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Allegories of Time and Space

Allegories of Time and Space: Japanese Identity in Photography and Architecture

Jonathan M. Reynolds
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Allegories of Time and Space
    Book Description:

    Allegories of Time and Spaceexplores efforts by leading photographers, artists, architects, and commercial designers to re-envision Japanese cultural identity during the turbulent years between the Asia Pacific War and the bursting of the economic bubble in the 1990s. This search for a cultural home was a matter of broad public concern, and each of the artists under consideration engaged a wide audience through mass media. The artists had in common the necessity to establish distance from their immediate surroundings temporally or geographically in order to gain some perspective on Japan's rapidly changing society. They shared what Jonathan Reynolds calls an allegorical vision, a capacity to make time and space malleable, to see the present in the past and to find an irreducible cultural center at Japan's geographical periphery.

    The book begins with an examination of the work of Hamaya Hiroshi, whose images of village life expressed a nostalgia for the rural past widely shared by urban Japanese. Reynolds identifies a similar strategy in photographer Tōmatsu Shōmei's search for an authentic Japan. The self-styled iconoclast Okamoto Tarō emphatically rejected the delicate refinement conventionally associated with Japanese art in favor of the dynamic aesthetics he saw expressed on prehistoric Jōmon-period ceramics; architect Tange Kenzō likewise embraced Japan's ancient past in his work. As a point of comparison, Reynolds looks at the Shintō shrine complex at Ise as portrayed in a volume produced with photographer Watanabe Yoshio. He shows how this landmark book re-presented the shrine architecture as design consistent with rigorous modernist aesthetics. In the advertising posters of Ishioka Eiko and the ephemeral "nomadic" architecture of Itō Toyoo from the 1970s and 1980s, Reynolds reveals the threads linking urban nomad fantasies with earlier efforts to situate contemporary Japanese cultural identity in time and space.

    In its fresh and nuanced re-reading of the multiplicities of Japanese tradition during a tumultuous and transformative period,Allegories of Time and Spaceoffers a compelling argument that the work of these artists enhanced efforts to redefine tradition in contemporary terms and, by doing so, promoted a future that would be both modern and uniquely Japanese.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-5443-0
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. XIII-XXX)

    Since the 1850s, when Japan was forced under the threat of American warships to open its doors to the world, Japanese society has embraced modernization, and yet it has had to grapple with a crisis of identity that has followed in its wake. Was it possible to absorb a flood of new ideas from the West without being engulfed by them, to appropriate aspects of foreign culture without undermining one’s sense of identity and community?

    The struggle over Japan’s cultural identity reached a crescendo during the Asia Pacific War. In the intensely nationalistic environment of the 1930s and early 1940s,...

  5. Chapter One Hamaya Hiroshi’s “Return to Japan”: Documenting the Folk in Snow Country
    (pp. 1-53)

    A photograph shot on a dark winter’s night depicts a boy with a big drum leading a band of children in single file along a pathway that arches across a field (fig. 1.1). The boys’ noise making is an apotropaic gesture intended to prevent birds from threatening crops in the year ahead. The photographer’s flash washes out all detail in the immediate foreground, but its impact fades as the landscape recedes from the camera. The diminishing light draws the eye deeper and deeper into the picture. A slight rise in the snow-covered ground just beyond the path catches some of...

  6. Chapter Two “Uncanny, Hypermodern Japaneseness”: Okamoto Tarō and the Search for Prehistoric Modernism
    (pp. 54-85)

    The pursuit for a coherent Japanese cultural identity took Hamaya Hiroshi from Tokyo to the Snow Country of the rural north. As documented by Hamaya’s camera, the rituals scrupulously observed by the people of the remote villages in Snow Country seemed to have preserved a way of life untouched by the ravages of modernization. As Hamaya himself observed, a trip from Tokyo to remote areas on the Japan Sea coast felt like a journey back in time.¹ Travel in physical space was not, however, the only vehicle available to those attempting to recover a meaningful past. In this chapter, I...

  7. Chapter Three Ise Shrine and a Modernist Construction of Japanese Tradition
    (pp. 86-135)

    Okamoto Tarō’s iconoclastic essay on Jōmon and Yayoi offered a productive model for the creative appropriation of ancient Japanese culture. Although Jōmon and Yayoi were already firmly ensconced in the Japanese art historical canon, Okamoto’s persuasive argument fundamentally reshaped the popular understanding of these prehistoric cultures and made them valuable tools for contemporary artists in all media. Okamoto’s strategy of grounding contemporary artistic practices in prehistoric Japanese prototypes was particularly fruitful for the architectural community as it entered into a protracted debate about the meaning of “tradition” for modern architecture.

    Okamoto’s ideas were especially useful for the architect Tange Kenzo,...

  8. Chapter Four Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained: Tōmatsu Shōmei’s Photographic Engagement with Okinawa
    (pp. 136-188)

    In the preceding chapters, I have traced efforts by Hamaya Hiroshi, Okamoto Tarō, Tange Kenzō, Watanabe Yoshio, and others to reclaim their cultural autonomy in the wake of the Asia Pacific War and foreign occupation by reinterpreting selected traditional cultural practices as both “Japanese” and as inherently modern. Many younger artists, who came of age during and immediately after the occupation, rejected the emerging postwar political and economic order and called into question the terms with which older generations of artists had defined what it meant to be Japanese. They expressed their resistance to the status quo with work in...

  9. Chapter Five “Young Female Nomads of Tokyo”: Imagined Migration through Tokyo in the Days before the Bubble Burst
    (pp. 189-233)

    In the preceding chapters, I have documented the relentless pursuit of a cultural “lost home” in modern urban Japanese visual culture since the 1940s. The artists who produced these images and texts either sought authenticity in Japan’s geographic peripheries or in “traditional” cultural practices whose origins were lost in time. In the 1970s, in the wake of continuing economic growth, an expanding international political profile, and greater self-confidence in the cultural arena, many in the visual arts became less insistent about explicitly affirming the “Japaneseness” of their work. The “young female nomad of Tokyo” (Tōkyō yūboku shōjo) is one emanation...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 234-238)

    Did the obsession with the “female urban nomad” in the 1970s and 1980s represent a radical shift away from the anxious search for a distinctive and coherent cultural identity that had preoccupied Hamaya, Okamoto, Tange, Tomatsu, and others since the Asia Pacific War? Certainly, Jean Baudrillard believed that Japan had cast off its past, surpassing even the United States in its rush to embrace the future. In 1986 he wrote:

    America ducks the question of origins; it cultivates no origin or mythical authenticity; it has no past and no founding truth. . . . America has no identity problem. In...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 239-284)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-304)
  13. Index
    (pp. 305-316)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 317-323)