17th May 2014

Portrait of Japan: Myths and Realities of Japan in Art


For the second year, Mutual Images is glad to invite you to participate in a workshop seeking to explore the dynamic relations between Japan and Europe. We hope to further discuss the “mutual images” that circulate between Japan and Europe in a forever process of definition of the Self and the Other.

This year’s thematic will take us to the frontier between myth and reality, or rather myths and realities. The plural enables us to interrogate questions of subjectivity, cultural perspective, reconstruction of the past, ‘invented traditions’.

We welcome papers that consider Japanese or European artists or artworks working with the idea of Otherness (respectively in Europe or Japan), as well as artists who have incorporated imported techniques as an interrogation of the artist’s cultural identity.

During the workshop we aim to answer to a manifold of questions about, among other subjects, cultural identity, image-building, art’s involvement with the social field. What is the difference between myth and fiction? How can the artist create a myth? What part of reality and what part of myth lies in the artistic production? What cultural attitudes and discursive strategies lie beneath Japanese artistic products and works intended to depict European cultures? This workshop aims to interrogate the concept of reality and fiction in art, through the specific lens of cultural identity. We encourage submissions with a pluridisciplinary approach and concerning all artistic media.


Marco PELLITTERIKobe University, Japan


Maxime DANESINUniversité François-Rabelais (France)

The Middle Ages in Europe through the prism of contemporary Japanese Literature: a study of Vinland Saga (Yukimura Makoto), L’Éclipse (Hirano Keiichirō) and Spice and Wolf (Hasekura Isuna) 

Since the past few decades, the Middle Ages in Europe have started to become a recurrent motif in Japan. Either depicted in historical works, appearing in a roundabout way, or even implied through archetypal backgrounds and characters in Medieval Fantasy, it has become a source of inspiration for Japanese authors and scenarists, even taking a firm root in the Games industry (Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series acting as their paragon). Regarding the field of Literature, in a large sense, countless manga are based upon its atmosphere (Berserk, Akagami no Shirayukihime…), as well as several light novels (Slayers, The Record of Lodoss War…) and traditional literary works (among them, the Akutagawa’ Prize’s winner in 1998, L’Éclipse by Hirano Keiichirō). Besides offering the elation of exotic stories and re-enchanting our world, this foreign exploration of the Middle Ages creates a new approach of its realities and myths, sometimes reorganizating them to the point of syncretism with Japanese values. Thus, from folktales to civilisations features, those transcultural medieval elements affect the perception of Europe in contemporary Japan.In this paper, in order to highlight the interaction between this part of the european culture and Japanese Literature, I study three paragons of literary works representing The Middle Ages in Europe : the historical manga Vinland Saga (Yukimura Makoto), set during the Vikings Era and using the literary features of the Icelandic sagas, the light novel Spice and Wolf (Hasekura Isuna), a unique tale depicting the medieval merchant world, and the novel L’Éclipse by Hirano Keiichirō, portraying a young Dominican in the 15thcentury thrown into the world of alchemy and metaphysic. I argue that they are not only transcultural works, but that they also offer new perspectives on understanding how European realities and myths are being adapted in Japan.

PRUVOST-DELASPRE MarieUniversité Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3 (France)

Uncertain spaces: the odd and the foreign in Tôei’s feature films of the 1960s 

Before it was associated with “big eyes” and mecha fights, Japanese animation went through a long phase of aesthetic image building. As Eiji Otsuka stresses out in “Disarming Atom: Tezuka Osamu’s Manga at War and Peace” (Mechademia, n°1, 2008), Mickey Mouse was the main source of inspiration for Japanese cartoons of the 1930 and though “it is not impossible to see manga in terms of a lineage that goes back to ukiyoe of the Edo period or comic animal art of the medieval period, […] such a view of history ignores the “invented traditions” prevalent in so many of the introductory books on manga published in the late 1920s and early 1930s”. If, thanks to contemporary academic research on anime, the “Hollywood mediation” (Miyao Daisuke, 2007) so central to the formation of Japanese animation is frequently tackled, some points are left to deal with, especially a formal analysis of the way those influences were translated onto the films.Indeed, the animation studio Tôei Dôga, well known for its pretention to be “the Disney of the East”, has had since its creation in 1956 an intricate relationship with European culture and traditions. Whereas their first animated features were adapted from oriental folk tales and stories – namely: The White Snake, Sarutobi Sasuke, Sansho the Bailiff and One Thousand and One Nights – a sudden turn appeared in 1965 with Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon, followed by The Tales of Andersen in 1968, Puss in Boots in 1969, and Animal Treasure Island in 1971. All twisted adaptations of famous European children literature, those films present a very peculiar vision of the Western world, somewhere between the fantasied Dutch village of Huis Ten Bosch and exotic illustrations – nothing near Hayao Miyazaki’s precisely documented and relatively relevant representation of Europe, in Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) for example.By analyzing how those narrative spaces are enclosed in a set of political, aesthetic and social questions at play, I would like to challenge Tobin’s concept of “domestication” of the West in Japanese popular culture (Re-made in Japan, 1992) by analyzing the depiction of Europe through the uncertain and foreign locations of Gulliver’s Travel Beyond the Moon (Galibâ no uchû ryokô, Kuroda Yoshio) and The Tales of Andersen (Anderusen monogatari, Yabuki Kimio).

