Want to know how the Japanese language, wine, Godzilla and video games all tie in to being a researcher at Monash? Lecturer in Japanese studies, Jason Jones, tells us about his passion for ‘all things Japanese’, and about his research around the themes of cultural exchange and adaptation.
Position: Lecturer in Japanese Studies, School of Literatures, Languages, Cultures and Linguistics
What got you started in your research area?
I’ve been doing Japan-related things since I was a child. When it comes to an interest in Japanese, people usually start with something like manga or video games or animation – and I started with video games. In those days everything in video games was text based, and so in order to know what was happening in the game, you had to read it in Japanese – so that was my motivation for learning the language!
Since then I’ve done translation and interpreting in Japan, been a coordinator for international relations, and worked in a Japanese government office. Then I decided to go to graduate school in Japan and follow what really interested me, and which is still my area of research focus: cultural exchange and adaptation, that is, how do we take something from one culture and apply it in another?
Why Monash, and what are you enjoying most about the Monash community?
What immediately stands out is Monash’s name in Japanese studies – it is very well known for having a strong Japanese studies program.
One of the things that I find very encouraging at Monash is the focus on collaboration. There are so many different possibilities to do so many different things, there is always a new angle or collaboration that’s going to provide you with new results.
For instance I’m working with a colleague in French, and we’re looking at the development of wine vocabulary and how you talk about wine between Japan and France. It’s interdisciplinary but also highly collaborative.
Through participating in seminars, I’ve met colleagues in Medicine and Computer Science. It’s been an interesting and fun process talking to people in other disciplines: sometimes there’s very little overlap, but other times it gets me thinking, .. maybe we could do something here!
What have you been working on recently?
One of my areas of research is into adaptations of the Godzilla film: about the process of ‘internationalisation’, and of how the original story has been lost.
The original Godzilla film is all about the threat of the atomic age and nuclear weapons, about Japan being drawn into war again, and about people living with the constant threat of bombs and destruction. In this original movie you’re looking at a moment of catharsis for Japan after WWII.
In subsequent film adaptations of Godzilla we end up with a monster character separated from the original narrative. The theme of nuclear annihilation, and the idea that Godzilla is a work of self-reflection for Japan—and the rest of the world—has all but disappeared.
We tend to view film as something that entertains us, or that we learn something from (like a documentary), but when we’re talking about film adaptations, we are also dealing with these larger structures – economic, cultural, political – and in the case of the Godzilla adaptations, a downplaying of the very political issues that inspired the film in the first place.
Another one of my research areas relates to Japanese wine culture and history, and I was initially led into this through my interest in Japanese film.
There was a period in the early 2000’s where lots of Japanese films were being remade in the west, but one film went the other way, from Hollywood to Japan, the film Sideways. This was an anomaly, and I wanted to know what was happening in Japan that meant wine was becoming so popular that someone would remake this film for Japanese audiences.
This led me to look at the colourful world of graphic novels and manga, where wine and food feature heavily. In a recent paper I looked at a series of ‘wine manga’ and interviewed the author Joh Araki. I look at how the series is trying to teach people not only about what wines to drink, but also about wine culture. I also discuss the economics and politics of wine in Japan, it’s relation to international wine culture, and look at it all within the wider theme of cultural exchange and adaptation.
Best piece of advice you’ve received?
One of the things I had to learn early on as a graduate student is to just ‘keep going’. It sounds very simple, almost a cliché, but you do have this choice.
Not everything is going to be easy and turn out the way you thought it would. You’re going to have many setbacks in addition to all the good things. With a research career, you’re constantly getting rejected – papers, applications, funding, jobs – its constant rejections – but you just have to keep going! Eventually, it will pay off, and in the meanwhile, you get better at what you do.
What’s the best thing about being a researcher?
I feel very fortunate to be able to have a career in which I can get both lost in my work, but can also put my work into a form that people might be interested in.
Being a researcher at Monash you really get encouraged to look at how you can increase the impact of your work, not just for ourselves as researchers, but for other people to see the value of the work we do.
I don’t know how often it happens that you know as a child that you want to have this relationship with Japan, and that you can come full circle and have a career that allows you to do that, and so I feel very privileged!