Session Abstract: Scholarship on the history and literature of illness and health in modern Japan typically takes one of two perspectives: that of a domineering state seeking to mobilize Japanese subjects, or that of individuals struggling to rectify local forms of medical care with those mandated by the government. This panel explores the complex histories of peoples and groups—school nurses, academics, writers—who occupied liminal positions between government and popular understandings of sickness and healing. Through their narratives of illness, their involvement in school health curricula, and their propagation of health advice, these actors mediated the production of health-related knowledge in Japan.
The panel takes an interdisciplinary approach to the literary and historical study of disease, sickness, and healing from the beginning of the twentieth century to contemporary times. Kerry Shannon’s paper examines how knowledge of public health expanded during the late Meiji period through so-called hygiene associations. Erin Newton’s paper on school nurses in interwar Japan explores how such actors negotiated their role as both state health officials and as members of an international community of practitioners. Amanda Seaman analyzes the different approaches taken to cancer and treatment in illness narratives from both the 1960s and the present. Lastly, Shelby Oxenford examines the contrast between national narratives of Japan’s revival surrounding the delayed 2020 Olympics and local understandings of 3.11 as a continuing disaster now made all the more complicated by COVID-19. Together, the papers offer a more nuanced exploration of sickness and healing beyond both state-centered and popular narratives.
Paper Presenter: Kerry S. Shannon – California State University, Dominguez Hills
Paper Presenter: Amanda Seaman – University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Paper Presenter: Shelby Oxenford – The University of Texas at Austin
Paper Presenter: Erin Newton – University of Chicago