Deaf in Japan: Signing and the Politics of Identity

Deaf in Japan: Signing and the Politics of Identity

Paperback

By (author) Karen Nakamura

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  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Format: Paperback | 248 pages
  • Dimensions: 150mm x 224mm x 18mm | 227g
  • Publication date: 1 August 2006
  • Publication City/Country: Ithaca
  • ISBN 10: 080147356X
  • ISBN 13: 9780801473562
  • Illustrations note: 17
  • Sales rank: 196,320

Product description

Until the mid-1970s, deaf people in Japan had few legal rights and little social recognition. Legally, they were classified as minors or mentally deficient, unable to obtain driver's licenses or sign contracts and wills. Many worked at menial tasks or were constantly unemployed, and schools for the deaf taught a difficult regimen of speechreading and oral speech methods rather than signing. After several decades of activism, deaf men and women are now largely accepted within mainstream Japanese society.Deaf in Japan, a groundbreaking study of deaf identity, minority politics, and sign language, traces the history of the deaf community in Japan, from the establishment of the first schools for the deaf in the 1870s to the birth of deaf activist movements in the postwar period and current "culture wars" over signing and assimilation. Drawing on archival and ethnographic research and in-depth interviews with deaf men and women from three generations, Karen Nakamura examines shifting attitudes toward and within the deaf community. Nakamura suggests that the notion of "deaf identity" is intimately linked with the Japanese view of modernization and Westernization. The left-affiliated Japanese Federation of the Deaf embraces an assimilationist position, promoting lip-reading and other forms of accommodation with mainstream society. In recent years, however, young disability advocates, exponents of an American-style radical separatism, have promoted the use of Japanese Sign Language.Nakamura, who signs in both ASL and JSL, finds that deafness has social characteristics typical of both ethnic minority and disability status, comparing the changing deaf community with other Japanese minority groups such as the former Burakumin, the Okinawans, and zainichi Koreans. Her account of the language wars that have erupted around Japanese signing gives evidence of broader changes in attitudes regarding disability, identity, and culture in Japan.

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Review quote

"Deaf in Japan introduces readers to the largely unknown world of the marginalized minority of the hearing impaired in Japan. Offering a succinct historical overview and an exploration of the internal friction among the deaf and the inner workings of disability activism, Deaf in Japan draws attention to the great socio-historical changes that have taken place in this area in Japan since the early twentieth century. Of vital importance as a substantial contribution to the neglected field of disability studies and to the study of social movements in Japan, it is a work of indisputable originality, distinguished by the application of a successful fieldwork method and highly readable, accessible writing. Competent in both JSL (Japanese sign language) and ASL (American sign language), Nakamura embeds actual life stories within her study and in this way succeeds very well in conveying the realities of deaf identity in Japan beyond ideological theorizing. Relatively concise as it is, this thoughtful study also stimulates a greater awareness of issues of identity formation, ethnicity, and culture in general, and of the intercultural dynamics of discourses that go beyond national borders in the process of globalization. For this reason, Deaf in Japan is equally relevant to an understanding of the problematics of disability elsewhere, thus contributing to the integration of Asian Studies in general academic discourse." John Whitney Hall Prize Citation from the Association for Asian Studies"