Logics of the Multicultural and the Consumption of the Vietnamese Exotic in Japan

Ashley Carruthers

positions: east asia cultures critique, Volume 12, Number 2, Fall 2004, pp. 401-429 (Article) Published by Duke University Press

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Cute Logics of the Multicultural and the Consumption of the Vietnamese Exotic in Japan Ashley Carruthers

The idea for this essay came to me while interviewing a Vietnamese journalist and small businessman in Oimachi, just off Tokyo’s Yamanote line. He had been telling me, with resignation, that after more than a decade of activism for Vietnamese and other migrant community causes in Japan, he had finally given up in the face of official immovability and indifference. A little like a traditional Vietnamese mandarin in times of trouble, he had retreated into scholarly pursuits. After a pause, he brightened up as he began to describe the recent emergence of a Japanese craze for things Vietnamese, telling me with some pride how not long ago he had had a camera crew from NHK television in his tiny shop. Pulling a magazine out of his desk drawer, he bemusedly translated the text on the cover into Vietnamese. One of the bold headlines read “[Let’s go] To ‘cheap’ ‘cute’ things paradise Vietnam.”1

positions 12:2 © 2004 by Duke University Press

positions 12:2

Fall 2004


The use of this language to describe things Vietnamese and, by association, Vietnam itself, struck me at the time, and still strikes me, as a stunning abstraction. Vietnam is, by anyone’s measure, an abrasive place. While the tourist there may indeed encounter the Vietnamese kawaii, he or she must also experience grinding poverty, pollution, urban decay, incivility, and perhaps even danger. Even so, the reader might well ask why this magazine shocked me so. After all, the cute-ification and sanitization of Third World tourist destinations is not particularly remarkable in the conventions of Japanese commercial travel literature—or, for that matter, in the conventions of commercial travel literature found anywhere in the West. Neither is there anything particularly surprising about the fact that Tokyo should host a Vietnamese “alterity industry.”2 Indeed, one runs into various forms of the Vietnamese exotic in cosmopolitan cities around the world. (There is even, it is rumored, a Vietnamese pho stall at the South Pole.)3 This considered, I can explain my “shocked” reaction only by saying that on seeing the “Cute Things” magazine, I experienced a heightened awareness of the contradiction between its idealized images of places and things Vietnamese for Japanese consumption and the difficult conditions of life faced not only by people in Vietnam, but by the Vietnamese refugees, migrants, students, contract laborers, and illegal workers I had just been meeting and finding out about in Tokyo and Yokohama. What, I could not help asking myself, was the cultural logic that allowed the suppression of the “nastiness” anyone who goes to Vietnam must experience? And what of the nastiness that accompanies relations between the host society and Vietnamese settlers and sojourners? If a certain naïveté attaches itself to these questions, then it is a useful one, for it permits jaded eyes to look afresh at the old contradiction between the largely positive classification of idealized and distant exotics and the largely negative coding of material and proximate others in multicultural societies. Rather than simply throwing up our hands at this hypocrisy, or avoiding it by delinking our analyses of a happy globalist “multicultural consumption” from those of an unhappy “substantive multicultural politics,” we do better to inquire into the analytical linkages between the commodification, circulation, and consumption of abstract or disembodied otherness and the politics surrounding the presence of empirical others in our midst. In what follows,

A Subjectless Multiculturalism As Bruner has succinctly put it. .”6 Meanwhile. Normative liberal multiculturalism. and thus is a multiculturalism that “celebrate[s] difference without making a difference. it is argued. and that of multiculturalism as “lived” (the subordinate logic). fosters diversity in the form of an ideology of soft cultural pluralism. these “hard” and “soft” definitions tend to be either collapsed or put on a continuum. euphemize.4 While acknowledging a degree of relative autonomy at the level of aestheticization and consumption of Vietnamese food and zakka. recognition. more often than not. “The Other in our geography is a sight of disgust. What this discourse of failure in fact articulates is the conflict between dominant national groups. who have naturalized their right to speak and act in the name of national unity. the Other in their geography is a source of pleasure.”5 One might refine this observation by adding that it is embodied and inappropriable otherness which is disgusting in “our” geography. cultural rights. and so on that do exist in grassroots forms in even the most conservative liberal multicultural societies are pathologized as failures of multicultural policy. communal lifestyles. I will argue that the abstract conception of a cute and consumable Vietnam acts to disguise. and those belonging to nondominant groups. the substantively different cultural values. and social justice. In all manner of discourses on multiculturalism.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 403 I’d like to explore this assertion through an ethnography of the consumption of the Vietnamese exotic in Tokyo. a welcome sight: not Afghan refugees but Afghan restaurants. while consumable exoticism is. whose lifestyles are imagined to threaten this unity. Thus it is often assumed that the benign pursuit of multicultural consumption is the same thing as tolerance. and consumption. and delimit the always potentially unsettling multicultural reality constituted by the existence of Vietnamese communities in Japan. I would assert that two distinct and hierarchically ordered multicultural logics apply to the two categories of otherness described above: that of multiculturalism as consumed (the dominant logic). identity choice. forms of political organization. This distinction broadly conforms to that sometimes made between diversity and difference in critical multicultural theory.

writing in the context of Australia’s conservative liberal multiculturalism. he means that within the highly abstract conception of culture embodied in consumer multiculturalism. This misrecognition.7 An alternative and more truly critical perspective is to identify “consumed” and “lived” multiculturalism as distinct logics whose relationship is more invidious. Rather. In the dominant national imaginary. the agent at the center of cosmo-multiculturalism is the (middle-class) white national subject. and they should stop it or they’ll go blind. it is to pursue an analysis of the ideological operations by which one particular experiential dimension of a complex and heterogeneous multicultural reality comes to stand in for that (untotalizable) reality. “Abstractions are the instruments of power which the knowing subject . a Lacanian fantasy that stages the subject’s “impossible” relation to the object-cause of its desire. the migrant cannot be imagined as a social and political actor located in the national field. among other factors. and not the field of everyday sociopolitical struggles and accommodations constituted by migrants and Anglo-Australians living and working alongside each other (for Hage. largely a working-class reality). who is redeemed and empowered by the possibility of appropriating the difference of the exotic other—in short. that fully “homely” nation which can never be utterly possessed. There is even a critical scholarly version of this second variant that enjoins bad white liberals guilty of a superficial “boutique multiculturalism” to engage in a more committed and meaningful cultural relativism in everyday life. an approach that is well elaborated in the work of Ghassan Hage. This is Hage’s pluralist version of the White Nation. makes it possible to “fantasize” about a multicultural nation in which all of the national types know and are correctly located in their places. becoming cosmopolitan. Rather.9 Note that arguing that consumed and lived multiculturalism are structured in a superordinate-to-subordinate relationship is not the same thing as saying that the playful cross-cultural excursions made by multicultural consumers are somehow bad. or ruled.positions 12:2 Fall 2004 404 Alternatively. this is multicultural Australia. As Arif Dirlik reminds us. ordered. sometimes uses the term subjectless multiculturalism to refer to what he identifies as the dominant multicultural ideology. that of consumption.8 When Hage speaks of [migrant] subjectlessness. it is assumed that the first must necessarily lead to the second. Hage. enjoyed.

