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The transcultural approach to Japanese art history embraced by the contributors to this volume centers on the dynamic aesthetic, artistic, and conceptual negotiations across cultural, temporal, and spatial boundaries. It not only acknowledges material objects, people, and technologies as agents, but also intangible practices such as knowledge and concepts as vital agencies of interaction in transcultural processes. With its premise on connectivity, trans-territoriality, networks, and their transformative potential, this research destabilizes categorical configurations such as “center vs. periphery” and “high vs. low,” calling into question the classical canon of Japanese art history.
Part of a formidable publishing industry, cheap yet eye-catching graphic narratives consistently charmed early modern Japanese readers for around two hundred years. These booklets were called kusazōshi (“grass books”).
Graphic Narratives from Early Modern Japan is the first English-language publication of its kind. It enables anyone new to kusazōshi to gain comprehensive knowledge of the field. For the specialist, our edited volume marks a turning point in scholarship, uncovering fresh research avenues.
While exploring the powerful effects of the visual-verbal imagination, this collection opens up bold new vistas on the act of reading and advances provocations around comics and manga.
Contributors are: Jaqueline Berndt, Joseph Bills, Michael Emmerich, Adam L. Kern, Fumiko Kobayashi, Frederick Feilden, Laura Moretti, Matsubara Noriko, Satō Satoru, Satō Yukiko, Satoko Shimazaki, Takagi Gen, Tanahashi Masahiro, Ellis Tinios, Tsuda Mayumi and, Glynne Walley.
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How do you reconstruct a tradition of religious art wiped out by another religion? Naoko Gunji takes up this challenging question in Amidaji. Amidaji was a Buddhist temple in western Japan that, from the twelfth century onwards, overlooked the strait of Dannoura and commemorated the tragic protagonists of The Tale of the Heike who perished in the strait at the end of the Genpei War (1180–1185)―the Heike or the Taira clan and the child-emperor Antoku (1178–1185). Amidaji was destroyed, however, in 1870 amid a nativist, royalist movement of persecuting Buddhism, and replaced by an imperial Shinto shrine. Its art, architecture, and rituals were lost, and have until now been understood through the lens of the current shrine and a few surviving objects. By investigating numerous historical sources and artistic, literary, religious, political, and ideological contexts, Gunji reveals a carefully coordinated program of visual art and rituals for the salvation of Antoku and the Taira.
(De)Colonialism, Orientalism, and Imagining Asia
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In The Curious Case of the Camel in Modern Japan Ayelet Zohar critically analyzes camel images as a metonymy for Asia, and Japanese attitudes towards the continent. The book reads into encounters with the exotic animals, from nanban art, realist Dutch-influenced illustrations, through misemono roadshows of the first camel-pair imported in 1821. Modernity and Japan’s wars of Pan-Asiatic fantasies associated camels with Asia’s poverty, bringing camels into zoos, tourist venues, and military zones, as lowly beasts of burden, while postwar images project the imago of exotica and foreignness on camels as Buddhist ‘peace’ messengers. Zohar convincingly argues that in the Japanese imagination, camels serve as signifiers of Asia as Otherness, the opposite of Japan’s desire for self-association with Western cultures.
An “Ise monogatari” Reader is the first collection of essays in English on The Ise Stories, a canonical literary text ranked beside The Tale of Genji. Eleven scholars from Japan, North America, and Europe explore the historical and political context in which this literary court romance was created, or relate it to earlier works such as the Man’yōshū and later works such as the Genji and noh theater. Its medieval commentary tradition is also examined, as well as early modern illustrated editions and parodies. The collection brings cutting-edge scholarship of the very highest level to English readers, scholars, and students.
Contributors are: Aoki Shizuko, Fujihara Mika, Fujishima Aya, Gotō Shōko, Imanishi Yūichirō, Susan Blakeley Klein, Laura Moretti, Joshua S. Mostow, Ōtani Setsuko, Takahashi Tōru, and Yamamoto Tokurō
Men in Metal
Open Access
A Topography of Public Bronze Statuary in Modern Japan
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In his pioneering study, Men in Metal, Sven Saaler examines Japanese public statuary as a central site of historical memory from its beginnings in the Meiji period through the twenty-first century. Saaler shows how the elites of the modern Japanese nation-state went about constructing an iconography of national heroes to serve their agenda of instilling national (and nationalist) thinking into the masses. Based on a wide range of hitherto untapped primary sources, Saaler combines data-driven quantitative analysis and in-depth case studies to identify the categories and historical figures that dominated public space. Men in Metal also explores the agents behind this visualized form of the politics of memory and introduces historiographical controversies surrounding statue-building in modern Japan.
