井の中の蛙

10/1/2009

Mystery Circles on Early Armor

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:10 pm

Mongol Invasion Scroll Screen Capture

What is that circular disk which early medieval samurai wear over their swords? Is it a weight, to keep it from flopping around while horseriding?

That’s my best guess at this point. I’ve done a little research on this, but haven’t come up with answers, but my collection’s a bit thin on armor parts.

I’ve seen it in the Heiji Scroll, and a few other pre-Warring States images, but I don’t recall seeing it after about the Onin War.

I get this question every time I show my students the War Scrolls, but I’ve never had a good answer. Help?

8/29/2009

Samurai Exhibit Pwned

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 11:41 am

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco has been targeted by an anonymous artistic and political intervention that parodies the current Lords of the Samurai exhibition with a well designed website and a series of pamphlets distributed in San Francisco. The website is worth exploring, and becomes particularly interesting when paired with an interview with the anonymous critics on the 8Asians website.

Many in the museum world will feel that the parody is entirely unfair. The museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to education, and museum staff include many of Asian heritage as well as many respected scholars who have advanced degrees in Asian art history. In addition, some recent exhibitions at the museum have attempted to deal (not always very explicitly) with the history of Orientalism, such as the recent one on photographs of Asia, particularly South Asia.

One might also respond that at present museum exhibitions are not subject to the same kinds of peer review and scholarly criticism that help improve other forms of educational production. Other than the occasional newspaper review of a blockbuster exhibition, and the odd blog post by a volunteer scholar/critic, exhibitions and their catalogs rarely receive the kind of critical attention that they deserve. I have long argued that museums are probably the most important scholarly site in the world we live in for mass education about other nations and cultures. (TV and films reach more people, but are usually less grounded in scholarship and have less of a veneer of objectivity and authenticity.) A good specialty academic monograph might sell a few thousand copies. Many copies will go to academic libraries, where they might be read by multiple generations of students (we hope!). A big museum exhibition, on the other hand, might draw in 10s or even 100s of thousands of visitors. The AAMSF’s 2007 exhibition “Yoshitoshi’s Strange Tales,” for example, attracted almost 80,000 visitors, or approximately 931 per day according to The Art Newspaper‘s “Exhibition Attendance Figures,” 189 (March 2008) . Bigger Asian art exhibitions, such as the Freer Gallery of Art’s exhibition “East of Eden: Gardens in Asian Art” brought in well more than 200,000 visitors.

Most museum professionals are entirely aware of the incredible responsibility they have in putting on exhibitions that often substitute for a nation’s entire history. Curators know that visitors might feel that having visited a show on the samurai, they have in effect visited Japan itself. This is the wonderful power and also the great danger of the museum; it reduces social and cultural complexity, not to mention historical variation and diversity, to a few beautiful objects.

Topics like the samurai and the geisha are certainly valid subjects for museum exhibitions, and in these difficult financial times, must be attractive themes as guarantees of significant visitor traffic. But why not call attention to the problematic mythologization of these figures, as the Pacific Asia Museum’s 2009 exhibition “The Samurai Re-Imagined: From Ukiyo-e to Anime” did? Why not, as the parody of AAMSF’s exhibition suggests, pay attention to less well known aspects of samurai culture and history, whether that be sexuality, the reality of war, Japanese aggression in Korea, or modern wartime appropriations of the samurai image? Or why not, as the interview suggestions, highlight the more nuanced scholarship of Tom Conlon or Hal Bolitho instead of the work of Thomas Cleary? These are valid and important questions, and the controversy illustrates the need for more scholarly and critical attention to the politics of display of Japanese art.

8/3/2009

Cultural and Physical History Mystery

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:02 am

Okinawa boats taken by T. Egami, 1898 Michelle Damian, who I met at ASPAC, has a new post up in her project journal with an intriguing mystery:

One type of vessel that has intrigued me is the massive yakatabune, boats used for pleasure gatherings on the river. They have a solid superstructure with heavy supporting posts and cross timbers, usually decorated with lanterns bearing the names of the restaurants that had dispatched them, and are often shown with smaller craft alongside used to ferry patrons or cook the food. … What is unusual, though, is the notch at the tip of the stempost. These vessels almost always have an extra protrusion at the end.

If the mystery ended there I could chalk it up to simply the convention for the yakatabune – perhaps just aesthetic, perhaps for whatever reason just an additional visual cue to the boat’s purpose. On a model of a similar ship in Tokyo’s maritime museum (Fune no Kagakukan), though, the stempost is apparently made of two separate pieces of wood scarfed together with a notch exactly like the tip of the stemposts in the prints. It is as though the boats shown in the prints had removed that extra piece of wood, leaving the uneven notch exposed. … If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions to help solve this mystery, I would be most grateful to hear them!

modern-yakatabune

Go to her project journal for the proper illustrations (the ones here are just some that I found on Flickr) and more detail.

