Sunday, February 17, 2008

Gibson's Chiba, My Chiba: On the Image of Japan in U.S. Cyberpunk

Reading the first chapter of William Gibson's Neuromancer made me nostalgic for Chiba. Not the Chiba of Night City and Ninsei--a kind of "historical park" to the origins of the Yakuza, a "deliberately unsupervised playground for technology itself" (11)--but the Chiba of my wife's parents, of the 5-square-block area around their home my children and I know as well as anywhere we've ever been. The Chiba of the Don Quixote department store, the Tsutaya video store, the Book-Off secondhand store, the grocery stores and the combinis, the play parks and the elementary schools; the Chiba that's connected to the downtown bus and train station/shopping district by a ten-minute bus ride or half-hour walk, that's even closer to the Yamada Denki discount electronics store and the public library and a little farther from the discount shoe store--and that's even a long walk from the shrine we go to for New Year's and the cemetery we visit to clean the gravestone of my wife's grandmother, our older daughter's namesake. While it's true that there are areas still basically controlled by the Yakuza, and that the relationship between Chiba and Tokyo might well be analogized to the contrasting images of Jersey City and New York City, I don't need the excellent analysis by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun in Control and Freedom of the related orientalisms of Neuromancer and Ghost in the Shell to convince me that Gibson's Chiba--and his Japan in general--is quite significantly distorted from its reality in the 1980s, much less today.

In a sense, though, I'm not just nostalgic for the real Chiba, but also for the image I got of it from Neuromancer, many years before I ever visited Japan. Nostalia is weird.

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