License to Play: The Ludic in Japanese Culture
224pp. November 2014
License to Play: The Ludic in Japanese Culture
Author: Daliot-Bul, Michal;
Play is one of the most powerful cultural forces in contemporary Japan and in other late modern societies. In this notable contribution to our understanding of play, Michal Daliot-Bul explores the intricate and dynamic transformations of culture and play (asobi) in Japan. Along the way, she takes readers on a theoretically informed journey to better comprehend what makes play a significant cultural function, asking such questions as “How can we explain the dialectics between play as a biological instinct and play as a culturally specific activity? What defines the best player? How is creativity related to play? What is the difference between play and playfulness? Are some cultures more play-oriented than others, and if so, why?” Daliot-Bul argues that the cultural meaning of play and its influence on sociocultural life are not inherent properties of a fixed, universal behavior called play but rather are conditioned by changing cultural contexts and competing social ideologies.

Spanning Japan’s premodern period to the twenty-first century, the extent and expressions of play described in this book become thought-provoking lenses through which to view Japanese social dynamics and cultural complexities. As she approaches the post-industrialized 1970s in Japan, Daliot-Bul’s narrative also explores urban consumer culture as a system for organizing daily life, the tension between institutional and contemporary popular cultures, the production of new gender identities, and the cultural construction of urban space.

License to Play is an insightful and engaging work that will appeal widely to scholars and students specializing in cultural studies, cultural anthropology, and Japanese studies. Given the global fascination with Japanese popular culture and with play-like pleasures in late consumer cultures, the book will also find a readership among those interested in Japan in general and the universal phenomenon of play.
License to Play is an excellent and timely contribution to the fields of urban and cultural studies of Japan. The heart of the book lies in the textured analysis of urban trends from the 1970s to today, including urban spaces, fashion trends, and otaku culture. By examining these loci, Daliot-Bul successfully demonstrates the ways that socio-cultural transformations both affect and are affected by changing notions of play, using the Japanese example as a case to rethink the relationship between play and culture more broadly. Carefully researched in non-traditional field sites and firmly situated in the various applicable literatures, the author has crafted a book that is successful both theoretically and analytically. It will certainly be of significant interest in a wide range of classrooms."—Jennifer S. Prough, Valparaiso University

“Using the etymological implications of the ideograph for ‘play’ (asobi) and the premodern sakariba (places of amusement and commerce) as conceptual platforms, Michal Daliot-Bul proceeds to analyze the processes and products of ‘gamification’ in a selection of contemporary (postwar) sites and activities. Readers will benefit from her insights into the various patterns of creativity evident in the ‘rule-governed’ games popular among Japanese youths today.” —Jennifer Robertson, author of Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan
Author: Daliot-Bul, Michal;
Michal (Miki) Daliot-Bul is the chair of the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Haifa, Israel. She is also the head of the academic committee of the Israeli Association of Japanese Studies (IAJS).