Anthropology Seminar | Japan’s ‘Living Swords’ | Estelle Rust
Department of Anthropology Seminar Series 2021: Japan’s ‘Living Swords’ | Estelle Rust
From 2015, caretakers and curators at Japan’s historical institutions noticed an unexpected and highly visible increase in young women attending exhibitions that focus on Japan’s historical swords. These young women differ from the ‘normal’ museum audience of older men, not just in terms of demographic but also in how they engage with the artefacts on display. In 2015 a female-oriented popular culture franchise called ‘Touken Ranbu’ was launched. In this game, famous Japanese swords transform into human-shaped warriors. This prompted young women to visit their favourite swords in museums, shrines, and temples all over Japan, seeking out these objects’ historical pasts as well as ongoing life stories. They explain their visits to these swords in terms of meetings with fellow beings.
I examine how their activities recognise the sword as both artefact and as animate being, arguing that this is more than an anthropomorphised fictional depiction. This invokes understandings of historical concepts of life in objects, and the place of swords as social objects rather than solely warrior tools. These female fans’ activities reveal ways in which they constitute an animate being in contemporary Japan. They make us consider the capacity of an object to shape a life trajectory. This is work in progress and I look forward to discussion on my ideas.
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