From Kipling’s verses and Basil Chamberlain’s visit, to the increasing spread of manga and sushi restaurants, Japan has never ceased to mesmerise foreigners and keeps arousing their interest. A variety of individual and group figures, such as the Sanrio company, creator of Hello Kitty, have diffused via different canals and processes many aspects of Japanese culture abroad. Personal interests- whether altruistic or capitalistic- have shaped how Japanese culture is imported and perceived in the rest of the world.
According to Walter Lippman, Japan is an assemblage of ‘pictures in our head’ that we acquired through exposure, education and experiences. Then how are all those images articulated in our head to form a vision of Japan?
What images are we talking about? We are not referring only to iconic, iconographic, visual cultures, but also to the ways general ideas of a foreign culture and nation are thought of, built, and circulated abroad. This is a sociological and, in wide terms, political aspect of a process of image-building that we should also take into account in our studies on mutual images. However, the word image immediately reminds us of something connected to the visual. And when we are asked to think of images of a culture, we see before our eyes paintings and frescos, buildings, churches and temples, streets and squares, films and animation, comics and classical literature, artists, musicians and pop stars, fashion, video games and new technologies, politicians and people of public inter-est. These exercises in trying to visualise the several areas of a national culture, when applied to Japan, let strong and numerous images take life in our minds. But this process is effective also in the reverse direction: mutual images, as a keyword, implies that Japanese thinkers, artists, writers, and common people have formed along the decades and centuries many images of of foreign cultures through their own prism. Hence the bi-directional purpose of these workshops is that of studying the way mutual representations have been formed and what their historical, aesthetical, social outcomes have been.
The cultural relationship between Japan and other cultures raises many questions, all equally important in understanding the past and the present, as well as preparing for the future. They are essentials for researchers, both Japanese and foreign, working on Japan. Thus, Mutual Images aims to gather academics from different countries and fields of research. We believe that the cultural diversity, multi- and inter-disciplinarity will encourage dialogue and highlight new perspectives.
The name of this association comes from an expression used by Akira Iriye as the title of his publication Mutual Images: Essays in American-Japanese Relations (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975). Several academics have, since Iriye, focused on explicating those ‘mutual images’, especially regarding the Japanese-American interactions. We believe, that only through a continuous interrogation of such images, in constant evolution, will we be able to overcome the stereotypical images and enable a better understanding of societies.
The philosophy from which the Mutual Images association was born speaks clear: to investigate the mutual cultural influences between Japan and other cultures, with an emphasis on the image cultures. The first three workshops held in Japan and France have been focusing on the relationships between Japan and Europe. From 2015, the range of events offered by Mutual Images will widen and researchers focusing on the interactions between Japan and other non-European cultures will be able to apply to workshops and/or conferences.
The research axes of Mutual Images are organised around three main programs:
1/ “Japan Focus”
Following up the earlier activity of the association, research focusing on Japan are of special importance. We welcome research considering images of and from Japan.
2/ “Asia-Europe exchanges”
Tthis axis will enable to consider the mutual images between specific countries of Asia and Europe. This Program also aims at interrogating cultural identities within specific geographical limits, local or regional, especially considering the terms “Asia” and “Europe”.
3/ “Global interactions”
Events organized under this program have a wider geographical stand. The focus is placed on the interactions between any two or more culture and concepts of globalization and internationalization are given a major importance.
The Mutual Images board