Sushi South: Teaching Southern Culture in Japan

Return to issue

Sushi South: Teaching Southern Culture in Japan

by Anne Goodwyn Jones
Southern Cultures, Vol. 4, No. 4: The South in the World

"Unexpected insights into the contradictions of Japan's cultural and historical response to defeat and reconstruction."

Nothing less than an occupation of the country will be necessary; not necessarily a very long one, but one long enough to make the fact of our victory and their defeat incontestable. . . . This then should be the programme: Defeat, Occupation, Demilitarisation, Opportunity. —John Morris, Tokyo University, 1943
In 1996 I was hired for one year to teach southern literature at a Japanese prefectural (state) university near Tokyo. I was puzzled at first by this Japanese interest in American southern literature, but by the time I left for Chiba I thought I had prepared myself to understand. American military occupation for a decade after a physically devastating total military defeat; a constitution written by, enforced by, and serving the interests of the armies of the occupation; a wrenching shift from traditional cultural, social, and economic patterns to join and prosper in western modernity— all I read supported my sense that the Japanese would be drawn to the writings of a certain class of white southerners. I expected from the Japanese a bent for the nostalgia of plantation fiction or, later, the Agrarians; for the determination of Scarlett O’Hara and for Faulkner’s explosive articulations of cultural confrontation during and after, long after, the Civil War. After all, that tradition, for many, still is what is meant by “southern literature.” This was what I thought southern literature would mean to Japanese, in Japan.