Early-Career Scholar Forum

‘Dr Rocket’: Itokawa Hideo and the Reconstitution of Masculinity

Friday, 6 Aug 2021 | 12:15 - 13:00 (JST)
Zoom Meeting
  • Subodhana Wijeyeratne Associate Professor, Tokyo Woman's Christian University
  • Sawako Shirahase TCJS Director
Event Description

Aeronautical engineer Itokawa Hideo (1912–1999) has long been regarded as the ‘father’ of Japanese rocketry. He was important enough that when naming the asteroid visited by their trailblazing Hayabusa mission in 2003, the Japanese Space Exploration Agency settled on the name ‘Itokawa.’ This apotheosis occurred in the context of Itokawa’s elevation into the ‘father figure’ of the Japanese space program – a position akin to that held by Konstantin Tsiolovski and Wernher von Braun in the United States and Soviet Union space efforts. The manner in which these figures are remembered and presented publicly reveals details about how modern societies engage with not only individuals, but notions of progress and technological modernity they represent. Itokawa’s career shows us that the authority and public personae of father figures are intimately tied up with notions of masculinity and authority that are prevalent in their social milieux. In the case of Itokawa, his career encompassed both attempts are reclaiming the masculine status denied to him and his colleagues by Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, while at the same time exploring idiosyncratic modes of ‘scientific’ renovation for elements of masculinity he thought were no longer relevant to the modern world. At the same time, Itokawa – particularly in his later career – proposed alterations to conventional Japanese gender relations in which ‘science’ and ‘objectivity’ were used to alter social expectations of both men and women. This presentation will explore Itokawa’s writings and opinions on both men and women to explore how he extended his patriarchal authority well beyond the remit of engineering.

About the Speaker

Subodhana Wijeyeratne is associate professor in the English Department at Tokyo Women’s Christian University. He completed his PhD at Harvard University in 2020, focusing on the history of the Japanese space program. His interests include the history of science in Asia, the history of technology, and the social and cultural impact of technological change. He is also a published author, with over twenty short stories in print. His first collection of short stories, ‘Tales from the Stone Lotus,’ and novel, ‘The Slixes’, are currently in print.