It has often been observed that the dominant discourse of Japanese national identity imagines away the historical experience of accommodating large numbers of foreign workers before and during World War II. a country in which national belonging continues to be defined by “the implicit equation of Japanese citizenship with ethnic markers (appearance. masking the presence of some 4 to 6 million members of ethnic minorities in contemporary Japan (including the Ainu. Okinawans. Latin America. Indeed. Koreans. For it is here that the domination of substantive by consumed multiculturalism is taken to its limit: perhaps nowhere else are consumer habits so highly internationalized11 and racial others so “immaterial” in public life.13 Mike Douglass and Glenda Roberts. Chinese. language).” a phrase suggesting an officially denied grassroots reality rather than something that has been brought into the realm of governmental recognition and regulation. I would suggest. social order). and of these ethnic markers with cultural characteristics (group consciousness.”12 John Lie has found it more prudent to speak of a “multiethnic Japan. the Middle East. and elsewhere). speak of a de facto Japanese multiculturalism that has been forged informally from both below and above by a mix of “grassroots transnational citizenship” and government’s informal accommodation of business interests’ demands for cheap labor.”10 It is only once one recognizes consumer multiculturalism as such an abstraction that one is able to commence the analysis of how it produces knowledge about and enables domination over “multicultural” subjects.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 405 employs to establish control over understanding and over the known. and the . Burakumin. Japan’s Unofficial Grassroots Multiculturalism An understanding of how the fantasy of subjectless multiculturalism relates to the multicultural real of traumatic social antagonisms and contested power relations is. Southeast Asia. and perhaps as many as 700.000 foreign workers from East Asia. by contrast. it may be objected that one cannot even speak of multiculturalism in Japan. These trends have led to an on-the-ground multicultural reality in which “the corporate elite need the illegal immigrants as the ultimate foundation of the economy. particularly appropriate to the analysis of the politics of race and culture in Japan. names.

” those contingent events that disrupt the settled certainties of multiculturalism. “only be found in representation.20 is by now well rehearsed. For me.” an image of national identity that at once acknowledges and neutralizes the heterogeneity within Japaneseness. increasingly. the analysis of the latter genre of national selfrepresentation is less developed. it is this former signified and its variants that allow everything to take place as though the brute facts of existing racial difference. “a signifier of the unsettled meanings of cultural differences.” As Koichi Iwabuchi notes.” as Harumi Befu puts it.”15 In the Japanese context.” in that its indigenization (largely through consumption) enables the perpetuation of “an image of an organic cultural entity.” and multiculturalism. cultural difference becomes a sort of “constitutive inside. “the signified of attempts to fix their meaning in national imaginaries. ‘Japan’.”18 In this imagined impure but pure Japan. increasingly.) .21 (In a more psychoanalytic vein. it can be plausibly argued that Japanese national identity is chronically susceptible to what Hesse calls “transruptions. and the significant influx of foreign workers that will soon need to occur to counter the excessively top-heavy age ratio of Japan’s population. we might call these irruptions of the real into the multicultural symbolic.” but “monoethnic Japan.17 This imaginary is closely associated with the discourse of “internationalization” (kokusaika). Given the scale of this misrecognition. that absorbs foreign cultures without changing its national/cultural core. did not exist. the reality of “fortress Japan” can.”19 While the critique of the “hegemony of homogeneity. we might say that the official denial of the multicultural signifier leads to the attempt to fix its contested meaning with a false signified—not “multiculturalism.”14 Barnor Hesse makes a useful distinction between the multicultural. and if suppressed are sure to return.”16 An alternative and more sophisticated false signified is that of Japan as “the great assimilator. the understanding of the figure of a plural yet singular Japan—which I would identify as the Japanese version of “subjectless multiculturalism” par excellence—is more important than the understanding of an unsustainable discourse of cultural sameness. For.positions 12:2 Fall 2004 406 middle class increasingly finds the foreign workers have become the cooks and dishwashers in the neighborhood restaurant and diner. a quasi–state-sponsored project that has evolved over the last few decades and has meant “the internationalizing specifically of consumption rather than Japanese life in general.

the “Cute Things” edition of Mediax Mook provides information about shops and restaurants in Tokyo and Ho Chi Minh City. principally ceramics. Some Air Vietnam flights reportedly comprise up to 80 percent women. after having been worn on TV by a number of top models and actresses. as she goes about buying a cheap ao dai for herself. Maps of both cities are provided. and around 20 Tokyo shops sell the Vietnamese ao dai (literally. friends.23 Such is the popularity of Vietnamese food that famous Japanese chain restaurants like Shiraki have begun to carry dishes like goi cuon (rice paper rolls) and cha gio (spring rolls) on their menus. Nowadays. what could be described as a craze for things Vietnamese has developed in Japan’s urban centers. and handicrafts.25 It goes without saying that the consumption of Vietnamese food.24 By 1996. as well as the obligatory omiyage (gifts) for family. Enjoy Vietnam in Japan! Consumption and Tourism Over the last few years. and a series of single-page “Vietnam Lectures” schools the reader in taking cyclos and motorbike taxis and ordering the Vietnamese ao dai. “long dress”) which. shoes. there are around 150 Vietnamese restaurants in Tokyo. Tellingly. this feminized tourism had entered popular consciousness to the extent that the TV series Doku dramatized it in a platonic love story between a cyclo driver and a Japanese language teacher.000 Japanese currently visiting the country every year. the Japanese shopper-tourist going to Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi for the first time will not experience a journey of discovery so much as a continuation of consumer practices in which she is already steeped. with around 150. as well as Internet “shop fronts” based in both Japan and Vietnam. Tokyo now has over 120 shops selling Vietnamese consumer products. Tourism to Vietnam has also boomed. most of whom are making short shopping trips to Ho Chi Minh City. textiles. has become a hot fashion item for young Japanese women. clothing. while a banner on the cover cements the idea of a transnational field of consumption . and coworkers.22 the symbolic edifice of homogeneous Japanese national identity in fact rests on extremely shaky grounds.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 407 While the Japanese state emphasizes “control” with regard to immigration and cultural pluralization. At present. and miscellaneous handmade goods (zakka) in Japan is closely associated with tourism to Vietnam.

and perhaps even doing business in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Japanese tourism to Vietnam is not. the magazine weaves together the disparate consumer sites to create a symbolic geography that “Vietnamizes” Tokyo. as Joseph Tobin observes. hanging out. This “outlandish” capital lacks classical respectability. living in a Southeast Asian city has become.26 indeed. London. or Paris to acquire cultural capital continues to this day. traveling rough. and more “edgy.” While there is no specific site of density that the Vietnam freak can visit in Japan.and lower-middle-class Japanese people who had decided to defer from their university degrees and make the city their home for a year. I became part of a largely male friendship group of young middle. directing readers to upmarket restaurants and shops that cater for foreigners. While many do go there as shoppers. of course. The addressee who closely follows the magazine’s “instructions” is guaranteed not to have a culinary or shopping experience that differs too radically from those available in “Vietnamized Tokyo. significant numbers of young Japanese are also visiting Vietnam as “post-tourists”—studying the language. at least since the emergence of a “new Asianism” in Japan in the 1990s. overseas travelers have been important mediators of the West. thus bringing into existence a Little Saigon without residential concentration and (practically) without Vietnamese subjects. and Japanese tourists in particular.”29 Thus if Paris is unattainable. Overseas travel has also historically been a means of achieving prestige and asserting one’s class credentials. Ho Chi Minh City may present itself as a more affordable.positions 12:2 Fall 2004 408 by exhorting us to “Enjoy Vietnam in Japan. Since the Meiji era. but all the same it “can often yield high symbolic profit. and “the foreign” in general.”27 While the Euramerican classicism of the big three global cities remains perhaps the most valuable source of symbolic capital for Japanese sojourners.28 a way of accumulating what Pierre Bourdieu calls “extra-curricular” cultural capital. the greatest adventure likely to befall the young Japanese short-stay shopper in Ho Chi Minh City is crossing the road.” site in which to make a cultural investment. “the tradition of living in New York. The magazine also imagines a “cute-ified” (real) Saigon.” As with the heroine in the TV series Doku. While living in Ho Chi Minh City in 1996. and/or it strikes one as staid and old hat. They dealt with the ennui of a low-budget . for domestic Japanese consumption. limited to consumption.

