Research musings

Hi, internet!  It’s been a while.  I’ve been in Japan since March, doing archival work for the dissertation, which is sort of the work that has to come before I have anything interesting to say around these parts.  I’d apologize for the resulting silence, but hopefully it’s just indicative of me doing my work, so…. *shrug*.  In any case, in chatting about what I’ve found so far, I realized I actually had more thoughts on it than I realized, so I decided to throw those thoughts out somewhere beyond my own research notes.  Maybe there will be useful info in here for other folks approaching research, but I’m not sure.  Let’s find out together!


First, I want to preface with a confession (or something like it): I don’t actually think I’m particularly GOOD at research.  It’s something I’ve always struggled with in grad school, especially given how bound up it is in evaluations of academic value in toto, as a kind of be-all and end-all of “why we’re here” that ignores the other important kinds of ways one can “do academia.”  We’re supposed to already know what we’re doing because that’s what makes us high-quality grad students, or something to that effect.  But the more I try to ask large questions of how I go about research, the more dissatisfying the answers seem.  To be clear, this isn’t meant as an indictment of anyone in particular, simply to get some thoughts off my chest that I think come from a more ambient sense of what is generally valued in academic labor.  I don’t have an answer for how to get BETTER at research – though I suspect, like most things, it’s just “do it more” – but I just wanted to front-load this as a way of saying if you’re out there feeling similarly, you’re not alone.

THAT SAID, when I DO feel like I’m on to something in the archive, it’s a pretty nifty feeling.  No idea whether any of this will pan out into something profound or useful, but let’s dive in anyway.  I’ve been working my way through two magazines held by the National Diet Library (国会議事堂図書館), for the moment restricting myself to fairly “upper level” views of things.  I’m trying to get a “lay of the land” rather than reading any particular story in-depth just yet.  One of these magazines I’ve mentioned here before: SF Magazine.  The other, Uchuujin (宇宙塵, Space Dust), is something I wasn’t able to access in the US, so I was really excited to dig into it.  The NDL has a near-complete run of it, though is sadly missing the first couple of years of the fan-zine’s existence (understandable, given its humble beginnings).

For each, I wanted to get a general feel for the magazine as its own unit of analysis, but also look out for female authors appearing in its pages; the thought is that female authors are less likely than male authors to take ideas of the body for granted in SF, and could hopefully therefore provide a useful angle of thinking about the SF body.  Other than looking for the simple existence or absence of women creators, I was also looking at the sort of textual space the magazines represented across the 60s and early 70s: were there advertisements?  How much did the magazines cost?  What did the covers look like?  How many pieces were featured each issue?  How many Japanese works were there, and how many foreign works in translation?  That sort of thing.

One thing we can immediately note in comparing the amateur publication Uchuujin with the professional magazine SF Magazine is a gendered disparity.  Women appeared fairly consistently in the former throughout the decade, while SF Magazine was strictly a boys’ club.  Helpfully, I found a couple of “Collected indexes” (総目次) for SF Magazine‘s first and second hundred issues (roughly, 1960-67 and 1967-75), which made this distinction crystal clear: not a single original work from a Japanese author featured in SF Magazine across its first 200 issues was written by a woman.  This does not mean they were entirely absent, as it appears some women did publish short-short stories as part of an ongoing collaboration between the magazine and its sponsors (especially Pilot pens), but I still need to go find actual examples of these sorts of stories to see what sort of treatment they got by the publication.  Some women also pop up as translators of foreign works (which outnumbered Japanese-language works almost 4-to-1!), though even many of these were men writing under pennames.

Compare this with Uchuujin, where women frequently contributed original stories, albeit still in smaller proportion to men.  Indeed, when the magazine started publishing its “Revival Series,” essentially reprints of “classic” works that had appeared in the magazine’s earlier issues, the first author they chose to treat was Mitsunami Youko 光波耀子 (which appears to be a penname of a woman named Morimoto Masako 森本正子), complete with an author photo and bio.  Women appear as authors, translators, and illustrators (though not, it appears as editors), and it seems more of a space was created in which women could contribute to Japanese SF.

