20seiki japonisumu o kangaeru

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This paper explores various issues relating to 20th century Japonisme. First, there is the issue of ‘ism’. It is argued here that an ‘ism’ is in most cases not something which existed apriori, but something where a person has drawn a line and defined this side of the line is this particular ‘ism’ and the other side is not. Further, this is contingent on a specific time and period when this act was performed. Furthermore, it is done necessarily based on the interpretation of this person. Finally, as the definition of an ‘ism’ is based on the combination of a particular time and the interpretation of a particular person, it is intrinsically unstable, fluid and bound by its own historicity.

When we are discussing Impressionism or Modernism, in general it is taken for granted that for movements with historically defined periods we use terms starting with an upper case (Impressionism), whereas when we use it in a more general wider sense, we use lower case (impressionism). However, when we examine how actually these terms have been used, it turns out that this isn’t necessarily always so. As an example, the use of the term ‘Impressionism’ has been chosen and how this differed according to different periods and also between different languages, such as English, German or Japanese, is investigated.

For the historiography of Japonisme, similar issues could be discerned. However, there has been a major confusion about the definition of terms such as Japonisme and Japonaiserie. This paper attempts to clarify this and concludes that in the 19th century the use of these terms was unstable which only began to stabilise during the 1970s and 80s, whereas from the 1990s onwards a marked diversification is noticeable. A formula of chaos to stability to diversification emerged.

It has been generally regarded that the term ‘Japonisme’ applies to the phenomenon covering the second half of the 19th to early 20th century, but more recently Japonisme of later period emerged as a theme for debate, as evidenced by this symposium. I have organised a research project called ‘The Forgotten Japonisme: Taste for Japanese Art in Britain and the USA 1920s–1950s’, which took place between 2007 and 2010 based at the Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation (TrAIN), University of the Arts London. In 2007 and in 2009, our research group had early opportunities to report on some of the interim findings to the Society, as reported in Studies in Japonisme, vol. 28.

How did we come upon this idea? The classic Japonisme is usually regarded as petering out during the early 20th century. Then we have the so-called High-Tec Japonisme of the 1960s. Especially after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, this phenomenon was represented among others by products such as Sony Walkman etc. The question we posed at the beginning, was whether there was a chasm between these two types of Japonisme. As we have already reported, we came to clear answers at least in two areas. Both in the Studio Pottery Movement inspired by the Japanese Folk Crafts Movement and in the interior design of the Modernist architecture, we could find that between the 1920s and 1950s these two have been deeply engaged with Japanese precedents although this period spans that of World War II.

Out of these investigations two clear conclusions emerged. First, despite its vicissitudes and fluctuating characteristics, there was fundamentally no gap in the continuing taste for Japanese art in Britain and the USA. Second, for the 20th century, both the phenomenon of the Japonisme itself and also the historiography of Japonisme Studies showed characteristics marked prominently by their multiple diversity.
Original languageOther
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2018
Event7th Hatakeyama Symposium: Japonisme in the 20th Century: Its Diffusion and Transformation - Teikyo University, Kasumigaseki Campus, Tokyo, Japan
Duration: 25 Nov 201726 Nov 2017


Conference7th Hatakeyama Symposium


  • 20th Century
  • Japonisme

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