some didn’t). my Japanese acquaintances were all in the habit of subtly wearing their Vietnamese experience in the form of “Bia 333” T-shirts. apparently equally if not more important to its members than school. going on motorbike treks to the coast or into the interior. tourists and post-tourists.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 409 life in this Third World metropolis by studying the language (some became fluent. shopping. Other Japanese sojourners I was acquainted with in Ho Chi Minh City had converted their Vietnamese experience into not only symbolic but also economic capital by setting themselves up as “backpacker entrepreneurs. One had even appropriated a Vietnamese-Japanese boyfriend. Back in Tokyo. While members of the group had traveled to and lived in other countries (Indonesia. having affairs and intrigues with locals. selecting and even producing goods (using local seamstresses and other artisans) calculated to appeal to Japanese tastes. and Malaysia).” adventurous. hanging out at a Japanese-owned café on the city’s backpacker street. primitivism (hill-tribe textiles). Cau Lac Bo Nhat Ban) formed an enduring friendship group. socialist utopianism (Ho Chi Minh and “yellow star” T-shirts). and transgressive lifestyles to other Japanese shoppers. or workplace social groups. The design sensibility behind them encompasses Confucian classicism (Bat Trang ceramics). they found themselves in a position to be able to mediate between local producers and the Japanese tourist market. going for “massages” and to “hugging bars” (bia om). New Zealand. buying and selling antique mopeds. hosting visiting Japanese friends and family. functionalist minimalism (aluminum . and various other pursuits. wicker handbags. Indochine chic (rattan and white linen). none identified with any as a facet of identity as closely as with Vietnam—demonstrating that the group members’ Vietnamese cultural capital functioned as a viable source of social distinction (in the twin sense of difference and superiority) from their peers. and lacquer shoes. Cute Things to Buy from Paradise Vietnam Tokyo’s Vietnam boutiques offer a breathtakingly diverse and heterogeneous range of things for sale.” As subjects with a degree of cultural knowledge of both Vietnam and Japan. university. This “Japanese Club” (always said in Vietnamese. These “expatriate-cosmopolitans”30 were in fact selling their own “cool.

“the zakka market is one of the most challenging in the fashion industry.31 The boutique presentation of the Vietnamese exotic herds together goods that are functional and aesthetic.34 One of the most important recontextualizations to which Vietnamese goods are subject in Japan is the category of zakka.” Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto has observed that such juxtapositions of incongruous cultural artifacts are a facet of everyday life in Japan. “pure” and hybrid. sensitive. one also finds Vietnamese products that are free from the mediation of the Japanese sensibility: aluminum tiffin tins and teapots. they may be consumed in a purely fetishistic mode. Thus. . are used according to consumption practices associated with another mode of production. Cute is not enough. openly catering to the Japanese sense of kawaii but with a Vietnamese flourish. and kitsch Orientalism (camouflage ao dai). primary school exercise books.”36 In a Japan where “what people consume may be as important as what they produce in shaping a sense of self. . Vietnamese tea and coffee. a product must be attractive. copies of glossy Vietnamese magazines. and even toothpicks.”37 the consumption of zakka is especially pregnant with self-exploratory and self-actualizing possibilities. videos of ao dai beauty contests. as with the non-Vietnamese speaker who buys a magazine that is unintelligible to her simply to have something that is authentically Vietnamese.”33 these products enter Japan “without a history” and “acquire new clusters of meanings” there.32 As in other instances in which “goods produced according to one mode of production .positions 12:2 Fall 2004 410 coffee filters). To qualify as a zakka. laden with subtexts. naive and ironic. for this is a category of goods which enables expressions of “lifestyle” more highly refined and individuated than perhaps any other. The recognition and purchase of these “authentic” symbolic and material products potentially allows the consumer to signify a “deep” engagement with Vietnam that involves experience and cultural knowledge. As with other consumer subcultures in Japan. Alternatively. . the consumption of the Vietnamese exotic can become extraordinarily fetishistic. .”35 As explained by a Japanese fashion industry analyst. . If “we understand ourselves . various sundry products used in everyday life. or “small. floral plastic toilet paper dispensers. and in so doing lifts them out of their local and everyday contexts and puts them under the rubric of “Cute Things from Paradise Vietnam. alongside objects that announce their hybridity.

41 giving them a proximity that permits Japan to look to Vietnam as a version of itself in a “parallel universe. The bold design of the yellow star against a red field suggests intimations of a utopian socialist modernity. . Kokusaika tries to erase ‘any direct encounter with Others’ and instead encourages people to meet abstract ‘Japaneseness. whether accurate or not. but rather the “discovery” of the abstract Japanese self reflected in the mirror of Vietnameseness. as Vietnam’s largest trading partner and aid donor. Is it too much of a stretch of the imagination to find in these clean lines a faint echo of the aesthetics and empire-building fantasies of Japan’s fascist past? .” One of my Vietnamese-speaking Japanese acquaintances told me that elderly Japanese. the Vietnamese are situated right after the Chinese on the Japanese scale of civilizational advancement. . envisages itself in an avuncular relation to a Vietnam imagined as poor Confucian stepbrother. and thus visiting the city is for them an intensely nostalgic experience. . a time of industrialization and forthright nation building. into which people can invest their own desires differently but positively. such dalliances even have a certain normative identificatory function.’”40 In the consumption of Vietnamese zakka. These remarks. and especially in Hanoi. He argues that the important ideological term kokusaika (internationalization) “manufactures an empty space within the dominant ideology [of sameness]. it is of course not the “real” Vietnam that matters. When one asks about the attraction of the Vietnamese aesthetic in Japan. that the two nations have a special “closeness. feel very much at home in Vietnam. specifically men in their sixties (the “silver travelers”).” “marriage. One senses a yearning for an era of simple modernity. suggest that at least some Japanese. Indeed. perceiving Japan to be mired in the social and economic malaise of late capitalism.” or even a “divorce.39 For Iwabuchi. one often hears the claim. repeated by Japanese and Vietnamese alike. Japan.” To evoke another familial metaphor. He remarked that Hanoi today reminds them of Japan in the early postwar years.”38 then the consumption of Vietnamese zakka is to be understood as a practice that allows the Japanese consumer to dally with Vietnamese versions of the self. The incessant imaging of the Vietnamese flag in Tokyo would seem to support this interpretation.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 411 by looking at the foreign.” In this one perhaps rediscovers the theme of the relationship between colonizing and colonized peoples as a “love affair. see in contemporary Vietnam a kind of reflection of Japan at an earlier stage of development.

as well as suspicion about its contemporary motives. and capital evokes memories of Japan’s past imperial ambitions. be read as expressions of Japan’s new economic and cultural “imperialism” in Asia. this is a land where Doraemon and his sidekick Nobita are as indigenized as the Honda Dream). of course. the balance of power between Vietnamese producers and Japanese tastemakers. as is especially evident in the more reflexively hybridized examples. exoticized. the Japanese presence in Vietnam also evokes the “sweet scent” of a yearned-for (East) Asian modernity. designers. the zakka themselves are “multiply authored” cultural products. who have found themselves suddenly able to “profit” from their diasporic position. exporters. one can now find boutiques that are owned and staffed by Vietnamese nationals (e. Shop Sakura and Tuan’s Omise) just around the corner from “real” Japanese-owned and -run boutiques like Yasutaka Watanabe’s Zakka.43 and Vietnamese consumers have shown themselves quite capable of attributing new and altered meanings to Japanese cultural artifacts (after all. proprietor of Shop Vietnam in downtown Shinjuku. the “return” of Japanese tourists. nor as happy globalism. In the downtown area of Ho Chi Minh City. On the .) not in the process of production. such as Kim Dinh. Thus the Japanese consumption of Vietnam and Vietnamese zakka is perhaps best viewed neither exclusively as cultural imperialism. sometimes producing goods that end up looking very much like a parody of Japanese aesthetic sensibilities.42 On the other hand.. and retailers is heavily weighted toward the Japanese side. which are aestheticized (kawaii-ized. There are also a small number of Tokyo Vietnam boutiques with Vietnamese-Japanese owners. Further. the zakka boom has spawned a rash of Vietnamese “imitators” who independently appropriate and interpret Japanese tastes. however. Certainly. As I have shown above. but rather at the level of marketing and consumption. Indeed.g. In Vietnam. etc. While the manual labor that goes into making them is exclusively Vietnamese. there exists in Japan a market for “unmediated” Vietnamese goods.positions 12:2 Fall 2004 412 Multiple Complicities The rise of Japanese tourism to Vietnam and the aesthetic of Vietnamese zakka must. media. Japanese symbolic labor also goes into the production of zakka. but rather as a case of multiple complicities. But these relationships are not in all cases strictly top-down.

