Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Anthropology

First Advisor

Kelly, William

Abstract

This dissertation ethnographically examines a Japanese historical themed park to illuminate the cultural industries’ role in shaping Japanese identity through creative labor, consumption, and institutional relationships. It argues that cultural heritage is animated through embodied experiences (taiken) with performative elements and contingent contexts that take place around a central organization’s selective interpretation and staging of the past. This dissertation is based on 15 months of fieldwork in 2015-2017 at and around “Edo Town,” the pseudonym for a historical themed park in Japan that evokes the Edo or Tokugawa period (1603-1867) in Japan’s history. I explore the creative labor, institutional networks, and consumption practices around embodied experiences staged by its operating company to communicate an Edo-like Japanese identity. Such an identity recovers an alternate mode of sociality and being that aims to rehabilitate contemporary social anxieties about economic stagnation and the loss of collective Japanese identity. I demonstrate that cultural industry venues exist beyond their representations, as Edo Town is not only a historical themed park but also an employer of local residents, an actor training institution, a touristic destination, a provider of cultural knowledge expertise, as well as an alternate social space that sustain relationships outside of work and home. More broadly, I analyze how human agency is modified through theming and animation frameworks when people develop social senses that are alternate to their everyday lives. In this case, both themed park workers and visitor-consumers merge with Edo-like characters that enable them to encounter each other differently from their usual selves. In the process, they are socialized with the meaning of Edo-like Japaneseness as a corrective to what they have taken for granted in real life. I also highlight how history-themed parks and spaces like Edo Town challenge conventional modes of cultural transmission through creative re-enactments of cultural knowledge as intangible heritage, including the use of theater, characters, and fictional social encounters as the media of communication.

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