The most intriguing author I’ve been able to find thus far is a woman who went by the penname 美苑ふう, read as “Bien Phu” in a reference to the Battle of Dien Bien Phu between the French and Viet Minh armies in 1954.  This author starts showing up in the late ’60s, which was a pretty politically charged moment to be making reference to a battle that can be read as a precursor to the Vietnam War (a connection that becomes all the more obvious when you consider the Vietnam War’s alternate name of the Second Indochina War, as Dien Bien Phu marked the end of the First Indochina War).  Even more wild is the fact that this author’s real name appears to be Suzuki Fukuko 鈴木冨久子, formerly Princess Asaka Fukuko 朝香富久子女王 until the Occupation stripped the titles of royals outside the Imperial household.  While her family history may have nothing at all to do with her writing, it’s still an interesting question to consider why a former noble would be using the name of a battle that ended French colonial possession of Vietnam and divided that country in two as her penname for writing SF.  Definitely planning on delving deeper into this in the coming days and getting some photocopies made of her contributions to Uchuujin.

One last point I want to make is about the dynamics of prestige I think I see emerging in these magazines.  One other important distinguishing factor between SF Magazine and Uchuujin is the latter’s commitment to the idea of being a fanzine, compared to the former’s self-image of being the mainstream, professional SF.  One of the ways this comes out is through things like monthly columns in Uchuujin profiling fanzines abroad or fan activities in Japan, convention reports, fan polls, and so on.  It’s clear that the editor, Shibano Takumi 柴野拓実, sees Japanese SF fandom as part of a larger, contemporaneous movement across the world.  (Tatsumi Takayuki has written about a similar notion of simultaneity in the 80s and 90s in his Full-metal Apache, a book that I really ought to profile here at some point.)  We can note, for instance, that by 1969, Uchuujin was printing an English translation of its table of contents and the Fanacs (fan activities) in brief in the back of each issue; to me, this signals that Shibano was trying to weave Uchuujin into an audience and a conversation beyond Japan itself.  This resonates with the numerous times he or other members of the Uchuujin community traveled abroad to fan conventions in the US or Europe and took part in the social sphere of SF abroad.  For Uchuujin, the fandom is as much the point as its object.

One of the most poignant examples of this I’ve found so far was an episode in the mid-1960s, starting in 1965, when Shibano raised the idea of a “Pan-Pacificon,” a fan convention that spanned the ocean separating the American, Australian, and Japanese SF fan communities.  This plan, laid out in a number of successive columns in the magazine, mutated a few times as negotiations were made between the Japanese and American sides (Australia seems to drop from consideration pretty quickly), eventually turning into a convention to be held in California and actively solicited participation from Japanese and American fans in equal measure.  1968 is the date for which Shibano aims in his increasingly excited reports about Pan-Pacificon, and in the lead up to that year, Uchuujin solicits art, stories, and pamphlet designs from its readership.  But Pan-Pacificon never materialized.  In an announcement equal parts heartbreak and outrage, Shibano reports that the proposed convention was voted down in a meeting of the American group that would have been responsible for staging it.  The reason given was a mismatch between what the convention runners wanted and what the fans themselves wanted, with an assumption that they wouldn’t be able to recoup their investment.  Bitterly, Shibano rhetorically asks what happened to all the labor from the Japanese side, all the promise and optimism from the American side, and implicitly, all the community spirit Shibano was trying to build.

I think a lot of the resent we can sense in this article could also be linked with the utter lack of any Japanese names in announcements of winners of things like the Hugo Awards that Uchuujin regularly published.  Despite the efforts of Uchuujin, Japanese SF writers still weren’t being recognized in the wider world of professional SF – the world in which SF Magazine trucked every month.  The exclusion of Japanese writers from the canonical venues of authority, authenticity, and value in global SF – which was taken to be awards like the Hugo – seems to have been brought home in a particularly painful way for Shibano here.  We note that it is after Pan-Pacificon falls through that the English translations of Uchuujin‘s TOC and Fanacs column begin appearing, perhaps in a bid to get the magazine more Western exposure.  While I don’t want to reduce everything to this simplistic bilateral geopolitics (Bien Phu’s choice of pseudonym gives us one neon sign of where else we might look for nuance), it’s clear that these were the terms in which Shibano and SF Magazine editor Fukushima Masami were thinking.

That’s all for the brain dump.  Hopefully this gives somebody some helpful food for thought besides just myself.  I’m looking forward to seeing where these initial questions lead me, so expect to see more reports like this as I dive deeper.  Until then!


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