“Ottomania” and “Cool Japan” in Comparative Perspective

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 6:45 PM
Room: Booth 51
Distributed Paper
Murat ERGIN , Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey
Japan and Turkey have comparable histories of modernization, with both countries experiencing the epitome of their westernization in the nineteenth century, at the end of their imperial eras. Both produced modernities that are considered a mix of “eastern” and “western.” Over the last decades, both have had to face their histories of modernization, pondering the question of what comes after modernity, and manufacturing their versions of an authentic and exportable modernity.

This presentation discusses two symptoms of this process. Ottomania refers to the increasing cultural consumption of Turkey’s imperial past in Turkey and neighboring countries. Cool Japan is a government-sponsored project, emphasizing popular products in entertainment, fashion, youth culture, and computer, and intending to shift Japan's image into a "cool" place. The collapse of traditional hierarchies in Japan and the erosion of the trope of modernity in Turkey have paved the way for the promotion and export of new identity claims rooted in imperial cool.

Internal and external representations of Ottomania and cool Japan differ: 1) Internally, Japanmania and Ottomania are fragmented. The meaning of cool is perishable in Japanese popular culture while different interpretations of Ottomania are a matter of debate in Turkey. 2) Externally, cool Japan and Ottomania are linked to international “soft power” through TV dramas and other exported cultural forms, and offer alternative and accessible forms of modernity to their former imperial hinterland—China and Korea for Japan, and the Middle East and the Balkans for Turkey. The main difference is that, Ottomania corresponds to declining government intervention in popular culture whereas “cool Japan” represents an explicit attempt to shape Japan’s image. After decades of pursuing aggressive paths of modernization, Turkey and Japan seem to be claiming new Middle Eastern and Asian identities, a process fraught with uncertainties and multiple interpretations.