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As preventative strategies and clinical treatment for HIV/AIDS have improved in recent years, the traumatic sense of fear and the widespread panic of the early days of the AIDS crisis has become history for those who did not live through them. One consequence has been a decline in the attention paid to “AIDS literature.” While Western AIDS literature is now widely configured as a thematic genre in academic discourse, little has been said about AIDS literature in Japan. Many Japanese writers only indirectly referenced HIV/AIDS, puzzling critics and readers alike; and mortality statistics did not inspire the level of hysteria as in North America and Western Europe. This does not mean, however, that the terror and grief in Japan was not as strong as in the Western world.

In this talk I discuss early depictions from Japan of HIV/AIDS from a variety of media, including fiction, television, manga, gay magazines, and poetry. I will touch upon works by, for example, Takahashi Mutsuo, Tawada Yо̄ko, and Murakami Haruki, and end with an analysis of the AIDS tanka of Ishii Tatsuhiko. I will also discuss how, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are arriving at a critical moment for preserving the archive of those who survived the AIDS pandemic in Japan. What does it mean to keep these memories alive? What can those records teach us about the new health crises we face? What can we do today to preserve what is at risk of being lost forever? Lastly, what can the Japanese experience with AIDS teach us about Japan more broadly?

Image: Figure 1 “Back Alley Late at Night.” By Fujita Ryū (Barazoku, July 1992) 

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Bio
Chris Lowy received his PhD in modern Japanese literature from the University of Washington in 2021. He is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Japanese at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Beginning in August 2022, Lowy will be an assistant professor of Japanese Studies at Carnegie Mellon University. He teaches courses on (very) contemporary Japanese literature, queer literature, contemporary thought, and literary representations of illness and disease. His research focuses on two main topics: the role of written language in Japanese literature and depictions of HIV/AIDS in Japanese literature from the 1980s and 1990s. Publications include “Thoughts on Japanese AIDS Literature During the Coronavirus Panic,” Gendai shisо̄ (05.2020).

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