Marketing the eikaiwa wonderland: Ideology, akogare, and gender alterity in English conversation school advertising in Japan

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The English conversation school (eikaiwa) industry in Japan has grown significantly over the past twenty-five years. In this paper I perform a semiological analysis on a set of eikaiwa promotional materials gathered in Tokyo and Kanagawa during the period 1998-2002. This analysis relies on a framework of social modalities (Rose, 2001 Visual Methodologies Sage, London) within which a set of gendered Occidentalized longings (akogare) is discussed. Career development, establishment of relationships with white males, and the potentials for foreign travel and study are highlighted by these eikaiwa promotions. These factors are presented as radical gender alterities that work against the social modalities encountered in Japan. These modalities include a set of rigid life-course expectations and a mode of social regulation that strongly directs women's professional and personal development. While English-language learning and use contain potentials for epistemological challenge to ideologies of gender, the eikaiwa visually emphasize the development of new selfhood (atarashii jibun). In these promotions key signification is performed by white-male and Japanese-female pairings. According to Kelsky (2001 Women on the Verge Duke University Press, Durham, NC), the white male is represented as an agent of personal transformation and liberation associated with the development of new selfhood. The white male embodies an Occidentalist fantasy that is associated with personal freedom, career development, and individuation. Simultaneously, the promotions articulate with the valorization of female agency in the broader Japanese cultural sphere, and with what Kelsky (1999, page 238) terms "emergent erotic discourses of new selfhood". Where women are featured, in contrast to Western promotional materials, their purpose is to appeal to other women. This is accomplished by presenting famous women in professionally iconic settings. When they do appear, Japanese males are infantalized and marginalized. The eikaiwa are therefore marketed as wonderlands, rich with radical gender alterities, within which the akogare of female students can be realized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-130
Number of pages26
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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