1st-2nd May 2018

Mediatised images of Japan in Europe: Through the media kaleidoscope


Europe and Japan are geographically far removed from one another. However, and increasingly, Japan is also present in a variety of public venues and forms travelling on multiple distribution platforms: print, television, and online media. Inevitably, all these sources provide polyvalent images of Japan as traditional and modern, familiar and alien. The variety, and sometimes conflicting nature of these images can raise questions about their accuracy and how representative of Japan they are. Japan is perceived through the kaleidoscope of the media, as a fragmented and scattered succession of images, forming an ever-changing vision. While air travel has become accessible for the masses, Japan remains distant for many Europeans, and thus their main or only sources of knowledge are those that are available to them in their home country or on the Internet. Papers for this workshop can fall into, but are not limited to, the following categories:

  • Japan in the European media, in the past and currently
  • The press: newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines, internet magazines and portals
  • Television: variety shows, documentaries released in European TV stations
  • Travelogues and carnets de voyage
  • European/American cinema and TV shows
  • Images of Japan as depicted in Japanese manga and animation (anime, feature films, auteur short animations) as well as Japanese live-action films and TV series released in European countries
  • European/American novels, comics, cinema and TV shows
  • Accuracy of media portrayals of Japan
  • ‘Contradictions’ and ‘paradoxes’ about Japan in European and Japanese media
  • ‘Japan’ as a constructed image in/by the media
  • Western stereotyping of Japan in the media


Rayna DENISONUniversity of East Anglia, UK


Marco PELLITTERIKobe University, Japan


Christopher HOODCardiff University, UK


Rayna DENISONUniversity of East Anglia (UK)

Adapting Europe into Anime: The Exoticisation and Elision of Europe in Hayao Miyazaki’s Animated Films

Hayao Miyazaki has famously invented and amalgamated images of Europe within his animated Japanese films. He has repeatedly used everything from Italian aircraft, to Welsh places and source texts, to European-styles of architecture into his films. In doing so, Miyazaki has created a unique pan-European set of images that often work to sell his specifically Japanese visions of the world. As a result, Miyazaki is both imaginative and highly particular in his uses of European images and themes, carefully adapting them to fit his own storytelling needs and ends. In this talk, I investigate Miyazaki’s adaptation process, specifically to think about how and when Miyazaki retains or elides aspects of European-ness in his films. I argue that he routinely borrows from Europe to create both realism and fantasy, which allows him to use Europe as a kind of alternative cultural space in which to think through his views on real-world issues and problems. In particular, I will examine his uses of European imagery in Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso and Kiki’s Delivery Service, before focusing on Miyazaki’s adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle. In this way, I hope to unpack some of the creative choices Miyazaki makes when using Europe as a fantastic palimpsest in his feature films.

Marco PELLITTERIKobe University (Japan)

When a Minor Imaginary gets Nazionale-Popolare: The Case of Japanese Animation in Italy, a 40-year Long Mainstream Presence that Reframed Japan in the Italian Media and Public Opinion

When describing or discussing the success and revenues of Japanese commercial animation and comics overseas, much scholarship as well as the Japanese governmental agencies are inclined to label the phenomenon as ‘global’. In so doing, the accent is put on a generic ‘popularity’ of Japanese things in a loosely defined inter- and transnational context. This framing of the phenomenon can easily lead to neglecting—or even implies—the removal of a most important dimension of such concrete or alleged ‘popularity’: the specific impact that those Japanese things had and/or have in each given country and the specific relationship between this imaginary of Japanese origin and a given national context. It is an epistemological premise rarely taken into account when studying the success or shortcomings of manga and anime and the composition and extension of their audiences abroad. Another methodological and theoretical (then empirical) premise that is hardly taken into consideration by many who choose anime and manga as a field of interest is the fundamental distinction between mainstream distribution/consumption and subcultural/niche distribution/consumption: the two scenarios lead to very different outcomes on the impact that a given form of entertainment has on the audiences it intercepts as well as on the general opinions of it in that society at large, and vice versa. These two theoretical knots can be well exemplified through the case of Italy and the presence of Japanese anime and manga in the country. I will illustrate the mainstream nature of the presence of anime/manga In Italy and how this was a key factor for the heavy shifts in the mediatised images and notions of Japan in Italy from the 1970s to the following decades. The shift and the discontinuity in such images and notions, will be observed, appear to be more pronounced in Italy than in other countries in which manga/anime are, more or less, popular and consumed; it will be argued that one main factor is precisely the nature, length of exposure, extension, and intensity of anime distribution/consumption in this country. As a collateral effect of this discussion, the presented case of whether and how the notions about Japan may change in a given national context as a consequence of factors such as exposure to and nature of the distribution of Japanese forms of entertainment, may invite to questioning, at least in part, the effectiveness and appropriateness of labels such as soft power and Cool Japan in certain foreign contexts.

