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Insidious and Messy Hybridity: Reframing Japanese Identity

Part 2 Dissertation 2023
Kai McLaughlin
Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) | UK
‘Hybridity’ is a loaded term, concealing contradictions and subtexts in its uses to describe anything from natural species to cultural issues. Because of increasingly layered global exchanges since the term emerged, original theories about cultural hybridity by late-twentieth century postcolonial theorists no longer sufficiently describe everyday experiences and practices of modern households caught between transnational forces and individual identities.

Instead, this dissertation draws a distinction between two diametrically opposing forms of hybridity – ‘insidious hybridity’ and ‘messy hybridity’ – to depict more accurately the cultural shifts between the scale of those in power and of everyday life. To do so, it investigates my personal heritage and domestic spaces as a biracial individual to expand notions of ‘Japan-ness’ – a term typically instrumentalized by the Japanese state to essentialize and exclude.

While acknowledging how an external western gaze was instrumental in ossifying tropes of ‘Japan-ness’ in architecture like Ise Jingu and Katsura Imperial Villa, I use ‘messy hybridity’ to examine daily practices in two non-traditional Japanese homes: a suburban home in Tokyo belonging to my grandfather, and my own diasporic home in London. These case studies are shown as located at the fringes of ‘Japan-ness’, countering abstracted Japanese ideas of a perfect hybrid (wakon-yosai).

Kai McLaughlin

Professor Murray Fraser
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