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‘Japan and Black America’ examines cultural sharing, borrowing and exchange

This year, Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies will launch four new Global Seminars — including “Japan and Black America: A Long Road of Discovery” in Kyotonabe, Japan, with Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies.
Thursday, January 25, 2018

By Pooja Makhijani

Every summer, Princeton University students travel overseas for unique six-week courses to explore the international dimensions of their academic interests. These PIIRS Global Seminars, offered by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, are taught by University faculty and give students the opportunity to experience learning in the the city and country at the heart of its subject matter.

This year, PIIRS will launch four new Global Seminars — including “Japan and Black America: A Long Road of Discovery” in Kyotanabe, Japan, with Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies.

The seminar will examine the abundant and complex cultural sharing, borrowing and exchange between Japanese and Black American cultures. “In jazz, hip hop, manga and fashion, to name just a few areas, [there are] many examples of a history of cultural flows and borrowing between Japan and Black America,” said Perry. “I am curious about the social, global-political and aesthetic foundations of this flow. This course is an opportunity to explore these connections.”

The seminar will also draw on Perry’s varied research and teaching interests. Perry has identified a number of 20th century African American scholars and journalists who were intrigued by Japan as a non-European empire and who fashioned Japan as a model. She also teaches the history of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and examines the then-mainstream belief that Japanese Americans could never be fully “American” as a dimension of U.S. racial politics. “The way Japan and the Japanese people — both literally and imaginatively — have been present in American life is important to understanding race in the United States,” she said.

In addition to seminar discussions at Doshisha University’s Kyotanabe campus, students will participate in local Japanese language classes and take excursions to the Kyoto International Manga Museum, record shops Discland Jaro and Technique, and the Blue Note Tokyo Jazz Club.

Perry hopes her students will begin to address the vexing questions that arise when people with distinct histories and traditions imagine each other: What constitutes cultural appropriation and cultural sharing? Which forms of mimicry are respectful and which are offensive? Can forms of identity be borrowed and reconstituted in a different locale? How does the meaning of art shift when its social and political context changes?

“My expectation is that students will develop a more sophisticated understanding of how and why cultures borrow from each other,” she said “I also hope they will be challenged to read cultural forms beyond their own vantage points and to see how a single artifact or idea or style can take on new meanings in different contexts. Most of all I hope that they will be surprised, intrigued and intellectually nourished by our collective endeavors.”

PIIRS Global Seminars are held over six weeks in June, July and August. Since the program was launched in 2007 by PIIRS in collaboration with the Office of International Programs, more than 800 students have taken part in 56 Global Seminars in Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Europe, the Near East and South America. Participating students earn credits for one University course.

Learn more about Global Seminars and apply to “Japan and Black America.” The application deadline is Feb. 13, 2018.