In this exclusive interview, we had the privilege of conversing with Penny Bailey, one of the co-translators behind the captivating book 'The Stripper Goddess of Japan,' originally authored by the esteemed Japanese cultural historian and philosopher, Tsurumi Shunsuke. Penny Bailey, an accomplished Japanese language educator and researcher at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, provides us with a behind-the-scenes look at this remarkable translation project. The book's diversity in subject matter and Tsurumi's distinctive approach to unravelling the mythological goddess Ame no Uzume promise to engage a broad spectrum of readers.

Join us as we delve into Penny Bailey's insights regarding the book, her motivations for taking on this project, and the profound impact she envisions it having, extending far beyond the boundaries of Japanese studies.

Yuko (Interviewer): Penny Sensei, could you please briefly introduce yourself?

Penny Bailey (Author): My name is Penny Bailey. I teach Japanese at the University of Queensland in Brisbane Australia and I'm also researching there. My research is actually involved with the Mingei or folk craft movement, and I look at Japanese and Korean art history. Primarily through the Mingei movement in Japan which was founded by Yanagi Muneyoshi. The founding of the movement was in the mid 1920s but the museum is in Komaba in Tokyo. Specifically I look at Yanagi’s involvement with Korea in the 1910s and early 1920s before he began the movement in Japan. So, I've researched a lot on Korean art as well. This is my very first book. I'm just in the process of finishing up a monograph based on my research into Yanagi Muneyoshi and his involvement in Korea but that is not finished yet. So this is my first book.

Yuko: Thank you very much. Please also tell us a bit about this book - The Stripper Goddess of Japan.

Penny: The Stripper Goddess of Japan is a wonderful book written by Tsurumi Shunsuke, who is considered one of Japan's leading post-war cultural historians and philosophers. It's an amazing book. It is very diverse in its subject matter and so I think that it has a broad appeal to a wide audience. The way that the process happened was that Tomoko, my co-translator and author invited me to join her on the project. A number of years ago we had already translated a chapter of Tsurumi together, for my PhD thesis. So, she invited me to join her on this project and we're both big fans of Tsurumi. So it was a really ideal working team. The book is a bit different to the original book in that we have added an introductory chapter, and we have added copious amounts of footnotes to contextualise the broad discussions that Tsurumi uses. It also has a glossary of deities to introduce readers to the broad variety of mythological figures that appear in the book as well, with cross references to the chapters that they appear in. And, an extensive index as well for easy searching. So it's a very exciting project because it's the first time that the entire work has been translated into English. So, even though Tsurumi is a very well-known cultural historian and philosopher in Japan, his work is not as well known in the English sphere. So, we're really excited to be able to introduce this book to the English reading audience.

Yuko: Could you also tell us as to who should read this book?

Penny: One of the things that I really love about this book is - Tsurumi’s methodology was to talk about the mythological goddess Ame no Uzume through the lens of historical texts where she appears in two main scenes. His methodology is very unique because he connects this story of Ame no Uzume from Kojiki and Nihonshoki to a really broad variety of academic areas but also he does it in a very approachable way. So the audience for this book, I feel, is not necessarily just an academic audience. I feel like it will find appeal among just regular adult readers who are not necessarily looking for an academic study. It's very well written, it's very well researched. In an interview with Oguma Eiji, I think it was 2004, he described the work as “a story of my wondering spirit cultivated over many years”. And I think that beautifully encapsulates the variety of content. So he sort of moves from themes around Feminism and Sociology to religion and imperialism and colonialism and it's just wonderfully diverse. I think there's something in it for any adult non-fiction reader. It's punctuated with these humorous scenes that taps into the whole idea of Ame no Uzume as being this marvellous comic figure in historical sources who used her laughter in a very democratic way and I think that is not only appealing to a broad audience but it's also very topical now when we're facing so many issues in the world with nuclear armament, and human rights abuses, and climate change, and nuclear proliferation among other things. Her spirit of approaching potentially conflict-laden situations with laughter and an open mind is very topical. So, I think it will be really interesting to a lot of people.

Yuko: I certainly agree, thank you. I’d also like to ask what inspired you to translate this book?

