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Keywords:

  • Japaneseness;
  • art and design;
  • national identity

Abstract

The present study explores the identity politics of young Japanese designers and artists working across national boundaries today. It addresses the following research questions: (i) Do young designers and artists aim to produce works with “universal” appeal or strategically make use of “Japaneseness”? (ii) Do they develop new transnational identities or regard themselves as “Japanese”? and (iii) Who do they think has the power to label their works as “Japanese” in the art worlds? For this purpose, I conducted in-depth interviews with professional designers and artists who have migrated from Japan to London, New York, or Paris. The results show that most designers and artists who were interviewed indeed aim to produce works with “universal” appeal, while only a few respondents attempt to strategically express “Japaneseness” in their works. However, regardless of whether they make use of “Japaneseness” or not, all respondents regard themselves as “Japanese” without developing new transnational identities. Even so, they do not search for or hold onto Japaneseness; but rather the media, as well as a certain part of the art world, persistently attempt to emphasize “Japaneseness,” due to the structure of the art world, where whiteness continues to be the “norm.” While designers and artists are increasingly oriented toward creating works with new forms and values through the transnational production system, gatekeepers and legitimators of the art world continue to fabricate “the nation” and reinforce boundaries of national culture.