness is, as we have seen in Japanese media representation, always attained at the risk of the representation of the tamed cultural other. Kelsky, basing her insight in the phenomenon of Japanese women who seek foreign (American) male lovers, argues that their penchant for border transgression might have demolished the reigning stereotype of the submissive Japanese woman. Yet at the same time, transgressive women are, in fact, reinscribing a clearly drawn boundary be- tween Japanese and others, for such women “transform the foreigner into a signifier whose primary purpose is to further their [the women’s] domestic agendas.”61 This point is well illustrated by female Japanese fans’ mediated consumption of Hong Kong stars. Even if the nostalgic gaze on Hong Kong is replaced and fans see that “they” are just as modern as “us,” just in a different way, it still cannot be denied that fans are reducing Hong Kong to a convenient and desirable Asian other in the process. Admiration for Hong Kong’s subtle juxtaposition of East and West has much in common with the chaotic vulgarity of stereotypical images of East Asian (mainly Japanese) cities as these have appeared since the 1980s in Hollywood futuristic and science fiction films such as Blade Runner and Neuromanacer. These represent the chaotic coexistence of West and East, rational and irrational, high-tech landscapes and premodern, traditional, and vulgar lives in a truly Orientalist fashion.62 We cannot ignore a similar Orientalist imagination animating the idealized image of Hong Kong that Japanese fans ofHongKong popular culture share. Susan Stewart has argued that the souvenir collection generates a sense of temporal (antique) and spatial (exotic) longing for authenticity. Similarly, “Hong Kong” is easily rendered other, an other that is, like the souvenir, located spatially and temporally “within the intimate distance,” so that Japanese can “appropriate, consume, and thereby ‘tame’” it for narcissistic use.63 Moreover, while allowing the possibility of transcending Japan’s denial of coevalness with Hong Kong, the Japanese appreciation of Hong Kong cultural modernity reproduces Asia’s “backwardness,” at the same time reconfirming West-dominated, capitalist modernity. As Tessa Morris-Suzuki has argued, Japan’s new Asianism “no longer implies rejection of material wealth and economic success, but rather represents a yearning for wealth and success which will be somehow different.”64 Armchair engagement with Hong Kong modernity rests on the fans’ imagination that “Hong Kong” is sophisticated in relation to some primordial lack in “Asia.” In what appears to be a promising corrective to the older abstract, totalizing conception of “Asia,” many Japanese fans of Hong Kong popular culture emphasize the difference between “Hong Kong” and “Asia.” These consumers reject the dominant media’s tendency to use the term Asia in reference to Hong Kong male stars.65 It is precisely in their encounter with a concrete Asia whenthey appreciate aWong Kar-wai or LeslieCheung rather than “Asian” film or music in general that we find a reflexive awareness that Japanese must meet other Asians on equal terms. Of course, in this conception Japanese are still reducing other Asian nations to wholly undifferentiated entities represented exclusively by urban, middle-class consumerism. This tactic disregards economic hardship and the range of transnational dialogues, coalitions, and trajectories that exceed or flow beneath clearly articulated national frameworks. Moreover, demarcating Hong Kong and Asia is an imperative for many fans precisely because the latter is an image of backwardness. I have often listened to interviewees remark that “premodern” China could corrupt Hong Kong’s charm. One respondent said quite explicitly, “I am afraid that Hong Kong might be more Sinicized after its return to China. Hong Kong is losing its liberal atmosphere of ‘anything goes’ to political self-restriction, and it is more influenced now by traditional mainland Chinese culture, which is definitely old-fashioned.” Another respondent said, “The British presence made Hong Kong sophisticated and special. But I think Hong Kong now is getting dirtier and losing its vigor now that it has been returned to China.” China is threatening to destroy the attractive cosmopolitanism of Hong Kong not only because of its rigid communist policy, Japanese commentators point out,66 but also because of the premodernity of “Chineseness.” The fans’ imagination of a modern, intimate Asian fellowship is rooted in the reiteration of an oriental Orientalism. Elle Japon opined, “Asian guys are becoming more and more stunning and beautiful with economic development in the region.” A certain degree of economic development is thus a minimum condition for other Asian cultures to enter “our” realm of modernity. “Premodern” Asia never occupies a coeval space with capitalist Asia. The Japanese fans of Hong Kong popular culturetreated here have no desire to identify with this imaginary Asia. It is not temporally proximate enough to evoke a nostalgic longing for a (different) Asian modernity.