Andreas EICHLETERHeidelberg University (Germany)

The Treaty Port Press: Japan’s Image in the Eyes of the Foreign Language Press in East Asia in the 1870s

The Treaty Ports established in East Asia by the Unequal Treaties were crucial points of interaction between East Asia and the West in the 19th century, as they were the only places were foreigners were allowed to reside. They formed a network of ports not only for commerce, but social and cultural interaction from China to Japan. The interior of their host nations might be visited by Western travelers and globetrotters, but the primary exchanges took place in the Treaty Ports. Because of this exclusive role, they were a critical venue for the creation and formation of images, as well as their transmission to the West. Therefore, it is important to look at how Japan was seen in those ports and which images took shape in the foreign Treaty Port communities.

This presentation aims to look at the image of Japan in the late 1860s and early 1870s, specifically in the aftermath of the Meiji Restoration, long heralded as the paradigm shift in the relations between Japan and the West. It will look at how it was perceived by the foreign communities in East Asia and how it was presented in the foreign language press in the Treaty Ports. This will be undertaken by the study of two of the most important foreign language newspapers of East Asia at the time, the North China Herald, published in Shanghai from 1850 to 1951, and the Japan Weekly Mail, published in Yokohama from 1870 to 1917. Both were amongst the largest and most influential newspapers in their respective communities, but also across further abroad. Furthermore, their comparison enables us to look at the creation of images, not only at the coast of Japan, but in China, and analyze how it differed or remained similar across the China Sea.

Matteo FABBRETTI – Cardiff University (UK)

The Interplay of Structure and Agency in the Translation of Manga

This presentation will examine the diffusion of Japanese manga in translation through the theoretical lenses of an amateur translation phenomenon known as ‘scanlation’. While the existing research on scanlation has largely focused on broader structural factors, relatively little attention has been paid to the individual translators engaged in these activities. The case study presented here will look in detail at the way amateur translators negotiate readers’ expectations and other structural constraints, the kind of choices they make when translating and how these affect the reception of the works they translate. It will be argued here that scanlators are able to exert a significant amount of agency when selecting manga for translation and in deciding how to translate them; in turn, these choices also play a significant role in shaping foreign readers’ experience of Japanese manga.

Christopher J. HAYES – Cardiff University (UK)

Mediating Conflicting Discourses of Japan in the Press: An Enviable Vision of the Future or an Eccentric, Technofetishist Nation?

Despite the relative ease of international travel these days, many Europeans have not visited Japan and thus rely on the media for their knowledge of Japan. While anime and manga are very popular in Europe, and their popularity continues to grow, in constructing an image of ‘real Japan’, people often get their knowledge of Japan from factual sources, such as newspapers, news websites and documentaries. When one reads a news story, one expects the content to be factually correct, but what happens when news sources present completely different images of Japan? What if a newspaper writes about Japan as being one thing in one article, but prints a seemingly contradictory narrative a few weeks later?

Technology is a particularly interesting example of where media portrayal is inconsistent. For many years, Japan has been known as a technologically advanced nation. In the 80s it was seen as far beyond the West and was seen as the vision of a hypertechnified future, inspiring an entire genre of literature, cyberpunk. This image persists, especially in the last couple of years with the introduction of service and retail robots such as Softbank’s Pepper. Sometimes news publications present this as a positive image of the future, an idea of what we in the West have to look forwards to. Other times, however, the image of technology in Japan is decidedly negative. Sometimes it has too much technology, or it has technologies that ‘we in the West’ would not see a use for.

How do these conflicting views arise? And which, if any, is true? This presentation addresses these questions by examining the discourse surrounding Japanese robots in the British press in the last few years. It also raises the question: is it possible to construct an accurate image of Japan from these disparate narratives?

Ken NAKATA STEFFENSEN – Birkbeck College, University College Dublin (Ireland)

Bullshit journalism and Japan: English-language news media, Japanese higher education policy, and Frankfurt’s theory of ‘bullshit’ 

When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

The last sentence in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale There is No Doubt About It reads: ‘It got into the papers, it was printed; and there is no doubt about it, one little feather may easily grow into five hens’. In September 2015 a process very similar to the rumour-mill in Andersen’s satire swept across the internet. An inaccurate–and on inspection highly implausible–report was picked up and amplified by several British and US news organisations. Thus, an improbable claim about the Japanese government’s decision to effectively abolish the social sciences and humanities quickly became established as a morally reprehensible truth. Once the ‘facts’ of the matter were reported by authoritative English-language media organisations, the outrage spread to other languages, and an online petition was launched to make the government ‘reconsider’ a decision it had not taken. In light of the ‘misunderstandings’ that had circulated in the foreign press, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology eventually felt compelled to issue a statement, in English, to clarify that it had no intention of closing social science and humanities faculties.

