Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
First Committee Member
Kerber, Linda K.
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
This dissertation examines the United States' interactions with Japan between 1945 and 1965 to demonstrate how global processes have transformed American culture at home, as well as exporting it abroad. Through U.S. political, military and economic involvement - including postwar occupation, subsequent maintenance of military bases, and the opening of markets to Japanese exports - Americans gained unprecedented exposure to Japan and its culture. At the same time, Cold War pressure to engage other "free world" nations provided impetus to try and understand foreign cultures, like Japan's. While Americans across the economic spectrum took an interest in their new ally, it was members of the middle and upper classes who most typically embraced the Japanese arts of flower arranging, bonsai, filmmaking, architecture, and landscape gardening, and the philosophy of Zen Buddhism.
Many argued that Japanese culture reflected tastes and beliefs that they valued, including understatedness, an appreciation of nature, and a desire for serenity; they described these qualities using the borrowed term "shibui." In knowledgeable circles, the word became shorthand for a particular type of Japan-based aesthetic that embraced the design principles of modernism (clean lines, efficient use of space), while in other ways running counter to industrial modernity. For example ikebana flower arrangements were praised for their minimalism, and the fact that practicing the art was supposed to provide respite from the harried pace of the 20th century life.
An appreciation for Japanese culture, or the use of Japan-inspired aesthetics in the way a person decorated or dressed, came to signify a certain kind of modernist refinement in postwar U.S. society. Consequently many suburbanites found shortcuts toward incorporating Japanese culture into their lives which enabled them to appear more stylish and cosmopolitan, without altering their lifestyle significantly. However, there were some components of Japanese culture that shibui enthusiasts conveniently ignored, and other uses to which it could be put, as demonstrated by Godzilla movies and Beat Zen. Taken together, each case study presented here reveals processes of transmission and translation in an often-overlooked direction, as well as uncovering previously neglected connections between U.S. policies abroad and the shifting layers of class and social identity formation at home.
consumption, Japan, postwar, transnational, United States
viii, 289 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 273-289).
Copyright 2010 Meghan Warner
Warner, Meghan McLaughlin. "Shibui : Japan chic and post World War II American modernism." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2010.