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Eulogies to Kazuko Takemura (9): J. Keith Vincent

2013.06.26 Wed

To honor the memory of the late Kazuko Takemura, a feminist famous for her activism as well as introducing theorists such as Judith Butler, Slavoj Zizek, Gayatri Chaktravorty Spivak and Trinh T. Minh-ha to Japan, WAN is posting a series of eulogies delivered by her fellow activists and scholars both from Japan and overseas.

I can’t remember the exact occasion of my first meeting with Kazuko, but I do remember very clearly a trip to her apartment near Tsukuba University in 1995 or 1996. I went with several other members of the gay activist group OCCUR, including Kawaguchi Kazuya (河口和也) and Niimi Hiroshi(新美広). We spent the day with Kazuko, eating pizza on the floor, smoking innumerable cigarettes, and talking for hours about how to make queer theory matter in Japan, and in Japanese. This was a serious issue for us at the time, because queer theory was just starting to become a sort of fad in academic publishing in Japan, but in almost complete isolation from the activist community and even from the queer community. Kazuko was one of the only academics in Japan at the time who was not only conversant with queer theory and its feminist roots, but who understood its connection to activism. She, like my friends in OCCUR and I, saw it as both a source of empowerment and a mode of resistance against the entrenched heteronormativity and misogyny of Japanese society. She worked with us to publish a special issue of Gendai Shisō on lesbian and gay studies in 1997 and she was always a supportive and engaged participant in the workshops on queer theory that we held throughout 1995 and 1996. In my mind, she was the most important figure in the establishment of a politically engaged and intellectually rigorous queer feminist theory in Japan.

The last time I spoke to Kazuko was in March of 2010, when my partner Anthony and I had dinner with her near her home in Tokyo. I had not seen her since 2004, when she invited me to come to Ochanomizu to speak as part of her wonderful, multi-year “Frontiers of Gender Studies” series. After that, she was scheduled to join me on a panel on “Eve Sedgwick in Japan” at the Association for Japanese Literary Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey in 2009, but had to cancel because of illness. I never imagined, when we were first discussing this panel in honor of Sedgwick’s memory, that we would lose Kazuko so soon as well. When we met in 2010, we talked about her coming to Boston to spend some time with Anthony and me in Provincetown on Cape Cod. I was working on some translations myself at the time, and our plan was to make it a “working vacation.” But sadly she had to cancel that too because of illness. In the email in which she told me that she couldn’t come, she wrote, “It’s really a shame. I did want to spend several days with you and your partner—chatting, walking, rambling downtown, and translating Spivak(!!). It must be fun. Pleasure and work!!”
Looking over my correspondence with Kazuko now, and remembering all of our interactions over almost two decades, what I remember most is this delightful way she had of mixing “pleasure and work.” She got so much pleasure out of her work, and her work gave so much pleasure to others. I remember her quiet voice and bright smile, and the calm, gentle way she had of talking about difficult and pressing issues. I always felt energized and optimistic after speaking with Kazuko, no matter how frustrated we both were with the state of the world. I am proud to have known her and I miss her terribly.

J. Keith Vincent
Associate Professor of Japanese and Comparative Literature
Dept. of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature
Boston University

Posted by Aya Kitamura