What transpired in these transactions between Times Higher Education, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, Time, the Guardian, and other news outlets is of more than passing anecdotal interest. Consideration of the case offers insights into the dominant role of the English-using media in constituting Japan and Asia as an object of Western knowledge and of the part played in this by what Harry Frankfurt theorised as the sociolinguistic phenomenon of ‘bullshit’. The Times Higher Education article and the ones that followed were all examples of the ‘bullshit’ that arguably increasingly proliferates in both journalistic and academic discourse, especially when ‘circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about’. It would appear that the kind of ‘bullshit journalism’ represented by the global media storm in question is more likely to be produced when the West reports about ‘the rest’. The paper uses the case of the purported existential threat to the social science and humanities in Japan to discuss wider arguments about the role of ‘bullshit’ in journalistic and academic knowledge production and dissemination about the non-Western world.

Ene SELART – Tartu University (Estonia)

The Image of Japanese in the Estonian Soldiers’ Letters from the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)

The Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905) was the first major military conflict between Eastern and Western countries where the latter was defeated. Russian empire was won by the overwhelming Japanese military success and tactics. At the time of the war Estonia was a province of czarist Russia and Estonian men were conscripted to the imperial army. Although Estonians made up only marginal 0.8% of the total forces, for the nation of 1 million the conscription of 10 000 men was a considerable proportion of the population.

In logical result the war stirred an all-national surge of interest in Japan. The main mediators of information were larger Estonian newspapers (“Teataja”, “Olevik” and “Postimees”) that published in almost every single issue the war news, foreign policy reviews and other articles about Japan. The soldiers’ letters from war field turned out to be one of the most popular newspaper sections among the readers.

The current paper focuses on the analysis of the content of soldiers’ letters from Russo-Japanese war (n=53). Theoretically the letters were subjugated to double censorship: military and media, in reality they might have escaped the notice of the officials because of their quantity and secondary importance from the viewpoint of war-related materials published in newspapers. At least this can be an explanation why the content of the letters does not always correspond to the conventional censored topics and descriptions of war enemy.

The thematic analysis has been used for studying the content of the letters that cover the chronology (spring 1904 up to spring 1905) of the decisive battles where Estonian soldiers were involved (Port Arthur, Yalu, Mukden, Tsushima). Main issues in the letters have been divided into directly war related topics or descriptions of the surrounding environment. In both categories the positive or negative images of Japanese have been analysed.

Michael TANGEMAN – Denison University (USA)

Avebury, Arsenic, and Thistle: Matsumoto Seichō’s Celtic Travel Diary

There are over 700 novels, short stories, and scholarly essays in the oeuvre of Matsumoto Seichō 松本清張 (1909-1992). Throughout his forty-year career, three topics appear repeatedly across his works – history, crime, and travel – so it should come as no surprise that his notes from a trip to the United Kingdom feature reflections on these same three topics.

This paper considers Seichō’s observations on that trip to England and Scotland as recorded in his research notes in 1985 and published posthumously by NHK Shuppan as Matsumoto Seichō’s Celtic Travel Diary松本清張のケルト紀行』(2000). As these are but research notes, there is no unified narrative per se, but observations and anecdotes arise that make this traveler’s diary edifying and entertaining.

Seichō’s expressed intention for visiting Europe on this trip finds a parallel in his interest in Japanese archeology. As he visits Jarlshof and the Broch of Mousa in the Shetland Isles, and Stonehenge and Avebury in Southern Britain, he remarks on similarities shared with ancient structures found in Japan that he wrote of in his study of Japan’s ancient kingdom, Yamatai-koku.

Even on this trip to the British Isles, Seichō is unable to escape his past as Japan’s most important postwar crime writer. He witnesses solicitation from a prostitute that brings to mind the Yorkshire Ripper, revisits murder cases in London, and is approached by someone with an idea for a mystery novel.

Perhaps most typical of Seichō’s stylistics is the care he takes to recount the various aspects of travel: timetables and schedules, modes of travel, routes, loneliness, people encountered, unique architecture, and memorable food. The author’s brusque affection for the everyday comes through even in his notes of an exhausting journey through space, and back in time.

