Storytelling in Japanese Art

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Toronto Libraries]On: 27 October 2014, At: 09:49Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Asian Studies ReviewPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/casr20

    Storytelling in Japanese ArtGary James Hickey aa University of QueenslandPublished online: 06 Dec 2012.

    To cite this article: Gary James Hickey (2012) Storytelling in Japanese Art, Asian Studies Review,36:4, 559-560, DOI: 10.1080/10357823.2012.740914

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10357823.2012.740914

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  • MASAKO WATANABE. Storytelling in Japanese Art. New York: MetropolitanMuseum of Art, 2011. 120 pp. US$25.00, paper.

    Accompanying The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York exhibitionStorytelling in Japanese Art, this publication written by the exhibitioncurator Masako Watanabe highlights one of the fundamental traits of Japanesepainting the symbiotic relationship between image and narrative. This narrativecan be so well understood that it does not need to be written or in accompanyingthe image with text meaning can be enhanced through both the beauty of thecalligraphic strokes and often the lyricism of the text. Brushwork is the linkingelement to the appreciation of Japanese painting in its representation throughpoetry, calligraphy and picture. This relationship is epitomised in the format ofthe emakimono or the illustrated hand scroll, the main subject of this exhibitionand publication. Without knowledge of the tale or the linguistic skills needed toread these narrative scrolls our appreciation is limited, but what comesthrough strongly if one is open to it is the emotional flavour of the storyconveyed by line, colour and composition. As Watanabe stresses in herintroductory essay, the primacy of feeling is such that in these paintings natureis often anthropomorphised in order to enhance an emotional responsethrough association with seasonal change, or by investing animals and eveninanimate objects with human traits in order to lampoon human foibles. Lookingat the lively and engaging way dramatic events are depicted in these scrolls it iseasy to appreciate how the contemporary viewer would have been drawn in tothe story.

    In the introductory essay the important role of this narrative format inenhancing religious belief, in visualising the emotional life of aristocrats and inproviding the backdrop to heroic power struggles is elaborated. The primacy ofthe artists adaptation of composition to format is emphasised by Watanabewhen she discusses how compositional techniques are utilised to illustratenarrative and adapted and changed when the same tales are transposed to adifferent format such as an illustrated book or a standing screen. Although shegives a clear explanation of these compositional techniques there will always bedifficulty in fully appreciating these formats in reproduced book illustrations.Screens are best appreciated in their architectural context where there is theability to see both the whole and details, and the narrative progression of handscrolls needs, as the author states, the freedom to move through the scenes asthe long scroll is unwound a section at a time. Watanabe can only describe whatone can expect, which she does in a scholarly manner, when viewing formatssuch as the emakimono in their traditional context, but the modern viewer isbereft of experiencing the descriptive and satisfying narrative she talks about ineither books or in exhibitions where scrolls cannot be seen in their entirety by theviewer. Reproduction in digital formats, which I understand were used in theexhibition, may offer a better way of appreciating these scrolls. The attempt, inthis publication, to represent the format by showing the whole scroll or screen isfrustrating for the reader as the details are too small to be clearly seen. Whendetails are shown, such as in the context of an outline of 14 stories depicted inthe exhibition paintings, the text does not clearly refer the reader to these details

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  • or adequately describe them in the context of the whole story, thus not takingthe opportunity to underline the theme of the exhibition and publication byclearly linking narrative and image.

    Watanabe is a senior research associate in the Mets Asian art department and it isin her scholarly analysis of these works, found in asides, footnotes and the Checklisttext, that the more intriguing details can be found, especially for those looking toinform themselves about masterworks in American collections. The interestingsubtext of this unique exhibition drawn from both private and public collections isthe story behind the provenance of these works in America. It sets an example forAustralia where there has been little connoisseurship of Japanese art to see whatfocused collecting can achieve. In the case of the Kamakura period The History ofJinoji Temple scroll and the Muromachi period A Long Tale for an Autumn Nightscroll Watanabe tells us that American collecting has helped bring together in onecountry representative fragments of both scrolls whilst, in the case of the latter,purchase of fragments by the Metropolitan Museum has meant the restoration ofthe full set of scrolls. Most indicative of the strength of American collecting ofJapanese art is the appearance in this exhibition of a fragment of the twelfth-centuryHandscroll of Frolicking Animals, designated an official National Treasure in Japan.The history of the path this took to enter into American hands would makefascinating reading. The ability to bring together works exclusively from Americancollections that adequately represent this unique Japanese painting format is thegreat achievement of this exhibition, as recorded by the accompanying publication.

    GARY JAMES HICKEYUniversity of Queensland

    2012 Gary James Hickeyhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10357823.2012.740914

    TERADA YOSHITAKA. Angry Drummers: A Taiko Group from Naniwa, Osaka,Japan. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 2010. 1 hr 24 min. Film. Free forresearch purposes.

    Based in Naniwa, a district of Osaka famed for its taiko-makers and leather relatedoccupations among other things, Ikari (lit. rage), the taiko (wadaiko) groupcomprises members from the hisabetsu burakumin (outcaste descendants) or dowa(lit. integration) communities, whose legacy of death-related occupations tanning,butchery, grave digging has attracted social stigmatisation. This one-hourdocumentary interviews members of the group, who describe their motivationsand related experiences.

    Despite taiko having received a wave of popularity in conjunction with anemergent civil rights movement in the 1960s, it was not until 1987 that a groupcomprised of amateurs came together to make Naniwas first taiko group. Inspiredby a workshop from the visiting Okinawan drumming group Zampo Ufushiji whohad come to Naniwa because of the towns 300 year-old drum-making tradition,Ikari members began meeting regularly to practise for their own enjoyment.

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