October 03 , 2023
Japanese mythology offers a vast expanse of captivating tales, lessons, and divine beings. Among them shines a unique figure: a minor goddess representing women's wit in classical culture. Her role has carved a special niche in the realm of mythological narratives. Originally written by the renowned Tsurumi Shunsuke, this story is now accessible to English readers thanks to the meticulous efforts of Tomoko Aoyama and Penny Bailey. Their work transcends mere translation, offering a glimpse into a world where humor, performing arts, and ancient tales seamlessly merge.
A Glimpse Behind the Scenes
As we eagerly await the launch of 'The Stripper Goddess of Japan,' our CEO, Yuko Uematsu, had the distinct honor of engaging in a conversation with Tomoko Aoyama. They delved deep into the intricacies of the story, its profound layers, and the themes awaiting the reader's discovery.
Presented here is the unfiltered transcript of their dialogue—a treasure trove for those passionate about humor, performing arts, Japanese mythology, and ancient civilizations. Whether you're deeply immersed in Japanese mythology or intrigued by the art of literary adaptation, our conversation with Tomoko offers great insights.
Yuko (Interviewer): Could you please introduce yourself?
Tomoko (Author): I'm Tomoko Aoyama. I'm an honorary associate professor at the School of Languages and Cultures of the University of Queensland in Australia.
Yuko: What are your focus subjects and how many books have you written so far?
Tomoko: My research area is modern and contemporary Japanese literature and culture, including Shojo manga. I have written one monograph and edited two volumes. The monograph is titled Reading Food in Modern Japanese Literature and the two edited volumes Girl Reading Girl in Japan and Configurations of Family in Contemporary Japan.
I've also edited six journal Special Issues and written numerous journal articles and book chapters. I've also translated two book length novels by one of my favorite authors, Kanai Mieko. I think that's all.
Yuko: Thank you very much. And please tell us a bit about your new book, The Stripper Goddess of Japan.
Tomoko: This is the first full translation of Tsurumi Shunsuke's Ame no Uzume den with a comprehensive introduction by the translators, which is myself and Penny Bailey. We also added chapter summaries and annotations. And the book is about the titular goddess Ame no Uzume, who is one of the minor goddesses in Japanese mythology. But she appears in two very important scenes.
One of them is the famous "Stripper Dancing". It's really to lure out the sun-Goddess Amaterasu. Amaterasu Ōmikami, who was hiding deep in a cave because of her brother's violent acts and violations, and Ame no Uzume, together with many other deities, gods and goddesses made this plan to lure the sun goddess out because it's all dark and full of disease and coldness. So they made this very careful plan and Ame no Uzume plays the crucial role of performing outside the cave where the the sun goddess is hiding. Ame no Uzume's performance is sort of a shamanistic dance, but at the same time it's comic and erotic. And so she dances sort of half naked, but it's also comical. So the other gods and goddesses outside the cave laugh really loudly and the the the Amaterasu becomes curious, she opens the cave door just very slightly and there with the the cooperation of other gods and goddesses, Amaterasu is drawn out of the cave and the the world has light and is warm again.
In other words, Ame no Uzume saves the world but at the same time, the sun goddess too, who was very upset because of the horrible deeds of her brother. And so she saves both the sun goddess and the rest of the the world really with her performance.
And the second scene where Ame no plays a very important role is perhaps much less known than the first one. But still, it's important because it's when Amaterasu, the sun goddess, sends her grandson to down to earth. There's a stranger, a local god with really horrifying looks. He is a giant. Ame No Uzume is fearless. With her body and performance, she manages to make way for Amaterasu's grandson and manages to avoid conflict. And so in a way, this second episode is about "border crossing without violence".
Tsurumi identifies eight important characteristics of amateurism, which are really, really useful to to analyze humor.
But the book is not just about Ame no Uzume herself, but most of the chapters are about other people, other performers and all sorts of cultures across time and space. So not just limited to the ancient or classical Japanese culture, but all sorts of cultures and religions. And and that's really, really unique, very insightful.
Yuko: That is very interesting. So, who according to you should read this book and why?
