The Transmission and Translation of Japanese Arts: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Title: 1196 | The Transmission and Translation of Japanese Arts: Interdisciplinary Perspectives
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: Art/Art History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Shiu Hong Simon Tu, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (organizer, chair, presenter)
Lok Hang Hui, University College London, United Kingdom (presenter)
Ying Huang, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)
Tin Shui Yeung, Tokyo University of the Arts, Japan (presenter)


Recent scholarships on the arts often emphasize on their transforming nature, tracing their adaptations across national borders, receptions and recreations between social classes, or interaction and transmutation over ideas. This calls for the attention and expertise of a wide range of disciplines, not least in humanities and social sciences. With Japan as a starting point, this panel explores several aspects of the arts, and investigates how ideas, narratives, and practices of the arts transform in accordance with the contemporary conditions. One paper presents the story of Japanese candles. Drawing from historical and ethnographic data, the paper illustrates the situation of the traditional craft being negotiated in the modern society. Another paper takes both of ethnographic and media studies approaches, demonstrating the influences of Japanese manga on Chinese girl’s comic as well as the Chinese artistic responses. Two last papers cast a complementary contrast. Both investigating on the phenomenon of Japanese art festivals and socially-engaged art, the first paper focuses on aesthetic ideas, and questions how western concepts are appropriated in the Japanese context. Based on anthropological research, the second paper of the pair introduces voices from rural residents, analyzing how their perception towards artworks is socially-circumstanced. By focusing on various aspects of arts, eventually this panel reveals the multifaceted conditions of contemporary Japan – and beyond – in flux.

Panel Abstracts:
Art in/for Communities: Local Inhabitants' Receptions of Artworks in Setouchi Triennale and Their Participation
Since the early 21st Century, hundreds of contemporary art festivals emerge around Japan. While a few of them aimed to compete against the growing numbers of international periodic exhibitions in Asia, the others have been conceptualized as responses to the problems of depopulation and regional decline in the country. Pioneered by Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale of Niigata Prefecture (since 2000) and followed by prominent followers such as Setouchi Triennale of Kagawa and Okayama Prefecture (since 2010), the largest examples of these art festivals are known as successfully bringing media exposures, tourists, and domestic migrants to some most marginalized areas in Japan. In the vein of “socially-engaged art,” reportedly many artworks of these art festivals have prompted the participation of, among the others, local inhabitants. It is claimed that new social relations are forged, and the aged inhabitants become more genki , or revitalized. In this paper, I ask: how do local inhabitants receive the artworks installed in their communities? How do they participate in the artistic processes? And, how do they articulate their preferences over the artworks and how does this relate to the notion of revitalization? Based on my anthropological research centered on Setouchi Triennale since 2017, this paper introduces narratives derived from interviews conducted over the vast region covered by the art festival, and demonstrates how the receptions of, and preferences over, artworks among local inhabitants are circumstanced by the conditions of their communities.

The Unknown Folk Craft: A Story of Japanese Candles
In the eyes of the folk-art activists, the less eye-catching, often modest household items exemplify the ideal Japanese craft. Their presumption is that while keeping a low profile, these ordinary objects have survived the test of time, endured the impacts of economic fluctuations and withstood influence from state intervention. This paper, drawing on both historical and ethnographic data, tells the lesser-known story of Japanese candles (warosoku) which lies beneath this seemingly tranquil surface of traditional Japanese crafts.Early warosoku craftsmen had always been experimenting with new production methods and raw materials. In order to mitigate the damages caused by Japan’s rapid development in the 1920s, the Mingei (folk-art) Movement advocated finding inspiration from historical artefacts and thus lent legitimacy to certain types of materials and production methods. Influenced by Buddhist aesthetics, the Mingei philosophy also rules that the beauty of a craft should be evaluated by its utility. To this day, many warosoku craftsmen still consider their products a daily necessity – they should be burnt at the home Buddhist altars for ancestor veneration.In comparison to some popular crafts such as pottery or lacquerware, warosoku has been less rigidly canonised. This allows warosoku makers to further commercialise their craft. Applying the concept of materiality, this paper will analyse why those efforts to market warosoku as a souvenir have so far not been successful. Furthermore, the paper will explain how these apparently mundane candles, often mass-produced with low-cost materials nowadays, keep on playing a significant role in domestic rituals.

Chinese Comics in the Age of Globalization: the Influence of Japanese Manga and the Exploration of "Chinese Flavor" in Chinese Girls' Comics
This paper examines “Chinese flavor” in Chinese girls’ comics under the influence of Japanese manga. Catering to teenage girls and young women, the genre of girls’ comics originates from Japan. After Japanese manga entered mainland China in the 1980s, Japanese girls’ comics became popular among Chinese readers, especially in the 1990s and 2000s. Chinese comic artists also started to produce local girls’ comics, namely “shaonu manhua” in Chinese. At the early stage, shaonu manhua were similar to Japanese manga in terms of visual styles and narratives. Later, in the mid-2010s, the discussion of enhancing “Chinese flavor (zhongguofeng)” in comics has been raised, not only to differentiate Chinese comics from Japanese manga, but also to pursue market success and government’s policy and financial support. Consequently, Chineseness became emphasized in Chinese comics. For shaonu manhua, a genre rooted in Japanese manga, many producers are now exploring “Chinese flavor” in their works while being influenced by Japanese manga and other cultural forms.According to textual and visual analysis as well as ethnographic data, this paper investigates how Chinese shaonu manhua producers negotiate between Japan’s influence and their intention to enhance “Chinese flavor”, how they interpret and construct “Chinese flavor” in their works, and how the interplay between Japan’s influence and “Chinese flavor” has affect shaonu manhua regarding their contents.

Debate of "Socially-Engaged Art": The Notion of Micro-Utopia in Japanese Art Project
Similar to many other places in the world, numerous art festivals emerge in Japan in recent years. In this boom of “Geijutsusai” (art festival), the most famous project is arguably the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, which received more than 510,000 guests in its 2015 edition. Other renowned festivals include Setouchi Triennale, Sapporo International Art Festival and Aichi Triennale. At the same time, criticism to this boom also becomes apparent. One of the criticism relates to the notion of “micro-utopia”. This criticism originates from the debate mainly between two art scholars: Claire Bishop and Nicolas Bourriaud. Since most of these art festivals are tied to locality, they are being criticized for “creating bubbles” in specific regions. In this sense, the empowerment of the identity of a community is seen as neglecting the living condition of human beings outside that community. While this debate is well known in the West, care should be taken when we borrow it to discuss the situation in the East. In this paper, my aim is to check the validity of this criticism in Japanese context. Through reviewing this debate in Japan among scholars, critics and practitioners, I ask: How was this criticism borrowed from the West? How was this criticism developed and countered? How are other concepts and notions articulated to this term? What kind of assumptions are made both intentionally or unintentionally when this criticism is applied to the Japanese context?

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