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Doctoral Studies
A scholar in training

A hand gets grabbed. A foot gets stepped on. Something that should not be touched gets touched. A wallet gets picked from inside a kimono sleeve in a momentary impulse.... Caring parents must not let their darling daughters ride the train during rush hour," writes Maeda Hajime in Sarariman monogatari (The story of the salaryman), his 1928 handbook for young Japanese men.

In a way, Maeda's advice captures the essential elements of Alisa Freedman's graduate work: trains, Japanese culture, and the mixing of social spaces. The doctoral student in East Asian languages & civilizations returned to Chicago last fall after four years in Tokyo, where she studied how inner-city train networks mingled class and gender in the early 20th century.

Although Freedman pored through historical documents for her research, much of her source material comes from fiction, journalism, and popular songs. Her dissertation, "Tracking Japanese Modernity: Commuter Trains, Streetcars, and Passengers in Tokyo Literature, 1905-1935," investigates the significant role that the social space of the passenger car played in creating the period's literary forms and fictional characters.

Much like the United States in the mid-1800s, Japan at the turn of the 20th century saw a boom in its transportation networks-especially its train system. This commuter link between the rural and the urban provided a space for university students, working women, and "salarymen" (middle-class businessmen) to interact as they never had before.

"At first I was looking at trains as symbols of modernity, as icons of industrialization," says Freedman. "But when I was living in Tokyo I began to look more at the interactions that happened on trains-inner-city trains not so much as being icons of modernization and progress, but as having other meanings relative to the social fabric of Japan." By reviewing the literature generated around these microcosms of society, Freedman hopes to demonstrate the advances and contradictions of modernization and to show the effects of rapid change on the individual.

"I've always been interested in literature and history, how they influence each other and how literature responds to historic trends," she says. "In my second year [at Chicago], reading literature written in the 1910s and 1920s I kept seeing this reoccurrence of trains and stations, and I kept thinking, 'Of all the things they could write about to represent modern society, why did these authors choose trains?'"

Freedman had plenty of time to pursue answers to this question. A 1991 graduate of Wesleyan University, she majored in history and East Asian studies, then spent a year teaching junior high school near Kyoto. After a year-long intensive Chinese language course at Cornell University, she came to Chicago in 1993, then moved to Tokyo in 1997 to continue her research at Waseda University and to teach literature at Sophia University. Now completing her dissertation and seeking a position in academe, Freedman hopes to return to Japan soon to continue studying train culture, perhaps even comparing Japanese trains to Chicago's famous "El."
- C.S.



  APRIL 2002

  > > Volume 94, Number 4


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