Research Roundup

Quarterly Research Highlights

Japan Orientation summer school students at the British Museum
Japan Orientation summer school students at the British Museum

While we often get caught up in the moment and focus on what’s to come, we wanted to take the quarterly e-magazine as an opportunity to reflect on some of our key activities that took place in the past few months. Summers may be the season for offices to slow down and academics to disappear on fieldwork leaves, but this certainly wasn’t the case at the Sainsbury Institute. Summer this year for us has been a very busy indeed and here are some of the highlights!

To start, we held the fourth Japan Orientation Program, an intensive summer school course aimed at overseas undergraduate students interested in Japanese Studies. The Toshiba International Foundation provided 12 full-bursaries for students from Central and Eastern European countries and SISJAC provided three full-bursaries to students from other countries in Europe. During the four-weeks that started from late June, the Institute with the University of East Anglia’s Centre for Japanese Studies joined forces to provide a series of lectures on various aspects of Japan ranging from archaeology, literature, film and manga to business and politics. The summer school was also a chance for the international students to network and bond. With ample excursions and hangout times including trips to the British Museum and the Cambridge University Library, the aim was to nurture not only the future Japan specialists, but a collegial community of future Japanologists.

Our two Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellows 2016-17 were equally kept busy. Dr Lauri Kitsnik, a film historian, organized an international symposium together with Dr Alexander Jacoby. The day brought scholars from as far as Japan, Australia, US and Canada, to closer afield including Spain, Ireland and England. The symposium re-opened some of the discussion surrounding films made in the 1950s considered to be the Golden Age of Japanese cinema. Lauri led the discussions by looking at seminal Japanese filmmakers whose work are often underrepresented in Western academic discourse. The papers and discussions gave space for current research on auteurs to be re-examined by addressing the roles of film stars, genres, industry and audiences.

Lisa and Robert Fellow are encouraged to organise workshops and symposiums during their fellowship

Lisa and Robert Fellow are encouraged to organise workshops and symposiums during their fellowship
Lisa and Robert Fellow are encouraged to organise workshops and
symposiums during their fellowship

Dr Simon Turner, the other of our Sainsbury Fellow of 2016-2017, held a workshop of a very different nature. Simon is a cultural studies scholar with an active interest in transcultural flows of Japanese popular culture. As part of his research, he is studying the legal issues surrounding the censorship of Japanese manga, or graphic novels, which are seen as containing sensitive material relating to sex and violence. The growing availability and popularity of the medium has led to the export of manga with sometimes graphic contents, and the fans can get caught up in legal issues in violation of legislation for child protection and other sensitive areas unintentionally. Yet, debates concerning the legal regulations are still in the early stages and many policymakers are left to wonder how best to approach the material they know little about. The workshop was a forum to have open discussions on the difficulties manga producers and consumers face, and to shed light on the different socio-legal attitudes in different countries that might affect the production, distribution and consumption of certain manga.

We also had the opportunity to invite back our former fellow, Dr Robert Hellyer to organize a symposium with Dr Robert Fletcher from University of Warwick on the Westerners who played an important historical role in 19th century Japan and China. The two-day gathering explored the lives of two Nagasaki-based British merchants, William Alt and Frederick Ringer (a native of Norwich), as well as Charles Richardson, a Shanghai-based merchant killed near Yokohama in 1862, an event that led to an armed conflict between Britain and the Satsuma domain the following year. The symposium also included papers on various merchants, missionaries, and diplomats in East and Southeast Asia, as well as perspectives on British maritime commerce during the 19th century.

The Institute is actively engaged in the discussion of cultural artefact preservation. To mark the success of a large post-graduate conference on Japanese art history held in 2006, 11 years later in July 2017, we hosted the “Japanese Cultural Studies outside of Japan” conference to debate on the current status of and future perspectives on the field.

Attended by nearly 40 participants from different parts of the world, some of them who took part in the post-graduate conference 10 years ago, then as PhD students or early career researchers. Many are now centrally involved in curatorial and academic duties with responsibilities that include the management and maintenance of Japanese cultural artefacts in Japan, Europe and the States. The three-day conference provided the appropriate platform to discuss the realities and challenges of promoting Japanese visual culture at higher education institutes and museums. From student recruitment to digital collection management, the discussions were rich, at times heated, and overall inspiring for many through the sharing of different experiences and practices. The conference was organized by the Sainsbury Institute and Centre for Japanese Studies (UEA) in association with the Global Exchange Organisation for Research and Education, Gakushuin University, and sponsored by the Toshiba International Foundation, the Japan Foundation, the Kajima Arts Foundation and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.

We always enjoy welcoming back former Fellows

We always enjoy welcoming back former Fellows
We always enjoy welcoming back former Fellows

The annual Carmen Blacker Lecture series this year in July invited Professor Sasou Mamoru from Kokugakuin University and Museum. This was the eighth lecture of the series which started in 2010. Professor Sasou is a Shinto scholar interested in native Japanese belief systems. He delivered a rich, insightful and visually striking lecture on the history of Shinto ritual festivals and ceremonies to a packed audience. The lecture series is held in memory of Carmen Blacker, a distinguished scholar of Japan, and her work, which transformed Western scholarship on Japanese religion and folklore. The lecture series is made possible by the generous bequest from Carmen Blacker and the executor of her estate and is co-organized with the Japan Society in London.

We finally concluded the summer with a multidisciplinary conference entitled ‘Reflective Transitions on Politics in Japanese Art’. The conference was organized by our former Robert and Lisa Sainsbury fellow Dr Eriko Tomizawa-Kay, who is now Course Director of modern languages at the University of East Anglia, and her colleague at the School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies, Dr Ra Mason, Sasakawa Lecturer in International Relations. Provocatively titled, the conference looked at how contemporary Japanese arts have been shaped by political forces, from wartime militarism to the ‘neoliberal world order’. Some of the key themes explored were politics of art in Japan, regional, national and international issues, popular culture and political art expressions in art and continuity and change seen over the decades.

Now stepping into autumn, we have a range of projects and events being planned and delivered. We hope to do a roundup in our next e-magazine to highlight some of our key projects. These include a project involving a great big globe that has been touring around Norfolk. What on earth and why? Find out in our next e-magazine.

Kaz Morohashi
Research, Planning and Public Relations Officer

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