scholar in training
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
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.
Freedman pored through historical documents for her research,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.
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.
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.
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?'"
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."