Tomoko: Okay, so anyone interested in humor, laughter, and anyone interested in Japanese culture, Japanese mythology, religion and women's contributions to all these culture, religion, humor. And yes, if they're interested in dance and other performing arts.
This book is full of very interesting philosophical and sociological examinations. The author (Tsurumi Shunsuke) to me is a very interesting person. Of course he's a giant - clearly one of the most influential intellectuals in post-war Japan. His life is so interesting. He has written so many books. But, he himself regarded this as the most important book he has ever written. So to know more about this interesting intellectual Tsurumi, this book is a must.
Yuko: Absolutely! Thank you. My next question is, what inspired you to write this book? Why did you decide to translate Tsurumi's book?
Tomoko: Okay. even though among Japanese studies, specialists, historians, sociologists, and in cultural studies and even political studies Tsurumi's name is so famous, but not too many of his books have been made available in English. And so, as I mentioned, because this is the book he himself recognized as the most important, and it is a sort of tour de force.
Inside it, we can find all sorts of traces of his previous works on Japanese intellectual history, on popular culture, and on literature. He was also a literary critic as well as many, many other things. So, I certainly felt someone has got to translate this book. And I just happened to be interested in humor, laughter and especially humor generated by women. When laughter, humor is discussed women's contributions have tended to be neglected almost completely. And this is a very, very important exception because not just Ame no Uzume, but all sorts of other women. I wouldn't use the word "humorists", but writers, performers with laughter inside and with skills to express, to make other people laugh. These talented women are discussed in Tsurumi's book. So that's another reason why I was fascinated by this book. And actually before starting to to translate this book, I used his theory in many, many articles and papers that discussed humor in contemporary Japanese culture, especially texts, film and and manga created by women.
Yuko: Amazing! Were there any unexpected challenges you faced while translating this book?
Tomoko: We already knew that it would be challenging. I had to do research in all sorts of fields that weren't familiar to me at all. So that's the challenge I expected. But the unexpected challenge was perhaps because we translated chapter by chapter over several years, but especially intensively in about a year and a half perhaps, but because it involved so many technical terms and specialist terms and names and reference books, it was difficult to ensure that we were consistent in things like Romanization and other technical stylistic issues. And of course, there were many other challenges but I must say the team really enjoyed the challenges and the fact that it was so, so interesting to find out certain things in fields that are completely foreign to us. Okay. And so, yeah, expected and unexpected difficulties were there, but we enjoyed it.
Yuko: Okay. Thank you very much. My final question is, what kind of impact do you expect this book to have on readers?
Tomoko: Yes. First and foremost, I'd like this book to be known to researchers on humor studies, and then in related fields like cultural history, cultural studies, literary studies, and sociology. There are very fresh and entertaining but really profound views in this book. So there's something for everyone. To me it was the humor - humor created by women. That's the main topic that fascinated me. But there are so many other things that can lead to new Applied research, a theoretical work coming from this work, I think. That's also for enthusiasts on Japan studies and Japanology. It's not just for academia but also for anyone including general readers.
Everyone has concerns and some sort of problems, for example, depression, difficulties communicating with others or difficulties concerning cross-cultural issues or religion. I'm sure from this book people will get some hints to overcome those difficulties. While not "reading to study", it's very readable. It's full of funny scenes and descriptions and surprises. While an enjoyable read, at the same time, I hope the book helps the reader to resolve all sorts of issues in real life.
Yuko: Thank you very much. Aoyama sensei.
Tomoko: Thank you.
Throughout our enlightening dialogue with Tomoko Aoyama, one couldn't help but be captivated by her serene demeanor. She spoke with a calm and soft voice that resonated with genuine passion for 'The Stripper Goddess of Japan'. Her consistent smile and evident enthusiasm not only highlighted her joy in discussing the book but also underscored the project's significance to her. It was evident that this isn't just another book for Tomoko—it is a cherished endeavor, a project close to her heart, and a story she is thrilled to share with the world.
The book's release date is 6 Dec, 2023 and would serve as an absolute delight for holiday reading!