My theory? I think the stem, because of its size, was removable. So when it might block the view of patrons, as in a fireworks-viewing trip, it was taken off the vessel, but when it was a pleasure cruise in which the patrons were more focused on the activity inside, it was left on for elegance.

7/23/2009

Online Image Resources: Pedagogy and Geeky Fun

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:03 pm

One of my projects this summer has to do with the use of images in history classes: I’m trying to improve my teaching, and perhaps help others, by scanning pictures1 and identifying online sources for good images, as well as trying to figure out ways to do more with the images in the classroom. There’s been some great discussion of powerpoint and images in the classroom at Edge of the American West over the last week, the upshot of which is that images don’t really help all that much, unless you use them well. Not a surprising result, but the fact is that I use images sparingly in the classroom (and have never used powerpoint) because my training — and natural talents, I think — is heavily textual. I love a good map or chart, and I do use art in class both for cultural history and as historical documentation, but not enough. It’s not about “appealing to visual learners” as much as it is my belief that visual and physical materials are going to be increasingly important in historical analysis, both as sources and as forms of presentation. This isn’t cutting edge theory, or at least it shouldn’t be.

Anyway, that’s by way of preface for some of the stuff I hope to be posting here2 over the next few months: images from my collection, and discussions of what they might mean, historically and pedagogically; other resources for visual materials and commentary on potential uses; links to other discussions of visual analysis; that sort of thing.

So, here’s my first collection of links:
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  1. both from books, which has copyright limitations, and from my own collection of slides and digital pictures, which doesn’t (at least for me, which is what matters!) []
  2. and at the other Frog blogs []

4/14/2009

Samurai-related events, Bowers Museum

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 11:30 am

The Bowers Museum in southern California opens a new exhibition this Sunday, “Art of the Samurai: Selections from the Tokyo National Museum.” In conjunction, the museum is hosting a range of samurai-related events. Sword fetishists, get ready!

All lectures are free to Members and with paid admission unless otherwise noted.

Sunday, April 19
1:30 PM
OPENING DAY LECTURE:  ART OF A WARLORD, SHOGUN, AND DEITY:  TOKUGAWA IEYASU (1546-1616) AND THE POLITICS OF SAMURAI CULTURE
Dr. Morgan Pitelka, Chair of the Asian Studies Department at Occidental College and a cultural historian of pre-modern Japan, explores the art collecting, patronage, and memorialization of the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, the military regime that governed Japan from 1603 to 1868. Tokugawa Ieyasu was a collector of paintings and ceramics, a fan of the Noh theatere, a grudging participant in tea ritual, and a passionate devotee of falconry.

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1/19/2009

Dutch Futurists

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:10 pm

Alan Baumler pointed me to peacay’s recent post of Dutch images of 17th century Japan. Some of them are quite accurate — the images of samurai, in particular, are quite nice — and based on the observations of Dutch traders and scholars at the Deshima trading station in Nagasaki harbor. Some of the images are based on Indian or Chinese models (though the tradition of religious statuary shared between these cultures means that they’re not as terrible as you might think). Some are pretty bizarre, but that’s par for the course before the 19th century.

Then there’s the one that stopped me in my tracks:

17c Dutch Engraving of reverse rickshaw

You can find the original here, in the full context of the book. Someone who reads 17th century Dutch might be able to help me, because I’m quite curious about the text at this point. Without it, though, I can only speculate.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, mainly the fact that the jinrikisha wasn’t invented for another two hundred years. Also, Japanese did not use wheeled carts for transporting goods.1. Before that, Japanese traveled mostly by foot and by boat. Samurai travelled by horse, sometimes. Other elites — including samurai, nobles, village headmen, the wealthy — traveled by palanquin (aka litter). Even the transport of commercial goods was mostly by boat and by hand.

While there seems to be some dispute about the origins of the rickshaw, nobody has ever suggested that it developed in the 1600s! I suspect what we see here is a failure of imagination. Having seen images of palanquins and bearers, but unable to concieve of transport without wheels, the illustrator added the — to him entirely obvious and necessary — elements. In the process, he created a shocking anachronism, and if anyone had taken these images seriously, could have radically altered the history of transportation.

  1. Hal Bolitho called Japan’s abandonment of the wheel one of the great mysteries of Japanese history, along with the failure to adopt the chair and the survival of the Imperial institution []

3/16/2008

Images of Late Medieval Disease Critters and Meiji Toys

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 8:47 pm

Japanese historical visual materials are becoming available online in increasing quantities and variety, as seen in two posts from the last week from Pink Tentacle and BiblioOdyssey. The former posted an entry titled “Mythical 16th-century disease critters” which introduces a text owned and published online by the Kyushu National Museum:

Harikikigaki, a book of medical knowledge written in 1568 by a now-unknown resident of Osaka, introduces 63 of these creepy-crawlies and describes how to fight them with acupuncture and herbal remedies. The Kyushu National Museum, which owns the original copy of Harikikgaki, claims the book played an important role in spreading traditional Chinese medicine in Japan.      