and on the other. and the atrocities . the proximity and affordability of Vietnam as a tourist destination. when compared to larger-scale global assemblyline industries like textiles and footwear. I wish to argue that there is another factor crucial to any understanding of the exceptional commodifiability of the Vietnamese exotic in Japan: the fact that the Vietnamese are not significant national others. they have been able to deploy their (imperfect) understandings of Japanese aesthetics and consumption to become relatively successful retailers of the Vietnamese exotic (thus Kim Dinh takes orders for ao dai in Tokyo and has them made in her factory in Ho Chi Minh City). However. This is to say that neither is the Vietnamese population in Japan numerically or symbolically significant. in which ultra-uniform foreign designs are imposed absolutely on Vietnamese producers. this does not overdetermine relations between Vietnamese in Japan and the host society to such an extent as it does relations between Japanese and Koreans or Japanese and Chinese. within bounds. No doubt. this Vietnamese production for the Japanese market involves a good deal of self kawaii-ization. the French colonial mystique of Indochine. nostalgia for Japan’s own colonial experience in Vietnam. Japan occupied French Indochina during World War II. the Japanese occupation did precipitate a famine that killed up to a million Vietnamese in 1945.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 413 one hand. and so on. Insignificant National Others The success of the Vietnam industry in Japan may be put down to a great many things: the nations’ (imagined) common civilizational heritages.44 However. one might argue that. While Japan does have a brief colonial history in Vietnam. Japan’s ultimate military defeat and occupation. the exotic-but-familiar quality of the “Vietnamese” aesthetic. the zakka market empowers Vietnamese creativeness and legitimizes Vietnamese taste. leaving a Vichy French administration in place until only a few months prior to the end of the war. the radical chic of ’Nam. they have been able to use their Vietnamese contacts and overseas Vietnamese investor status to get privileged access to cheap labor. Nevertheless. nor is ongoing migration from Vietnam to Japan numerically or symbolically significant. While Japanese atrocities in occupied Vietnam pale by comparison to what occurred elsewhere in Asia.

Around 4. gangs.000 Vietnamese “trainees”—in reality. followed by Tokyo.700. they are classified as a social and national “type” in much the same way as other immigrants from Third World Asia.000).47 To the extent that ordinary Japanese are aware of the presence of Vietnamese in Japan.45 One might assert the same with respect to Japan’s role in the Vietnam War/the American War.48 This understanding certainly seems to have been at play in the harsh proletarianization that Vietnamese refugees were subject to by the narrow.000 Vietnamese in Japan. indeed. have precluded a deep analysis of the imperial/colonial past in general. Thus in 2000. Japan accepted only a small number of Indochinese refugees for resettlement (less than 10. and since 1994 it has received workers under the “trainee program” (kenshusei). with 1. and then were found low-status jobs in small manufacturing enterprises. drugs. machine operators. and the rest male construction workers. Kanagawa (a coastal industrial town near Tokyo) has the highest concentration of Vietnamese. Refugee arrivals were typically given six months of language and vocational training.300. and printers. asceticism.49 It would appear that the Vietnamese in Japan are not linked in the popular imaginary to specific negative stereotypes such as crime. at around 1. Around 400 to 500 Vietnamese labor migrants are estimated to have left their sponsored jobs and to be living in Japan illegally. and political violence—or. under the category of “foreign workers” ( gaikokujin rodosha). Those attempting to achieve social mobility out of this rut have found the road very hard indeed. “one-track” settlement program devised by the Japanese government. . most Japanese relate to the recent wave of “Asian” foreign workers as both racial and class others. and scholastic success (the “split personality” syndrome that characterizes media images of Vietnamese communities in Australia. to positive ones such as industry. the majority being female textile workers. According to Lie.46 Since 1990. Do Thong Minh notes that Vietnamese are so “scarce” in Japan that when they encounter each other on the street. Japan bears guilt least of all about its past actions in Indochina. unemployment. they invariably stop and talk.positions 12:2 Fall 2004 414 perpetrated against it by the Allies. disguised cheap labor—were present in Japan in 2000. there were around 14. roughly 60 percent of whom were refugees. it has also received Vietnamese students (there were at least 350 in Japan in 2000).

and Cambodia. and was in fact arrested on suspicion of being an illegal overstayer. Indeed. as being able to “pass” for Japanese. however. the “scarcity. and Hyogo (Kobe). This is. Stereotypical images of Vietnamese in Japan as criminal. untroubled . an unlikely prospect.53 the long-term cultural impact of their presence has not been. Saitama. is another question. One man. It would appear. inassimilable. Whether this is a matter of physiognomy. and Canada). or a psychic effect of the fact that the “scarce” Vietnamese do not feature in the national imaginary as significant others. however. It can be safely conceptualized in the abstract.50 As a general statement it would seem safe to say that the “average” Japanese person would feel neither any more nor any less trepidation at the prospect of living next to a Vietnamese family than next to a Thai or Filipino one. Attitudes in these locales no doubt take their kernel of truth from the participation of many Vietnamese in the marginal gomi (garbage) trade—scouring secondhand electrical stores for goods for export to Vietnam.” dispersion.51 I did meet a small number of Vietnamese people in Tokyo who had been singled out for such check-ups. Vietnamese frequently speak of themselves. They do not feature in Japanese popular consciousness as a recognizable “ethnic type. while one doesn’t hear other Southeast Asians spoken of in these terms. given the tiny number of Vietnamese in Japan. China. Rather. and “invisibility” of Vietnamese subjects means that Vietnameseness in Japan is not embodied in a threatening way.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 415 the United States. a Japanese citizen of Vietnamese origin. lazy. one might argue that in Japan the Vietnamese are phenomenologically invisible as an ethnic group. The case is definitely otherwise for Filipinos and other Southeast Asians. and are spoken of by others.52 While the psychological impact of the arrival of Indochinese refugees in Japan was perhaps significant. where there exist small Vietnamese communities. It is well known that the Japanese authorities routinely use the principle of visual “ethnic classification” in their attempts to catch illegal migrants. at the time had only an out-of-date driver’s license to identify himself.” and neither have they become associated with dangerous and transgressive urban spaces or slumlike sites of residential concentration. and so on are more or less limited to local attitudes in places such as Kanagawa. apparently on the basis of their appearance. that the experience of such harassment is the exception rather than the rule for Vietnamese people in Japan.

