Event Report: Yuri Lectures at University of Michigan

January 22nd, 2017

I have returned from Michigan, for which I have nothing but praise. And from a very hectic few days pre- and post- my lectures. I have a lot of people to thank, so let’s get right on that first. First, my sincere thanks to Jennifer Robertson and the Center for Japanese Studies for having me out to the university and treating me so well. Thanks to Gal, Mary, Matt and Ben for a lovely lunch and to Jennifer, Celeste and Erin for a lovely dinner, both of which were filled with fascinating and wide-ranging conversations.  Special thanks to Nicole for arranging everything. I had a terrific time and hope to visit again sometime soon.

When I came in to Ann Arbor, I had a few hours free before meeting some folks for dinner, and the campus was great for Pokewalking, so I headed off to find the Art Museum. Folks, I have to tell you that the University of Michigan Museum of Art is fantastic. I was fascinated to see that they had an exhibition of Kabuki posters. Some of these I had seen previously  at the Brooklyn Museum, but they had a interesting section on how the onnagata, men who played the females roles,  influenced fashion and femininity. Perhaps more important to us, I also learned about the Shirabyoushi, who were female performers in the Heian period who dressed like men as they danced. (Which immediately called to mind a scene in Saitou Chiho’s  Torikaebaya, in which Sara Sojuu, presenting as a man, dances for the Emperor.) There was a poster of an onnagata dressed as a shirabyoushi, which is a lot of layers of genderfuck right there. A man, dressed as a women who dresses like man. The TV screen immediately next to that picture showed a shirabyoushi dance performed by a kabuki actor. It was fascinating.

This a painting of the most famous Shirabyoushi, Shizuka Gozen. Notice the hat (tate-eboshi), the sword, and the men’s clothes.

The other key learning I had was that fanfic and fan art are, as I have always presumed, both eternal and universal. Among the posters at the exhibition were paintings of popular kabuki actors “as” other things. Much in the way you see fan art of “Disney Princesses as…” a variety of things or people, here are paintings of popular stars “as” legendary sages and in the second picture, as flowers.

So. There you have it. Along with knowledge that kabuki posters were bootlegged, we now have confirmation that human nature is pretty consistent across time and geography. 

The next morning I first attended Jennifer’s Sex and Gender in Japan class, where I walked them through the demographic genres of manga and the wholly unique history of Yuri and LGBTQ manga. The questions were fantastic, genuinely. What a great class! I felt bad I hadn’t brought more books to give away as prizes for good questions ^_^;

The second lecture had an interesting, varied audience, which contained a few friendly faces. I was very pleased to see old friends Jackie S and Jocilyn W there. At that lecture I talked about LGBTQ (Yuri, BL, gay) manga and how pressure from fandom helped it to become a successful niche in manga sales. Again, good questions and loads of nice people.  

After that, I was able to sit with some of the grad students and chat. Mary and I found we were separated at birth and were able to fangirl over Marimite, Sailor Moon and Yuki Kajiura a bit. ^_^

Dinner conversation with faculty ranged from Japan to Amsterdam and back and through many levels of politics and pets. All in all it was a fascinating and enjoyable glimpse into the life of academics, so far removed – and yet so similar – to my own corporate world.

Two last thanks are in order. One to my driver Sayeed, who embodies everything beautiful about the American dream. And my final thanks to Ann Arbor itself, which was both lovely and fun and helped me level up in Pokemon Go. ^_^

I’m going to go do some more research on the shirabyoushi now.  ^_^

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3 Responses

  1. Jackie S. says:

    I loved the lecture, and it was great to see you again! I am definitely going to check out the kabuki exhibit at UMMA.

    Also, I am 99% positive I bought a copy of that woodblock print of Shizuka Goten when I was at the Hokusai museum in Obuse. Haha, I got it because the Japanese couple I was with told me it was a picture of a woman dressed as a man, and knowing that I thought that it was really cool. I will have to double-check when I get home!

  2. It gets even more interesting. There are prints of kabuki characters in male male sexual situations that are not found, or even hinted at, in the plays. Edo Period yaoi did exist.

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