The Bokujinkai—or ‘People of the Ink’—was a group formed in Kyoto in 1952 by five calligraphers: Morita Shiryū, Inoue Yūichi, Eguchi Sōgen, Nakamura Bokushi, and Sekiya Yoshimichi. The avant-garde movement they launched aspired to raise calligraphy to the same level of international prominence as abstract painting. To this end, the Bokujinkai collaborated with artists from European Art Informel and American Abstract Expressionism, sharing exhibition spaces with them in New York, Paris, Tokyo, and beyond. The first English-language book to focus on the postwar history of Japanese calligraphy, Bokujinkai: Japanese Calligraphy and the Postwar Avant-Garde explains how the Bokujinkai rerouted the trajectory of global abstract art and attuned foreign audiences to calligraphic visualities and narratives.
Art Magazines, Artistic Collectives, and the Early Avant-garde
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Shirakaba and Japanese Modernism examines the most significant Japanese art and literary magazine of the early twentieth century, Shirakaba (White Birch, 1910–1923). In this volume Erin Schoneveld explores the fluid relationship that existed between different types of modern visual media, exhibition formats, and artistic practices embraced by the Shirakaba-ha (White Birch Society). Schoneveld provides a new comparative framework for understanding how the avant-garde pursuit of individuality during Japan’s Taishō period stood in opposition to state-sponsored modernism and how this played out in the emerging media of art magazines. This book analyzes key moments in modern Japanese art and intellectual history by focusing on the artists most closely affiliated with Shirakaba, including Takamura Kōtarō, Umehara Ryūzaburō, and Kishida Ryūsei, who selectively engaged with and transformed modernist idioms of individualism and self-expression to create a new artistic style that gave visual form to their own subjective reality. Drawing upon archival research that includes numerous articles, images, and exhibitions reviews from Shirakaba, as well as a complete translation of Yanagi Sōetsu’s seminal essay, “The Revolutionary Artist” (Kakumei no gaka), Schoneveld demonstrates that, contrary to the received narrative that posits Japanese modernism as merely derivative, the debate around modernism among Japan’s early avant-garde was lively, contested, and self-reflexive.
Wang Yiting’s Art of Exchange with Japan
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Culture in Common explores the transnational history of traditionalist art in modern East Asia through a contextualist account of a Chinese artist’s engagement with Japan. Crossing national and disciplinary divides, Walter Davis illuminates how Wang Yiting (1867-1938) mediated Sino-Japanese cooperation in fields to which he contributed importantly—art, business, philanthropy, and religion—adapting traditional forms of expression to projects and concerns of a modern, international milieu.

Grounded in the Japanese archive, Culture in Common expands our understanding of Wang Yiting’s oeuvre and artistic practices, reveals origins, accomplishments, promises, and limitations of the cross-cultural exchanges he espoused in an era of increasing international tensions, and draws attention to the historical importance and shifting historiographical fortunes of twentieth-century Sino-Japanese visual culture.
The Legend of Giō and Hotoke in Japanese Literature, Theater, Visual Arts, and Cultural Heritage
Dancer, Nun, Ghost, Goddess explores the story of the dancers Giō and Hotoke, which first appeared in the fourteenth-century narrative Tale of the Heike. The story of the two love rivals is one of loss, female solidarity, and Buddhist salvation. Since its first appearance, it has inspired a stream of fiction, theatrical plays, and visual art works. These heroines have become the subjects of lavishly illustrated hand scrolls, ghosts on the noh stage, and Buddhist and Shinto goddesses. Physical monuments have been built to honor their memories; they are emblems of local pride and centerpieces of shared identity. Two beloved characters in the Japanese literary imagination, Giō and Hotoke are also models that have instructed generations of women on how to survive in a male-dominated world.