Japanese Koreans who engage in diasporic politics.” in which context they signify the authentic and exotic. In the consumption of Vietnameseness. relatively undiluted.positions 12:2 Fall 2004 416 by the prospect of encountering the concrete “ethnic” subject and its strange cooking smells and noisy music. while Korean-made toothpicks simply signify mundane globalization. For the obverse reasons. His fun has been . one may dance nearer to the edge of the precipice of hybridity without fear. inassimilable. as the legacy of a failed neocolonial military adventure. No doubt this has much to do with the recent nature of the reestablishment of contact between Japan and Vietnam. or even Thailand being performed in Japan. As such. and his fantasy that he is back in downtown Saigon is ruptured. the commodification of Vietnameseness is always disrupted by the haunting image of the Vietnamese refugees. The commodification of Koreanness. he cannot remain blissfully unaware of the ideological disjunctures between Vietnam and diaspora. as criminal. is disrupted by a general distaste for the national otherness represented by diasporic or hybrid Korean identities. the threat of an assertive Vietnamese-Japanese hybridity is almost negligible. A left-wing university student who comes back from Vietnam with a Ho Chi Minh T-shirt. for instance. China. Because in Australia the multicultural consumption of Vietnam is mediated through diasporic subjects. refuse assimilation. Indeed. and as anticommunist political radicals. may well be abused by anticommunists if he wears it to Sydney’s Cabramatta to eat a bowl of pho. the quality of difference that may be enjoyed in the consumption of the Vietnamese exotic is. they intrude between the Anglo-Australian consumer of the Vietnamese exotic and his or her jouissance. They figure in the popular imaginary as the embodiment of a historical fear of the Yellow Peril. and unemployable.54 Tellingly. and demand communal rights are most decidedly not kawaii. the Philippines. one cannot imagine the same near-total commodification of Korea. in terms of the fact that unlike the threat of an assertive Korean-Japanese hybridity. for instance. it is such that Vietnamese-made toothpicks can be sold for 220 in a “Vietnam boutique. when compared with the Korean. It must also be interpreted. The Absence of Diasporic Politics In the Australian context. however.

and representation have not been enabled. they came to protest against communism and human rights violations in Vietnam. the “fun” of former Prime Minister Paul Keating was also spoiled when he attempted to enlist Vietnamese Australians for the task of furthering Australia’s economic expansion into Asia. the embargo on trade with Vietnam nourished anticommunist homeland politics and allowed anti-Hanoi community gerontocrats to hegemonize community politics and the presentation of community identity to the host society until at least the mid-1990s. Instead of coming to speak with Vietnamese Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet when he visited Canberra. By contrast. there was an immediate need for community associations and community “leaders” with whom host society officials could speak. In the Japanese context such figures also exist. the figure of the diasporic Vietnamese does not intrude between the consumer and his or her object of desire. Rather. The fact that one can fly the communist flag in Tokyo does not signify the absence of anticommunist diasporic politics in Japan. as in the United States and Canada. multicultural policy has historically enabled and indeed demanded a degree of minority community representation. but comparable processes of community organization. Most Japanese. Restaurants and shops offering Vietnamese food and products in Japan often display the Socialist Republic of Vietnam flag. there is no strong representation of Vietnamese in Japan as anticommunist refugees. it suggests two things: the inability of Vietnamese in Japan to make themselves heard in the public sphere on such issues. even those who have lived in Vietnam. As large numbers of Indochinese refugees began to arrive in these countries. and through whom resettlement services could be channeled. In Australia. Anticommunist Vietnamese in Japan have also been unable to draw support from their host nation’s Vietnam policy. formation. In Japan. Indeed. something that would be unthinkable in Australia or the United States. Those in diasporic Vietnamese communities with the requisite cultural capital to speak for and constitute the group have traditionally been former members of the national elite who became political refugees. In the United States.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 417 spoiled by the Vietnamese Australian national other. unlike those in other diasporic communities. however. Although . are unaware of the internal differentiation that exists within the Vietnamese community in Japan. and the fact that the consumption of Vietnam is largely mediated by non-Vietnamese in Japan.

politely but firmly. We gathered in a restaurant in Ueno. Later.” a Vietnamese man resident in Tokyo who had just been back to his family home in Long An. Vietnamese refugee settlers in Japan do identify with an anticommunist diasporic identity (i. it’s not cool.” While most Japanese are aware of the north/south split that divides Japanese Koreans. OK?” Trung. where her home was in Ho Chi Minh City.” As one student was explaining to Minh. disgusted. I asked Dai and Minh. in the end. a function of the . we’re just talking here. “Really. who was visiting relatives in Tokyo. in a lively shopping and nightlife district located under and around the elevated railway tracks of the Yamanote line.” a student whose mother occupies a high position in the Foreign Ministry.positions 12:2 Fall 2004 418 these differences are more muted than in virtually any other First World Vietnamese diasporic community. Noticing the darkening expression of “Trung. He had been to Saigon four times in the last couple of years.e. blissfully unaware of the tensions beginning to show between the “refugees” and “students. was explaining to me that ordinary people in Vietnam were worse off today than they had been under the old regime. As the beer flowed. “Look. Of the Vietnamese friends my Japanese acquaintances had invited. that his business was exporting old machinery to Vietnam. Dai said. they feel a greater sense of commonality with Vietnamese in countries like France and the United States than they do with those in Vietnam). and do distinguish themselves from nonrefugee Vietnamese resident in Japan. another student rudely interrupted with “As if he would know where Binh Thanh was!” Minh replied. Meanwhile “Dai. It is also. This is visible in the following ethnographic vignette. my Japanese friends reminisced about their carefree student days in Saigon. When I came to Tokyo. I mean. after the students had gone home. it’s cool. some were the children of those who had come to Japan as refugees and some were Vietnamese students. we went to an underground bar. isn’t it?” “No. This is no doubt due in part to the community’s lack of a critical mass. I would suggest. I asked my Japanese friends to organize a meeting with their local Vietnamese acquaintances. You just can’t do it. just looked away.” Minh replied. the Vietnamese diasporic space in Japan is typically mistaken for a politically homogeneous one. “But it’s OK to mix with the students. a refugee. There was also a Vietnamese Canadian..

however. chefs. Presentation of the Vietnamese Exotic without Vietnamese Another reason why you can fly a communist flag above a Vietnamese restaurant in Tokyo is that the consumption of Vietnam is not. basil. override the imperative to present the authentic. No doubt. However. oysters. or staff would be unthinkable. In Japan. pho bo (beef ) and pho ga (chicken). avocado. . Thus the Asian Noodles franchise in Shibuya offers the traditional choices of Vietnam’s famous pho noodle soup.) Perhaps the most popular Vietnamese dish in Japan is goi cuon (rice paper rolls). When he said this he was speaking to me as one speaks to others who “really know” Vietnamese food. chicken. A Japanese acquaintance who runs the successful An Ngon (Eat Well) restaurant in Osaka candidly admitted to me that the food there was “not very nice” (khong ngon lam). that he dared not offer anything that strayed too far from familiar Japanese tastes. by and large. shrimp. nori. a fact that was confirmed for me by a number of restaurant visits. one can find goi cuon stuffed with eggs. and even pippies (small shellfish) with grilled goose liver. The timid palates of his customers meant. The idea of a Vietnamese restaurant without Vietnamese owners. I would suggest. (This latter pho elicited gales of laughter from the Vietnamese person we went to the restaurant with. Informants estimated that over 80 percent of the Vietnamese restaurants in Tokyo are run by Japanese people.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 419 fact that Vietnameseness is defined in Japan in terms of a transnational field of consumption that almost entirely excludes diasporic subjects and their political identifications and struggles. there is only one type of goi cuon: that containing pork. however. mint. certain cuisines in these countries—Italian being the best example—have become “cosmopolitan” and do not require an authentic ethnic subject to present them. While the presentation of the food in Vietnamese restaurants operated by Japanese people is exceptional. and vermicelli rice noodles. spring onions. and the creative possibilities of hybridizing the dishes. mediated by Vietnamese subjects. daikon. In Vietnam. the taste is exceptionally inauthentic. but also the scandalously heterodox pho hai san (seafood). in a multicultural nation such as the United States or Australia. It would appear that the necessity of offering something exotic but familiar.

