Accepted paper:

Chinatowns as technologies of imagination: a Japanese case study


James Coates (University of Sheffield)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws from fieldwork in Tokyo's unofficial 'Chinatown', Ikebukuro, to discuss the ways Chinatowns can be conceived as 'technologies of imagination' (Sneath et al. 2009) producing new ways of imagining contemporary Chinese sociality

Paper long abstract:

In celebrations of multiculturalism around the world Chinatowns are often cited as examples of the historical roots of diversity in a given nation. Chinatowns act as playful spaces of consumption and are posited as one of the many 'happy objects' that make up multiculturalist imaginaries in many nations. In Japan Chinatowns in Yokohama, Nagasaki and Kobe, have also become tourist hotspots that suggest new images of diversity. Yet, not all forms of localised Chinese sociality are celebrated, raising questions about how we conceptualize Chinatowns. This paper draws from fieldwork in Tokyo's unofficial 'Chinatown', Ikebukuro, to discuss the ways Chinese sociality is re-imagined in Japan. Chinatowns shape the possibility of imagining Chineseness in Japan, from labelling an area as a Chinatown and the playful practices that constitute its affective atmosphere, to the physical demarcation of 'ethnic space' through architecture. Its powerful capacity to re-produce and contain certain kinds of sociality also means it is contested, as the case of Ikebukuro shows. Northwest Ikebukuro has been proposed as a Chinatown due its 300 Chinese-owned businesses and significant Chinese population. But many young Chinese people in Tokyo are hesitant to call it a Chinatown, seeing the label as an old-fashioned way of imagining Chineseness. Chinatowns are 'technologies of imagination' (Sneath et al. 2009) whose indeterminacy resides in its efforts to determine and contain Chineseness. As young cynical responses to Ikebukuro's Chinatown suggest new ways of imagining Chinese sociality are emerging out of this contested site of affect and imagination in Japan.

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Skills of feeling with the world: affective imagination, embodied memories and materiality in the emergence of sociality