This guest post is published around the Association for Asian Studies conference in Denver, occurring March 21-24, 2019. #AAS2019
LM: People seem interested in our claim “We did not go searching for her, this diva from Japan. She was already there.” I always find this surprising, perhaps because I’ve lived with some of these divas for so long, they seem obvious and ripe for analysis. We all found ourselves writing about figures who had lodged in our consciousness because of something about them and something about the standard depictions of them that we thought fell short.
RC: I know, and it’s not only that we selected certain divas from Japanese myth and history to write about (or as you say, they selected us!), but that we use the concept of the “diva” to anchor our writing. The concept has positive meanings for us, but when some people see our book title, they automatically assume we mean flamboyant opera stars or media personalities. But that’s not really what we intended with the idea of diva. We were interested in the unruly, insistent women who inhabit Japanese history and myth but are often just a side note in Japanese mainstream historical accounts.
LM: Now that the book is out, I’ve had a few friends ask why their favorite diva was not included. They have offered up names of divas they think similarly deserve to be reexamined in ways that go beyond the standard historical portraits. I’m glad that at least our writing about Japanese divas has people thinking about female icons in new ways, with new interest.
RC: Exactly! We never meant our selection of diva to be comprehensive but rather to allow the diva we did select to return to the stage under a new light and to spark new understandings and connections. I also think it’s notable that the authors in our volume introduce a variety of perspectives on the interpretation of “diva-ness.” There is no one lens for this exploration, and I think the interdisciplinarity of our inquiry is exciting. We have anthropological, literary, and historical approaches; and all coalesce to offer a dynamic, fluid portrait of the Japanese diva.
LM: Yes, and this vibrancy is augmented by all the illustrations in the book. We wanted to get beyond a one-dimensional, single-media approach to the topic. The divas we deal with have all had to contend with complex and shifting iconography and image-making. So, it’s important to see the various representations as well. And what better way to conclude our diva study than with the interpretive image of contemporary diva, Rokudenashiko!
RC: And let’s not forget the fantastic new piece from the artist Mayumi Oda for the cover, as well.
LM: We took the art program for the entire volume seriously, not as an afterthought. And we were also conscious of avoiding jargon and overly specialized writing. We want our book to engage the reader on multiple levels.