55 These observations are not just trivial culinary notes but give us an insight into the very logic of Japanese multiculturalism. Going further. Without Orientalizing the Japanese as a race of mimics. In the “Western” multicultural scenario of ethnic eating. This is truly a multiculturalism without migrants. or even owner is an apt metaphor for the position of a great many recent arrivals to developed nations. that this subject should be present and visible in the restaurant to mediate the consumption of the Vietnamese exotic. in purely pragmatic terms. The few Vietnamese who do run small businesses in Japan tend not to have the material and symbolic capital required to present the Vietnamese exotic to young Japanese consumers in a sufficiently aestheticized way. do not require a “real” Vietnamese to serve them their food as a guarantee of the authenticity of what they are eating. but that they are not regarded as competent to present them for consumption. the ethnic restaurant has historically constituted a means of recognition and avenue for social mobility and even political representation. This underclass is overrepresented in the nonprestigious end of the service sector. the simulation can stand in for the “real” thing in a way that it cannot in the West. or at least those who do not have pretensions to distinguishing themselves through a sophisticated knowledge of things Vietnamese. the Vietnamese-Japanese subject is cut out entirely from the presentation of Vietnameseness. waiter. one can assert that in Japan. one could argue that not only are Vietnamese in Japan not required to authenticate Vietnamese food and other products. the position of the migrant dishwasher. often providing domestic and personal services for middle-class whites and members of more established migrant communities.positions 12:2 Fall 2004 420 anyone foolhardy enough to open a Vietnamese restaurant without Vietnamese chefs and waiting staff would be doomed to commercial failure. Thus Japanese consumers. Nevertheless. Thus on the Tokyo page of the Zagat Survey Web site. It has been pointed out often enough that the category of authenticity functions differently in Japan than it does elsewhere. which offers the translated . In the case of eating Vietnamese in Japan. cook. They are fully willing to accept a Japanese subject as a competent mediator and presenter of Vietnamese cuisine in a way that few other multicultural consumers would be. In this transaction. or even desired. It is not required. the Vietnamese in Japan simply do not exist. however.

There the culturally legible Japanese strategy of “making the exotic familiar and keeping the exotic exotic”61 ensures that Vietnameseness is domesticated (it has a “Japanese” taste and there is “Japanese” service) and yet also retains its authenticity (down to the crockery and cutlery). .’” However. and oppressive surroundings) can become “overwhelming. . . but jeers for its ‘narrow’. the terms . you can also sip an afterdinner Vietnamese coffee filtre while leafing through a Vietnamese comic book. these are all restaurants run by Vietnamese-Japanese. wonderfully cheap. In this setting. and the French-style bistro glasses they found in Saigon. the crudely but charmingly crafted bowls and dishes. shabby surroundings. . . Harajuku: Saigon Dep Lam (“Lovely Saigon”) is run by a coterie of young Japanese women who a while back discovered in Saigon a Tokyo of the 50s and did their best to bring it back with them. at the Trang Cafe on the first floor . . The food is lovingly prepared. .59 Compare these comments to the following description of the chic and simpatico environment found in the Japanese-owned and run Saigon Dep Lam. and during peak hours the staff will ‘kick you out as soon as you’re done.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 421 comments of Japanese and gaijin restaurantgoers. quality’ eats. the “‘authentic’ Vietnamese fare at the Huong Viet is judged “‘delicious’ .” the Japanese subject is situated firmly at the center of the consumer experience at Saigon Dep Lam. They have outfitted the place with the aluminum soup spoons. and unwanted intercultural intrusions. “voyeurs warn that the space is so small you can ‘overhear all the dramas going on at other tables. ‘drab’ digs. where ‘strange’ [Vietnamese?] music fills the air and the service is nearly nil’”. the reviewers’ comments speak of unheimlich dining experiences involving poor service. “the ‘luncheonette’ decor ‘needs a face-lift’. .’” More positively. where the interaction with otherness (in the form of bad service.58 While these restaurateurs are judged capable of offering fare that is cheap and authentic (right down to the manager’s smile). and cheerfully brought to table by a waitress in denim overalls and red high-topped sneakers. strange music.60 In contrast to the Vietnamese-run restaurants. while at Giang’s. . in Tokyo’s ultratrendy youth fashion district.’”57 Notably. and fans rave over the ‘beautiful’ female manager’s ‘dazzling smile.56 the Bougainvillea restaurant in Shibuya “wins cheers for its ‘cheap. .

which has a stall in the fashionable Shinjuku department store OiOi. The inability of all but a handful to accumulate the symbolic and material capital necessary to present “their own” culture for consumption is perhaps the ultimate expression of the socioeconomic marginalization of Vietnamese migrants in Japan.positions 12:2 Fall 2004 422 of the encounter with Vietnamese difference are as controllable as the soup spoons. are both located in very untrendy sites and offer comparatively cluttered and drab displays. the only two Vietnamese-owned boutiques in the city. including NHK. devotes a whole chapter of his recent book to proving the impure origins of Japanese popular culture. These stores have a significantly different feel from a shop like Chao!Zakka. Conclusion Most work on Japanese multiculturalism treats the disjuncture between Japan’s highly internationalized consumer habits and its resistance to the substantive internationalization of everyday social life as a great hypocrisy. and thus into a more liberal . for instance. (This “election” of Vietnamese goods is particularly important given the traditional role of the depato as arbiter of taste and educator in the use of new foreign goods. While both Kim Dinh and Do Thong Minh have been picked up several times by the Japanese media. Vietnamese small businesspeople find themselves at a disadvantage. Lie. as if this litany might have the effect of shaming the Japanese state into a recognition of the heterogeneity of Japaneseness. These differences are also noticeable in Vietnamese boutiques in Tokyo. from food to baseball.)62 With neither the material nor the cultural capital to present their wares in fashionable districts or in fashionable ways.” Meanwhile. The latter is run by a twentysomething “backpacker entrepreneur” who may not speak Vietnamese but who understands how to select and display products in a way calculated to appeal to Japan’s ultrasophisticated and demanding young consumers. the great majority of Vietnamese in Japan remain entirely incapable of even entering the competition. Kim Dinh’s Shop Vietnam and Do Thong Minh’s Mekong Center. who threaten to completely “steal their aura. they nevertheless find themselves having to compete on somewhat unfair grounds with the Japanese presenters of the Vietnamese exotic.

While Japaneseness would of course remain dominant in any projected version of a pluralist Japan. the fact that official Japanese identity is ethnicized means that its hegemony would be radically open to contestation. that those who speak in the name of the nation in Japan seek to resist the hollowing out of the content of Japanese ethnicity. in both popular and elite forms of the discourse of nihonjinron (defining Japanese identity). as we have seen. and thus to protect the Japanese subject from the fate of deracinated cosmomulticulturalists in the West. is still white.66 Such a position is. is not in fact plural in any substantive sense. however.65 Thus postwar migration to the liberal multicultural nations has posed no real danger of displacing the racial. this consumption takes place most “comfortably” in their absence. Confronted with the specter of cultural pluralism. To take but one example. It would appear. beneath the superficial surface of internationalized consumption. for instance.” its resistance to sexualization and racialization. quite disastrous as a base from which to govern internal national difference. Because of its . cultural. a sense of corporatism or groupism is still held to define Japanese identity and national membership. faces the prospect of becoming just one among many “ethnic” cultures subsisting in Japan. the desire for Vietnameseness is not at all inconsistent with the desire to keep Vietnamese refugees and migrant workers out of Japan. Slavoj Žižek notes that in liberal multiculturalism.”64 Taking this observation further. however. but. and historical bases that underpin the “abstract” political scientific idea of the nation.63 Quite the contrary. the collective Japanese subject. No one is in any doubt that Britishness. we might note that Western liberal multicultural nations have been able to absorb migrants without any genuine threat to the center precisely because the center represents itself as culturally “empty. Not only are authentic ethnic subjects not required to mediate the consumption of the Vietnamese exotic. and thus to distinguish Japanese values from the liberal-individualist ones of the West. the white male subject draws much of its power from its “invisibility. The Japanese fantasy of multicultural consumption stages the desire for a nation that. unable or unwilling to retreat into empty universalism.” As Lauren Berlant shows.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 423 immigration policy. the dominant national subject occupies the position of “the privileged empty point of universality from which one is able to appreciate (and depreciate) properly other particular cultures.