Penny: Initially, I think it was Tomoko’s and my shared love of Tsurumi’s writing. But I have to say I was very surprised the further we got into the book. As I keep saying, it's a very interesting book in that it's so diverse. The idea that this wonderful picture of Ame no Uzume and the way Tsurumi has identified eight characteristics that are related to her persona and then applied that to the post-war world, well actually some of the anecdotes are historical as well, but I think that is very interesting for the general reader of Japanese studies but also for people outside of Japanese studies as well.

We were attracted to his style of writing. This chapter that Tomoko and I translated together years ago was from a book. It was actually the first critical biography of Yanagi Muneyoshi, my subject of research, ever written. And it was very interesting because Yanagi has sort of polarised opinions in Korea to do with his work. Some people see him as a resistance fighter who stood alongside the Koreans and other people see him as being complicit with Japan's imperial policies. When we read Tsurumi together, I definitely got the sense that Tsurumi approached the topic, even though it's a very emotive topic because it involves Japan and career and colonisation, in a very balanced and non-emotional way. I found that very appealing. So yes I've been a fan of his for a long time.

Yuko: Thank you very much. I think one of the topics that the book discusses is women's power. Do you think this book touches on an important point in the present society?

Penny: I think it is very important, yes. And this taps into what I was just saying about the balanced view as well. He brings in a lot of anecdotes and stories about women who have used humour, sometimes in subversive ways. Again, there's great diversity in his content. The book was initially published in 1991 and I think he must have spent many years thinking about it, just looking at the sheer diversity of the content. But I think it was almost ahead of its time in the way he put the spotlight on women, and women's humour, and how that power of humour could subvert, but also entertain. So it's a fascinating read from that perspective as well.

Yuko: Thank you very much. I’m also curious to know if there were there any unexpected challenges you faced while translating this book?

Penny: Tsurumi’s general knowledge must have been enormous because Tomoko and I are both in cultural studies albeit in different areas, but we are both in Japanese cultural studies, and we had to do a lot of research to be able to translate this book because we came across a lot of things that we didn't know a lot about.

Some chapters were much more difficult for me. I don't know what Tomoko will say about this, but for me some chapters were much more difficult than others. In particular there's one “Odori Nenbutsu” talking about the origins of dance in Japan. It was very dense with technical terms, and historical background that was necessary, but the wonderful thing is - I think, for both of us, and also for our other team member, Mariko Kishi who was an amazing support in helping us with the footnotes, the glossary, and the index - I think we all learned a lot, because he really did draw from so many different sources, you know from both eastern and western. There was no particular focus on one particular area. This is another reason that I think that it will appeal to a broad audience because it isn't very narrow.

Interestingly, in that interview with Oguma Eiji and Ueno Chizuko, he says that he would be very happy for the rest of his work to be forgotten if he can just still have this one book remaining as him as the author. I think that speaks volumes as well. He was very proud of this work and I think it is really a groundbreaking work in his methodology, in the content and also the way that he wrote it.

Yuko: Thank you very much. This is my last question - what impact do you expect from this book?

Penny: First of all the impact is introducing Tsurumi’s work into the English reading sphere. I think that's probably the most important thing. If we look at the content of the book, I think there's not a lot of research that has been done on humour, and particularly not in terms of Mythology. So, the fact that Tsurumi linked Ame no Uzume with humour and also democracy is very unusual. I think that it will inspire people to think more broadly, perhaps in a more multi-disciplinarian type context about how we can examine different aspects of not just Japanese culture but just culture in general. So, the way that he looks at Ame no Uzume is new and exciting. I think that it will have a big impact, not just for people in Japanese studies but across the board.

As we conclude this captivating interview, one cannot help but appreciate the graceful and serene presence that Penny Bailey brought to the conversation. Throughout our exchange, Penny maintained a calm and composed demeanour, and a warm smile. We invite you to dive into the pages of 'The Stripper Goddess of Japan' and experience the thought-provoking narrative that awaits.


Also checkout this interview with her co-translator Tomoko Aoyama on her views about the book. 

The book's release date is 6 Dec, 2023 and would serve as an absolute delight for holiday reading! 

Read more about the author here >

Pre-order your copy here >

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