from You Saw Nothing: Sight, Digital Video, Post-3.11 Japan
This chapter continues to position myself as the artist-researcher within the two aspects of Niigata: the political and economic spatial relation of the centre–periphery structure, and the cultural construction of the peripherality against the centre. However, in continuity with the positioning in chapter 1, this chapter offers three new aspects that evolve the argument of the previous chapter: the high-speed railway, the neoliberal state, and globalism, as well as ura-nihon, the exterior–interior conception.
The in-betweenness is tied to mobility; this chapter focuses on the railway as a materialisation of the Marxist spatial compression by modern technology in continuity with the automobile of chapter 1. As a material embodiment of mobility and interrelation between the centre and the periphery, the railway is also a materialisation of the demographic designs of state planning and the geography of growth and power. Drawing the historicity and contemporality of interrelation on the political and economic map of Japan, it is the route that the nation took to reach its current position and is taking going forward. With its nature as mass transportation, the railway also allows a number of dispersed families to be connected and spatialised between multiple locations: the current location of living and their jimoto linked by railways. The dispersed families of different generations, a common family portrait in many Japanese family albums, are considered in an examination of the grand narrative of growth in an interrelation between the centre and the periphery. In the following sections, we look at the key concepts before embarking on the main argument.
The Neoliberal State and Globalisation
Chapter 1 conceptualised the forward movement, the constitutive part of the semiotics of speed. Through the conceptualisation, we examined the identification of the nation both in the growth period and in the post-growth period, the latter of which includes the post-3.11 period. In chapter 2, we elaborate the semiotics through which we further examine the identification of the nation and its variation. Political scientist Chigaya Kinoshita gives an overview of the social changes in post-war Japanese society from a perspective of populism, body, and space in his Populism and the Politics of the Will of the People: Post-3.11 Democracy (2017):
The rapid economic growth stabilised Japanese society. The male full-time worker, salaried position, and seniority were established as the labour model; the complaints and demands that had mobilised populism were absorbed into corporatism. This was the establishment of “Japanese corporatism society” in political scientist Osamu Watanabe’s term. Around 1968, a season of protest returned. However, as it was initiated by the students and lacked the participation of other social strata, the protests arose in short-lived eruptions but quickly shrank. 1968 was also the year Japanese GDP ranked number 2 after the United States. In the 1970s, the performativity and the politicality that populist movements encompassed began to become estranged. The traditional communality that had supported the protests, such as the categorisations of “student” and “labour”, became insubstantial. As protest gradually departed from the social landscape, consumerism bloomed in its stead. Consumer popular culture fostered individualism and differentiation, yet these were built across the networks of apolitical social participation in society. Under the bubble economy in the 1980s, when the entertainment industry became far-reaching and speculative large-scale redevelopments advanced the servitisation of urban space, the space for protest was eliminated from the streets due to the enlargement of these consumer spaces. In this way people were subsumed under the affluent society; revolutionist populism was disbanded. In the 1990s, neoliberal reform was accelerated as the established system that had reciprocally stabilised politics and society was seen as a barrier to globalised competition in capitalism. Due to the appearance of the political power that manifested the reformation and demolition of the established system, populism reappeared in social space aligned with neoliberalism.*
Here Kinoshita observes the return of populism with neoliberalism. In his A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2007), David Harvey writes about the rise of neoconservatism in neoliberalism with “its concern for order as an answer to the chaos of individual interests” and its requirement “for an overweening morality as the necessary social glue to keep the body politic secure in the face of external and internal dangers”.** Osamu Watanabe, in his essay in the Japanese translation of Harvey’s book, and drawing upon Harvey’s observation, defines neoconservatism in the context of Japan as “the ideology and movement that seek to restore forms of community such as family and locality that have been lost on account of development, growth, and globalisation”.*** Harvey also points out the rise of nationalism as a strategy of the state, observing that, “forced to operate as a competitive agent in the world market and seeking to establish the best possible business climate, it mobilises nationalism in its effort to succeed”.****
Grounded in these observations on neoliberalism, neoconservatism, globalisation, and localism, this chapter continues to examine the identification of the nation with speed in these specified contexts. We focus on family and locality, the favoured ideology of neoconservatism, alongside the shinkansen, the high-speed railway system in Japan, a means of time–space compression.