Alessandro TRIPEPI – University of Milan (Italy)

Japan in the Gonzaga communication network. The first Japanese embassay in Italy in 1585

Leaving from Nagasaki in 1582 by the Jesuits’ will, the first Japanese delegation arrived in Italy to reach Roma in 1585. Since the very first few days of their travel the four young and noble ambassadors attracted the attention of the Italian Sovereigns. One of the most important of them was the Duke of Mantua Guglielmo II Gonzaga.

He was intrigued by the possibility of a so suggestive meeting with the four princes, in particular because they were passed off as ambassadors of three Japanese kings. He ordered his trusted men, who were located in different Italian Courts, to write down all the information they considered important and then to send their letters to Mantua. In this way a real informative network was created by the Duke’s men, with Florence, Rome and Venice connected with the Gonzaga’s domains.

The Cavalier Vinta, Camillo Capilupi and Gabriele Calzoni give us, through their dispatches for the Duke, what the idea of Japan, its morals and habits were in Italian Renaissance. From the accurate and clear descriptions of the princes’ appearance and disposition, it emerged the image of a proud, rich and charming Japan, with which Mantua and its Duke would be able to talk and connect.

Long before our contemporary attention for Japan and its culture, an Italian Sovereign discovered its beauties back in the XVI Century. So, through these dispatches, a kind of media that is very far from our idea of communication, with all the information in the hands of the Sovereign and his Court, we are trying to rebuild the original Italian image of Japanese world, between reality and mental projections: an image that still persists nowadays, despite presented through the new and constantly updated media of contemporaneity.

Sarah WALSH – University of California (USA)

Postmodern Paradise, or Glorified “Trade Show”? The Reception of 1980’s Japan Style Exhibition

In this presentation, I will discuss the planning and public reception of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s 1980 exhibition, Japan Style. The proper story of the exhibition begins when museum director Roy Strong visited Tokyo during the planning stages; while the Japanese staff summoned to work with the director, including designer Tanaka Ikkō, had planned to present Strong with a fairly conventional collection of examples of modern Japanese art and design for the proposed exhibition, Strong turned these plans on their head by focusing his energies instead on consuming the “hybrid” Tokyo cityscape, from pachinko parlors to electronics stores. The resulting exhibition was a pastiche befitting Japan’s burgeoning postmodern image, presenting “traditional” items like teaware beside Yamaha synthesizers, and offering immersive experiences in replicas of sushi shops. At the same time, Tanaka’s accompanying catalogue made a forceful visual argument that the eclectic explosion in the exhibition space could in fact be read as a cohesive depiction of “Japanese culture,” via the deep aesthetic and ethnic continuities embodied in each individual object.

Despite a formula designed to attract audiences to this display of exotica, however – and to reinforce a message about Japanese culture approved by the V&A’s collaborator, the Japan Foundation – the reaction in the UK press was profoundly ambivalent. Some commentators dismissed the exhibition as mere fluff, while others perceived a more sinister problem: that of the exhibition’s ties to contemporary industry and consumerism. I thus argue that the reception of Japan Style was heavily influenced not only by the respective visions of its creators, but by the contemporary political and economic climate, in which Japan was increasingly regarded as a threat in Europe and the United States.


Photographs of Japanese Children in European Media: A Complicated Kaleidoscope

This paper is located at the crossroad of several fields: childhood studies, photography, Japanese studies, media and cultural studies. The subsequent kaleidoscope of methodologies and theories, is further complicated by the definitions of “photography” (Tagg, 1988) and “childhood” (Allison and James, 2004). Indeed, both concepts entail a plurality rather than a unified entity. I highlight the complicated kaleidoscope that “photographs of Japanese children” represent for a researcher.

Furthermore, images of Japan in European media have a double feed: those produced in Europe, sometimes even for or by the European media, and those produced by Japanese sources (private or state) and whose discourse is accepted and distributed in the European media. Thus, the concepts of representation (Hall, 1997) and self-representation sometimes intersect, furthering the kaleidoscopic image of Japan.

In a second part, I focus on how photographs of children are used to represent Japan and Japanese culture in European media. Smith stresses the centrality of non-print media in defining a national identity (1998). Thus, following Smith, we can see that photography is fully embedded in the construction of a national identity. I develop case studies of magazines, exhibitions as well as photography books. I identify several strategies of representation of nationally-specific identities of childhood in European media. The child can be visually identified as Japanese through: a photographic style, a cultural item or a cultural practice. Those are some of the “tricks” used by the media to signify the “Japaneseness” of the child depicted.