Pascal LEFÈVRELUCA School of Arts, Campus Sint-Lukas Brussel (Belgium)

The shifting representation of Japan in Belgian popular comics, in the fifteen years after the war (1945-1960) 

This paper wants to focus on how Japan was represented in the most popular Belgian comics at a particular time period, right after the Second World War and just before the image of Japan as an economic superpower (that exported many commodities to Europe or the USA) became widespread from the 1960s on (and also visible in the series Yoko Tsuno -;starting in 1970). Within the field of European comics, Belgian comics played a crucial role in the decades after the war with major artists such as Hergé, Franquin, Jacobs, Vandersteen and many others. Moreover the Belgian comics industry attracted many artists from other countries and exported her products to various countries (especially France). The comics published in dailies, journals and albums formed at that time an important means of entertainment for the youngsters (television started only in the 1950s in Belgium). Furthermore the Belgian comics culture is interesting since it involves two different traditions: a French language one and a Dutch language one. In various stories, published between 1945 and 1960, we find representations of Japan. On the whole, two basic approaches of the Japanese Otherness stand out:

– the “Yellow Perill”, strongly referring to the last World War (for instance Jacobs “Blake et Mortimer, Le Secret de l’espadon”, Hubinon & Troisfontaines, Charlier “Buck Danny, Les Japs attaquent”). Usually these comics were drawn in a more realistic style.

– the “touristic ancient or exotic Japan” without any reference to WWII (for instance Vandersteen “Suske en Wiske, De Stemmenrover”,  Will & Rosy “Tif et Tondu, Le Fantôme du samouraï”). Usually comics of this approach combine adventure and humour.

The first kind of comics is typically for the comics produced in the first years after war, while the second kind is rather typical for the late 1950s. So, even in this brief period of 15 years already an important shift of the image of Japan is noticeable, from a belligerent enemy to an exotic and touristically interesting culture. The paper will offer a more detailed analysis of some examples and try to formulate possible explanations for this shift.

Aurore YAMAGATA-MONTOYA – University of the West of England (UK)

‘The childhood of man’: constructing a universal childhood through curatorial choices at the Syabi

In 1955, Edward Steichen curated for the MoMa the successful exhibition ‘Family of Man’. One year later it was exhibited in Tokyo, before pursuing its international tour. This spectacular exhibition gathered more than five hundred photographs taken by nearly three hundred photographers from sixty eight countries. Scholars have analysed Steichen’s exhibition as emblematic of its period, aiming at spreading a universal, ideal and mythical view of Mankind and reunite cultures after the horrors of Second World War. Nonetheless ‘The Family of Man’ left a trace. In this paper I point at the influence it had on a recent series of three exhibitions of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (Syabi), entitled ‘Photographs of children’ (2011). The opening exhibition that ran for four months (14th of March-10th of July) was Children and War. It was followed immediately after by The Art of Photographing Children (16th of July- 19th of September). And the third and last exhibition of the triptych was The Child Within Us (24th of September-4th of December).

In this paper I highlight the significant change in curatorial choices between other exhibitions of photographs of children and the Syabi’s series of exhibitions. I explain this difference by highlighting the influence of ‘The Family of Man’ as well as the more general structure and goals of Western museums. I read the exhibition as a disregard to the nihonjinron ideology of Japanese uniqueness. I argue that, instead, ‘Photographs of Children’ contributes to the ideal of mankind’s unity and similarity.


Saturday 17th of May 2014

10.00- Welcome
10.15- Presentation speech
10.30- Introduction speech by Marco Pellitteri (Chairman)

11.00- Panel 1- Enchanted Worlds: tales of the West

Uncertain spaces: the odd and the foreign in Tôei’s feature films of the 1960s – Marie Pruvost-Delaspre, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3

The Middle Ages in Europe through the prism of contemporary Japanese Literature: a study of Vinland Saga (Yukimura Makoto), L’Éclipse (Hirano Keiichirō) and Spice and Wolf (Hasekura Isuna) – Maxime Danesin, Université François Rabelais

12.00 – Lunch Break

14.00- Panel 2- Visual representations: Between othering and universal manhood

The shifting representation of Japan in Belgian popular comics, in the fifteen years after the
war (1945-1960) – Pascal Lefèvre, LUCA School of Arts, Campus Sint-Lukas Brussel

‘The childhood of man’: constructing a universal childhood through curatorial choices at the
Syabi – Aurore Montoya, University of the West of England

15.00- Refreshments
15.00- discussion
17.00- Refreshments and end of the day
20.00- Dinner