Oberlin students will get a rare opportunity to hear from scholars and graduate students specializing in Japanese literature, visual arts, and music from across North America, Asia, and Europe when the college hosts the Association of Japanese Literary Studies (AJLS) annual conference in mid-February.
This is the first time Oberlin has hosted the annual meeting of the AJLS in its 26-year history because it’s usually held at major research universities, says Professor of Japanese Ann Sherif, who has been involved with the association since its inception.
“This is a relatively small-scale conference—it’s a group of people who stay together in a single venue, so we develop a dialogue about our shared scholarly interests,” says Sherif, a scholar of modern Japanese literature. “Students will get a sense of how researchers in the humanities develop as scholars, how they get feedback, how they receive validation and criticism, how they build knowledge. It’s an opportunity for students to observe that process.”
The theme of the multidisciplinary conference is titled “Violence, Justice, and Honor in Japan’s Literary Cultures.” Presenters will discuss ways that violence as a trope has occupied a space in Japanese literary cultures and has been a central part of expressive culture.
“Often in American media, we hear politicians describing Japan as a country of ‘Samurai warriors.’ In the United States, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and Japanese militarism are still prominent in memories of World War II,” Sherif says. “The conference theme explores the many ways that writers, artists, and musicians in Japan have represented, beautified, and resisted different kinds of violence—military violence on the battlefield, prolonged violence of empire, extreme violence of the atomic bomb, and the slow violence of pollution and radioactivity.”
As the host institution organizer, Sherif says she intentionally invited accomplished, mid-career scholars to present in the keynote panel. “I wanted to highlight how the arts have engaged with the nuclear age over the past 70-some years—starting with Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to the Fukushima meltdown now.”
The keynote panel, “Atomic Art and Violence,” includes Yukinori Okamura, curator of the Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels in Saitama, Japan; Yumi Notohara, Osaka College of Music, a scholar of music involving Hiroshima; and Charlotte Eubanks, associate professor of comparative literature, Japanese, and Asian studies at Pennsylvania State University.
“I hope students and faculty will take advantage of this chance to hear talks and have conversations with some of the top scholars in the field. These include senior people such as Norma Field from the University of Chicago, and junior scholars such as Paul Roquette from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who will be exploring cutting-edge topics, and a range of fantastic researchers and writers from Asia, Europe and across North America.”
Students taking Japanese language courses might find themselves chatting in Japanese with presenters from Japan or hearing an academic lecture delivered in Japanese right here on campus. In addition to Sherif’s Modern Japanese Literature and Film course, other faculty will have course tie-ins, including Approaches to Japanese and Chinese Art (Bonnie Cheng, art history), Modern Japan (Emer O’Dwyer, history), and Queer Writing in Japan (Grace Ting, East Asian studies).
“Japan is a culture that has a long and rich literary history. In our Japanese literature and comparative literature classes, students read works coming out of those traditions,” Sherif says. “The papers presented in this conference will span more than 1,000 years of literary and cultural history. There’s something for everybody.”
The conference will take place Friday, February 16, in the Oberlin Center for Convergence, and Saturday, February 17, in the Adam Joseph Lewis Center. See the full schedule.