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FB-55583-11
A Cultural, Social, and Intellectual History of Frugality and Wastefulness in Postwar Japan
Eiko Siniawer, Williams College

Grant details: https://securegrants.neh.gov/publicquery/main.aspx?f=1&gn=FB-55583-11

"'Affluence of the Heart': Wastefulness and the Search for Meaning in Millennial Japan" (Article)
Title: "'Affluence of the Heart': Wastefulness and the Search for Meaning in Millennial Japan"
Author: Siniawer, Eiko Maruko
Abstract: In the first decade of the twenty-first century, Japan experienced a surge in the evocation of the word “mottainai,” most simply translated as “wasteful.” Children’s literature, massmarket nonfiction, magazines, newspapers, songs, government ministries, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations deliberately used and defined the term as they took up the question of what was to be deemed wasteful. This essay examines how discourses that were ostensibly about wastefulness constituted an articulation of values, a search for meaning and identity, and a certain conception of affluence in millennial Japan. It suggests that this idea of mottainai reflected wide-ranging principles and beliefs that were thought to define what it meant to be Japanese in the twenty-first century, at a time when there settled in an uneasy acceptance of economic stagnation and a desire to find meaning in an economically anemic, yet still affluent, Japan.
Year: 2014
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: The Journal of Asian Studies

"Wars Against Garbage: The Cultural and Social Meanings of Trash in 1970s Japan" (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: "Wars Against Garbage: The Cultural and Social Meanings of Trash in 1970s Japan"
Author: Eiko Maruko Siniawer
Abstract: In 1974, residents of Tokyo were asked about their opinions on garbage. A full 93 percent of the 973 survey respondents agreed to at least some degree that “there must be reflection about a consumer culture in which things that could still be used are thrown away as garbage.” And close to 89 percent responded similarly to the proposition that “the reuse of garbage must be advanced for the sake of conserving resources.” Both the question and the answers reflected the extent to which garbage had become, by the early 1970s, a site of interconnected conversations about disposability, consumerism, energy, resources, and environmental pollution. This paper examines the various meanings that were imposed upon garbage in the wake of the Tokyo Garbage War and the Oil Shock by politicians, government ministries, the waste management industry, academics, and various citizens’ groups. And it explores the ways in which garbage was a site of mutually imbricated discourses about a throwaway culture, energy and resource shortages, environmental damage, and limits to economic growth in a period of mass production, mass consumption, and mass waste.
Date: 05/23/2014
Conference Name: From Garbage to Art, Leiden University

"What is a Rich Life? Searches for Meaning in Michael Ende's Momo" (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: "What is a Rich Life? Searches for Meaning in Michael Ende's Momo"
Author: Eiko Maruko Siniawer
Abstract: In 1976, Japanese readers were introduced to the children’s book Momo: The Mysterious Story of the Time Thieves and the Girl who Brought the Stolen Time Back to the People. Penned by Michael Ende and published in the original German only a few years earlier, the story of a young waif and her battle against insidious time thieves known as the “men in grey” enjoyed significant and enduring popularity with a broad and diverse Japanese audience from the late 1970s through the present day. Through its concern with time, the book captured the attention of harried Japanese readers who embraced this opportunity to consider questions about what imbues time with meaning and what a truly rich life might be. This paper examines reactions to Momo that were published in Japanese newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals as a way to explore resistance to the fetishization of tropes about efficiency, speed, productivity, and utility, and the conception of affluence in purely financial terms. Resonating with laments about busyness and the lack of meaningful time, Momo was often interpreted as an expression of profound disappointment with the unrealized life and aborted promises of economic growth, and as a reflection on the poverty of meaning in people’s lives in an era of financial affluence and abundance. Using Momo as a lens, the paper will delve into these rallying cries for defining a rich life not by quantifiable, monetary measures but in serious consideration of contentedness, happiness, and humaneness.
Date: 03/22/2013
Conference Name: Association for Asian Studies

"A Bright New Stinginess: Waste Consciousness in the 1970s" (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: "A Bright New Stinginess: Waste Consciousness in the 1970s"
Author: Eiko Maruko Siniawer
Abstract: In 1974, a roundtable discussion published in a women’s magazine offered suggestions to housewives about how they could not waste: children should be taught not to yank at the toilet paper roll so that they would not use more squares than necessary; groceries that were priced per item, like burdock root and squid, should be weighed to get the most for one’s yen; leaves of the daikon radish should be fried or pickled and eaten, rather than thrown out; and pantyhose could be separated at the crotch so the whole pair would not have to be disposed of when one leg was torn. This article was part of a proliferation of writing in the 1970s, aimed mainly at housewives and corporate management, about how to be stingy (kechi) and become part of a movement (kechikechi undo) to avoid unnecessary waste. This paper will examine how “kechi”, a word that had previously connoted the miserliness and cheapness of frugality taken too far, was redefined in largely positive terms as a desirable consciousness of waste and wastefulness in the wake of the oil shock. This kechi was not the resurrection of earlier strategies to survive dire hardship born of the necessity of survival, but a “bright” and “new” stinginess that was repurposed as a means to maintain the middle class aspirations and achievements of the “bright life” at a time when the possibility and temptation to be wasteful were real. This remaking of kechi reflected the practices, characteristics, and concerns of an affluent, mass consumption, middle class society; rested on certain assumptions about the relationship between material comfort and happiness; and revealed the depth and tenacity of the values forged in the making of a wealthy Japan.
Date: 08/29/2014
Conference Name: European Association of Japanese Studies

"Reconsidering Affluence: Waste and Waste Consciousness in the 1970s" (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: "Reconsidering Affluence: Waste and Waste Consciousness in the 1970s"
Author: Eiko Maruko Siniawer
Abstract: With the Garbage War of 1971 and the Oil Shock of 1973, issues of waste and wastefulness were catapulted to a place of visibility unprecedented in the postwar period, to the nexus of interconnected and interwoven conversations about rubbish, resources, energy, environmental awareness, consumption, and economic growth. This presentation examines two dimensions—the significant shifts as well as the undercurrent of continuity—to the conceptions of waste and waste consciousness in the 1970s. On the one hand, the jolts early in the decade helped inspire the idea that waste and wasting were the result of the high growth era with its promotion of a mass consumption society and culture of disposability. Garbage was no longer considered an inconvenient byproduct of economic success, but a problem that required a rethinking of values and priorities that came to be seen as wasteful. Practices of reuse, recycling, and the saving of resources and energy were actively promoted. On the other hand, such substantial shifts and developments were moderated, challenged, and perhaps even undermined by the abiding allure of the conveniences, comforts, and pleasures of affluent, mass-consuming, middle-class lifestyles. Waste consciousness was not to compromise standards of living or to dramatically change consumers’ preferences and behavior. What this presentation would like to suggest is that these conceptions of waste and wastefulness reveal a fundamental tension in the 1970s between profound skepticism about the promises of economic growth and the tenacity of the values, desires, and ways of life forged in the making of an affluent Japan.
Date: 06/09/2016
Conference Name: Japan History Group, University of Tokyo


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