BiblioOdyssey’s post introduces a database of late 19th-century, early 20th-century water color depictions of toys. These seem to be by Koizumi Kawasaki (1877-1942): “Japanese Toy Design.” 

Add these to other resources like the Nagasaki University Library’s Metadata Database of Japanese Old Photographs, Database of Nationally Designated Cultural Properties and the Tohoku University Library’s Kano Collection – Image database.

11/2/2007

Giant Robot Exhibition

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 12:13 am

The Japanese American National Museum once again displays its amazing ability to hone in on topics of widespread interest while still staying true to its mission in its new exhibition, “Giant Robot Biennnale”!

200711012202

From the website:

Developed in collaboration with Eric Nakamura of Giant Robot and the Japanese American National Museum

In celebration of its 50th issue and in collaboration with the Japanese American National Museum, the pop-culture magazine Giant Robot has assembled works by ten cutting-edge artists from around the country in Giant Robot Biennale: 50 Issues. APAK | Gary Baseman | David Choe | Seonna Hong | Sashie Masakatsu | Saelee Oh | Pryor Praczukowski | Souther Salazar | Eishi Takaoka | Adrian Tomine

200711012200

The curator of the exhibition and owner/co-editor of Giant Robot is Eric Nakamura, a fascinating character who has been pursuing his passions in the pages of this amazing magazine for the past 13 years. Part of what is exciting about his work in the magazine is that his and other authors’ articles perfectly measure the pulse of Asian and Asian American pop culture as a living, breathing entity rather than as a somewhat stale object of scholarly enquiry. Rather than linking interest in Japanese video games and J-pop stars with the now common stereotype of the urban otaku teenagers locked in their rooms, Giant Robot exposes the likes and dislikes, the artistic and musical travels, and the subtle but omni-present cultural politics of diverse individuals who identify with Japan while not being contained by it.

It’s also worth noting that as Giant Robot has increased its subscription base and attracted more attention and funding, Eric and his partner have become serious patrons of local and international artists, setting up galleries and improving their communities in various ways. I wish more academic institutions approached community relations the way these entrepreneurs do!

12/3/2006

Thanksgiving Vacation and Homework

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:17 am

JapaneseDollCrowned

Over Thanksgiving weekend, my family and I went over to the Waikoloa Hilton. My son loves the boats and trams, and there’s nothing like watching dolphins play. The pools are great and the food, though pricey, is good.

But the fun part, for me, is their immense collection of Asian and Pacific art. Most of it is arranged along a mile-long “Museum Walkway,” and one evening after my son was asleep, I went out and walked the mile with my digital camera. Conditions were not ideal: a lot of the collection is under glass, and the hallway is narrow enough that larger pieces were sometimes hard to fit in the viewfield; as a result there’s a lot more pictures at an angle than I’d like. I went back the next day to see if I could get better non-flash shots, but the oddities of light and shadow on glass actually made it harder to get most things. Short of convincing the hotel to let me shoot a catalog for them, this is the best I’m gonna get.

I was pondering how best to archive and share these pictures, and I finally decided to set up a Flickr account (I had to upgrade, since I’ve got about a gigabyte’s worth of material and that would take about 50 months to upload on the free account). I haven’t gone through the whole collection yet, but you can see a nice sample of about a dozen pictures here. The collection ranges from South Pacific to Asia, with a bunch of Western stuff thrown in for good measure; eventually my goal is to have the whole collection uploaded and sorted into sets. If anyone sees something here that they want more of, let me know and I can start there….

Also, in the category of sharing great collections of images, if you aren’t on H-Asia you might not have seen this: “The Section of Japanese Studies of the Department of East Asian Studies of the University of Vienna is pleased to announce the opening of the internet database: UKIYO’E CARICATURES 1842-1905” There’s a lot more than just caricatures, and the images aren’t very heavily annotated (though they did transcribe the texts, which is a nice touch), but it’s worth noting.

Update: I’ve been rooting around Flickr — well, OK, I just plugged “Japan” into their group search box — and came up with a whole bunch of Japan-related collections: Japanese Archaeology, Japanese 20th Century, Buddhism in Japan, the very mixed Japan-Hawai’i Connection, and the deliberately mixed Japan: Old and New. Timesink!

9/1/2006

History Carnival #38

“For both nations and inviduals have sometimes made a virtue of neglecting history; and history has taken its revenge on them.” — H. R. Trevor-Roper “The Past and the Present: History and Sociology” (1969), cited in Tosh, ed. Historians on History, p. 197.

Welcome to the September 1, 2006 edition of history carnival. I’m finally hosting a carnival with a number as high as my age! In honor of the quotes meme making the rounds, I’m going to use my personal quotation file as, um, decoration around the rich collection of material in this carnival. As usual, I’m making up categories as I go along: anyone who treats them as strict or comprehensive cataloging gets what they deserve!

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