. Japan finds itself in the position of “not knowing how” to neutralize the plenitudinous difference of the other. I would suggest we read the Japanese version of subjectless multiculturalism as a response to this impasse. the truth is that identity in Japan.”67 Surely. I prefer to read the women’s embarrassment not simply as bashfulness in front of a stranger but as a painful moment of recognition of themselves as mirrored in the gaze of the Vietnamese-Japanese. finally. global cultural homogenization (Westernization). and potentially uncontrollable. the women had immediately bowed their heads and apologized. is subject to both the differentiating and dedifferentiating effects of global capital. and so on inexorably undermine claims to a Japanese cultural particularism.positions 12:2 Fall 2004 424 own attachment to a plenitudinous sense of national identity. like everywhere else. “Cosmopolitan consumption does not . the women were overcome with shame at the thought . This is a fantasy. Anonymous processes such as labor transmigration. individuation. detraditionalization. Epilogue A middle-aged Vietnamese man told me the story of how he had approached two young Japanese women wearing ao dai in Tokyo to tell them how pleased he was to see them wearing “his” national costume. because this would do the same to Japaneseness. The abstract and consumable versions of Japan’s “multicultures” imagine a nation in which the concrete. subjects of these cultures are absent. it empowers the Japanese subject to dominate this otherness through consumption. Having recognized the presence of national otherness. . John Clammer uncritically reproduces this fantasy when he asserts. of untrammeled union with a homogenously Japanese nation—a union that is not “blocked” by the presence of desiring national others. Suddenly confronted with an actual Vietnamese subject. The other’s strong definition of community cannot be broken down into a liberal-individual conception of lifestyle choice. local ethnoracial pluralization (multiculturalization). but rather that Japan is consuming the world. In response. mean that the world is colonizing Japan. This fantasy is more powerful than that of denial (“The migrants aren’t there!”) because it is “in touch” with the reality of Japan’s highly unstable multicultural signifier and offers a more viable way of settling it.

The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins (New York: Routledge. White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society (Annandale.” in Displacement.” Jinn Magazine. 160. Arthur M. NC: Duke University Press.” in Home/World: Space. Richard Zinman (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. Yoshimori Funaki. Helen Grace. “Boutique Multiculturalism. Mediax Mook 181 (2001). leaving them stranded in the gaze of an other whose very existence they experience as a mute reproach. CO: Westview. Smadar Lavie and Ted Swedenburg (Durham. April 17–28. 1997). ‘Ethnic Food. and M. and Michael Symonds (Sydney: Pluto. Ghassan Hage. Andrew Lam. 2000. The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism (Boulder. “Conclusion: The Multicultural Question. and Geographies of Identity. Melzer. Community.’ and Migrant Home-Building. 1998). Ghassan Hage. While its intention is critical.” in Un/Settled Multiculturalisms: Diasporas. Arthur Kent. Transruptions. this last version shares a popular perception that “shallow” modes of white liberal multicultural behavior constitute the first steps on a path that leads toward “deep” ones. 1997). Arif Dirlik. 2000).” in Multiculturalism and American Democracy. “Cheap cute [handmade] things paradise Vietnam to”). Lesley Johnson. VA: Pluto Press/Comerford and Miller. The shocking and contingent appearance of this Japanese-speaking Vietnamese man shatters entirely the ao dai wearers’ fantasy of a subjectless Vietnamese exotic. 2001). Stuart Hall. 1998). 35. ed. This research was conducted in Ho Chi Minh City and Tokyo in 2001. Entanglements. ed. and Marginality in Sydney’s West. Diaspora. See Stanley Fish.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 425 that he might somehow “mind” them wearing ao dai. Ghassan Hage. . Weinberger. 211. Notes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Many thanks to Do Thong Minh. ed. “Yasui kawaii zakka paradaisu Vietnam e” (literally. J. Barnor Hesse (London: Zed. ed. “Tourism in the Balinese Borderzone. Bruner. and Yokura Yu for their invaluable help in organizing my fieldwork in Tokyo. Graham Huggan. 1996). “At Home in the Entrails of the West: Multiculturalism. Edward M. Julie Langsworth. Thanks also to Michiyo Yoshida. and Yumiko Horiguchi for their aid with translation and for their useful feedback. and to Srilata Ravi for her insightful comment about “multiple complicities. National University of Singapore.” This research was supported by the Asia Research Institute. “‘Pho’ Goes Global Thanks to the Vietnamese Diaspora.

Contemporary Urban Japan: A Sociology of Consumption (Oxford: Blackwell. 24 A Tokyo travel agent estimates that “90% of the clients he sends to Vietnam are women in their 20s and 30s. Nation (Armonk. 206. Victoria: Trans Pacific. NY: M. 15 Barnor Hesse. Roberts (London: Routledge. Kosaku Yoshino (Surrey: Curzon. 16 Koichi Iwabuchi. “Return to Asia? Japan in Asian Audiovisual Markets.com.” Communal/Plural 6 (1998): 71–85.” in Un/Settled Multiculturalisms.” in Japan and Global Migration: Foreign Workers and the Advent of a Multicultural Society. “Japan in a Global Age of Migration. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. ed. 29 Pierre Bourdieu. Space. Re-Inventing Japan: Time. See Fumiteru Nitta. “Complicit Exoticism: Japan and Its Other. “Pure Impurity.” 72. Culture. .2 (2000): 18. Roberts. trans. Richard Nice (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1984). Tobin (New Haven. 28 Koichi Iwabuchi. 2001). Mekong. 53. 63. Mike Douglas and Glenda S. 29. “Cosmopolitans and Locals in World Culture.” 17. 12 Tessa Morris-Suzuki. 30.” Theory.” in Consuming Ethnicity and Nationalism: Asian Experiences. 22 Japan’s immigration legislation is called the Immigration Control Act. 2000). 1997). May 25. “Introduction: Domesticating the West. 27 Joseph J.positions 12:2 Fall 2004 426 11 See John Clammer. 17 Koichi Iwabuchi. 21 Hesse. 1999). Joseph J. 23 The figures provided in this paragraph are Do Thong Minh’s. Sharpe. 25 Japanese female tourism reflects the spending power of young single working women. ed.” Mutsuko Murakami. 12.” Asiaweek. 143–44. Hegemony of Homogeneity: An Anthropological Analysis of Nihonjinron (Rosanna. His own research is drawn from the Japanese media and from restaurant and shop visits and interviews. Contemporary Urban Japan. CT: Yale University Press. 2001). 2001. 14 Mike Douglass and Glenda S. “Introduction: Un/Settled Multiculturalisms. and Society 7 (1990): 237–51. 19 Iwabuchi. Contemporary Urban Japan.” in Re-Made in Japan. E. 2. known as office ladies or OLs. ed. “It’s My Party and I’ll Buy If I Want To. 86–95. He has been an avid watcher of the Vietnamese “otherness business” in Japan for over fifteen years and frequently writes about it in his monthly magazine. “Shopping for Souvenirs in Hawai’i. Multiethnic Japan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 13 John Lie. 1992). “Introduction.” International Journal of Urban Labour and Leisure 2. 20 Harumi Befu. 18 Clammer. “Pure Impurity: Japan’s Genius for Hybridism. 1998).” in Re-Made in Japan: Everyday Life and Consumer Taste in a Changing Society. Tobin. 26 See Clammer. 30 Ulf Hannerz.

