Cosmopolitan English, traditional Japanese: reading language desire into the signage of Tokyo's gay district

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Abstract

The linguistic landscape of Tokyo’s premier gay district, Shinjuku Ni-chōme, contains much English-language signage. Previously described in touristic literature as marking out spaces for foreign gay men, this article draws upon an ethnographic study of how signage produces queer space in Japan to argue that English instead constructs a sense of cosmopolitan worldliness. The ethnography also reveals that participants within Ni-chōme’s gay bar sub-culture contrast this cosmopolitan identity with a “traditional” identity indexed by Japanese-language signage. In exploring how Japanese men navigate Ni-chōme’s signage, this article deploys Piller and Takahashi’s (2006) notion of “language desire” to investigate the role of LL in contouring individual queer men’s sense(s) of self. This article thus broadens the focus of LL research to account for how engagement with an LL may impact identity construction, with an emphasis placed on how learning to “read” an LL influences the formation of sexual identities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)238–256
Number of pages19
JournalLinguistic Landscape
Volume4
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

Keywords

  • cosmopolitanism
  • gay identity
  • tradition
  • identity construction
  • language desire
  • Japan
  • reading practices

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