Japanese Historian Bolsters EALC Department

Tomiko Yoda, an intellectual and cultural historian who focuses on Japanese literary texts, will be joining the East Asian Language and Civilizations Department as a full professor in the coming academic year, bolstering the department's faculty body after it sustained four losses over the last few years.

Yoda's transition from a visiting scholar to full professor, coupled with the senior appointment of Princeton professor David L. Howell in late March, has not only helped to replenish a dwindling faculty, but to modernize the intellectual vitality of the department, according to EALC Department Chair Wilt Idema. Yoda and Howell will play an important role in expanding the department's focus on modern Japanese texts and the interplay between Japanese history and literature.

An expert in both modern and classical Japanese literature, Yoda specializes in drawing a feminist critique of a broad range of Japanese literature and exploring modern interpretations of ancient Japanese texts. Her first book, entitled "Gender and National Literature: Heian Texts and Constructions of Japanese Modernity" and published in 2004, is exemplary of her scholarship, for it studies the way modern scholars have interpreted Heian literary texts as part of the national literature and identified feminine characteristics in some major works.

Yoda is currently working working on a research project—tentatively titled "Girl Time: Gender and Postmodern Consumer Culture of Japan"—that analyzes Japanese consumer culture since the late 1960s and studies "why and how Japanese pop and media culture is so focused on female youth," she said.

"The importance is global, but in Japan there seems to be a notable focus on the young female…as a consumer item and an agent of popular culture," said Yoda, pointing to magazines' popular depictions of female youth—a concept that she said is now "transforming" to include girls in their teenage years to women in their 30s—as a source of material for her scholarship.

Yoda said she has also started to teach about Japanese manga and anime, a form of media that has grown increasingly popular in the United States.

"A lot of young people in universities are interested in popular and media in Japan," Yoda said. "So I started to look into these materials and tried to provide a historical context."

Yoda, who has studied at various institutions like Wesleyan and Stanford Universities, served as an associate professor of Asian and African languages and literature at Duke University and later taught as a visiting assistant professor in Cornell University's Department of Asian Studies.

Meanwhile, Howell, an Edo historian, is currently working on an independent project on the fear of social disorder in the first half of the 19th century, a topic on which he hopes to publish a book.

Howell said that he seeks to find linkages to Japan's immediate neighbors through much of his work.

"All scholars of Japan—history and literature, even pre-modern—have become much more interested in how Japan fits in the broader context in the relationship of its neighbors and Korea," Howell said.

The transition from exclusively focusing on Japan as a nation to studying the country within the fabric of its geographic neighborhood differentiates Howell and Yoda from former EALC professors, who were modern Japanese literature, Edo period, and Japanese medieval ages scholars.

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at