and Hypermarkets: Consumption and Surrealism in the Argentine Northwest.” in Cross-Cultural Consumption. Hiroshi Komai. ed. “‘Bwana Mickey’: Constructing Cultural Consumption at Tokyo Disneyland. 718–19. “not surprisingly. 46 Wolfgang Herbert. David Howes (London: Routledge.com. 41 Thomas R. Fire across the Sea. Local Realities. 245.” Asiaweek. especially from Asia. and Gift Items. According to the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). “The Postmodern and Mass Images in Japan. 43 Iwabuchi. 44 David G. of which nearly half the total market value is imported goods. Stephen Muecke. forthcoming).” in Cross-Cultural Consumption: Global Markets. Jens Wilkinson (London: Kegan Paul International. 20. July 27–August 3. Koichi Iwabuchi.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 427 31 Do Thong Minh reports that he frequently makes such sales in his Mekong Shop. . “Haute Chic Minh. 55. seem to provide a special feeling of naturalness and simplicity among the Japanese. 39 See Allison James. these Asian products. cited in Mary Yoko Brannen. 42 Mandy Thomas. 45 Havens.” 55 (March 2001). vol. 40 Iwabuchi. NJ: Princeton University Press. “Perishable Goods: Modes of Consumption in the Pacific Islands. 1987). “Proscribing Desire: The Vietnamese State and East Asian Popular Culture.” in Intra-Asian Cultural Traffic. and Mandy Thomas (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. “Household Products: Including Sundries. “Cooking the Books: Global or Local Identities in Contemporary British Food Cultures. David Napier.” 8. Foreign Bodies: Performance. 96–107. 17.” in Cross-Cultural Consumption. Coca-Cola. 16. 1995). 1996). 1996). 247. 47 Do Thong Minh. xxiii. “Sugar Cane. trans. 34 Constance Classen. 125.” JETRO Japanese Market Report.” in Re-Made in Japan. 36 Lan Ai Trinh and Kaori Shoji. Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power (Berkeley: University of California Press. Foreign Workers and Law Enforcement in Japan (London: Kegan Paul International. Migrant Workers in Japan. Marr.” 12–13. 52. 218. 2000). 35 Zakka is a 3. “Return to Asia?” 196. 2001. Havens. Art. 37 Tobin. 32 Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto. Nhat Ban Duoi Mat Nguoi Viet: Ky Niem 30 Nam O Nhat Ban ( Japan through Vietnamese Eyes: A Memoir of Thirty Years in Japan). ed. and Symbolic Anthropology (Berkeley: University of California Press). 1995). Multiethnic Japan. 48 Lie. H.000-billion-yen industry. 2 (Tokyo: Nha Xuat Ban Tan Van. Novelty Gift. 33 Jean-Marc Philibert and Christine Jourdan. “Introduction: Domesticating the West. 1965–1975 (Princeton.” Public Culture 1 (1989): 8-25. “Complicit Exoticism: Japan and Its Other. Fire across the Sea: The Vietnam War and Japan. 38 A.

Do Thong Minh notes that Vietnamese restaurants run by Japanese are more “proper” (nghiem chinh) and more expensive than those run by Vietnamese. Hybridity. Nguyen Thi Giang. 51 Herbert. 58 Duong Tuan Kiet owns Bougainvillea. 1. Jens Wilkinson (Melbourne: Trans Pacific. 48.com. 2001). Foreign Workers and Law Enforcement in Japan. and Yoshida. ed. Institutes of Australian Geographers and New Zealand Geographical Society. ed. (For the Zagat Survey Tokyo Restaurants 2000. 38 (1991): 1–12. Foreign Migrants in Contemporary Japan. National University of Singapore. Giang’s. 2000). Sonia Ryang (London: Routledge. 57 See www. who translate the Japanese comments into English and edit them.” Osaka University Law Review. 59 Granted. Hiroshi Komai. trans. “The Socio-economic Integration of Vietnamese Women in Australia and Japan: A Citizenship Perspective” (proceedings of the Joint Conference. Zagat’s Tokyo guides are published in both Japanese and English. Notably. 2002. Yoshio Kawashima.” in Foodscapes: The Cultural Politics of Food in Asia. 256. 53 Havens. personal communication. . and Sydney. 55 Singapore is another place in which the “subjectless” presentation of Vietnamese food is the norm. Nhat Ban Duoi Mat Nguoi Viet. 16. 2001).com don’t get the same low marks for service that the Vietnamese ones do.” in Koreans in Japan: Critical Voices from the Margins.800 Tokyoites voted on 1. Moreover. forthcoming). “Settlement Services: The Experience of Three Vietnamese Refugee Women in Japan” (paper presented at Asian Diasporas and Cultures: Globalization. See Ashley Carruthers. 728–35. unlike the unheimlich experience of the Vietnamese restaurant. Sangjung Kang.) Soraya Conway of Zagat Survey. and thus there is the expectation of a higher quality of service and eating environment. “Post-Colonialism and Diasporic Space in Japan. Intertextuality. Tokyo. “Indochine Chic: Consuming the Indochinese Exotic in Singapore. Vietnamese food is in a higher price category than these eateries. some of these complaints are ones often made of “budget” Japanese restaurants.positions 12:2 Fall 2004 428 49 See Michiyo Yoshida.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 2 (2001): 137–44. Postcoloniality.zagat. “Japanese Laws and Practices on Indo-Chinese Refugees. and Nguyen Thi Diep.100 restaurants. the cheap Japanese restaurants reviewed on Zagat. 2001). Tokyo. Although the Web site is in English only. 52 These observations come from my field notes. August 2001. Fire across the Sea. 50 Do. 54 Koichi Iwabuchi. August 7. Lisa Law and Daisy Ng (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. However. and the Self-Representation of ‘Koreanness’ in Japan. Personal communication. the crowdedness of a cheap ramen or sushi joint is expected and has a familiar and homely resonance. and we may safely assume that the majority of comments appearing there come from Japanese correspondents. Huong Viet. “Political Correctness. 56 Reviews are sent anonymously in Japanese and English to the editors of the Zagat Survey Tokyo Web site.

and Nationality in the Modern Text.” in Re-made in Japan. Sex.com. Hortense J. 53-82. the Japanese are now domesticating the suddenly vulnerable West by buying it. Contemporary Urban Japan. 1991). 67 Clammer. “‘Bwana Mickey.” Zagat. chap. 44.” in Comparative American Identities: Race.Carruthers Cute Logics of the Multicultural 429 60 “Good Tokyo Restaurants. Multiethnic Japan. Tobin similarly asserts that “having neutralized the once-formidable economic power of the West through production and exports. no. 64 Slavoj Žižek. 225 (1997): 28–51. “Introduction: Domesticating the West. 62 Millie R.” New Left Review. Hegemony of Homogeneity.” Tobin. “Multiculturalism. Creighton. or. 66 Befu. “The Depato: Merchandizing the West While Selling Japaneseness. ed. Spillers (New York: Routledge. 63 Lie. Café May Man/Oshin (Lucky). .” 9. 20–23. 65 Lauren Berlant. Saigon Dep Lam is actually owned by a consortium of Japanese businessmen. 61 Brannen. 3.’” 219. who also own a café catering to Japanese backpackers in Ho Chi Minh City. 95. “National Brands/National Body: Imitation of Life. the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism.

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