Japanese Scholars Teach at the UW on Paintings, Food, and Faith

Banquet scene from Scroll of the Hungry Ghosts (Gaki zôshi)

One of the most common forms of Japanese painting is the handscroll, or emaki. A horizontal, illustrative narrative form that was created during the 11th—16th centuries, the emaki combines both text and pictures to depict stories of battles, religion, the supernatural, romance, and folk tales. This quarter, ten UW students have the opportunity to delve deep into emaki study, through an immersive bilingual seminar co-taught by UW professor Cynthea Bogel (Art History) and two visiting art historians/painting experts from Japan, Satomi Yamamoto (Kyōritsu Women’s University, Tokyo) and Akira Takagishi (Tokyo Institute of Technology).

The course, “Japanese Medieval Handscroll Painting, Highlight Ritual, Display Culture, and Food Culture,” focuses on the bilingual study of emaki scrolls depicting religious ceremonies, secular rites, and the culture and display of objects—decorative arts and ritual foods, in particular.  The seminar meetings are taught in Japanese with complete English translation. According to Bogel, “The seminar is unusual in that it pairs analysis of representations of Japan’s medieval culture in emaki paintings with hands-on study of today’s Japanese and Japanese-American food, ritual and faith traditions in Seattle’s International District.”

The seminar meets both on- and off-campus, with some classes taking place at the Seattle Art Museum and others—such as a series of field trips to Asian confectionary specialists led by artist and cultural anthropologist Julia Harrison—in Seattle’s Asian-American neighborhoods.

The seminar is being offered by UW’s Art History department with support from the Japan Foundation and the Simpson Center for the Humanities. An organization that seeks to promote international cultural exchange in Japan, the Japan Foundation has awarded the UW a three-year grant to expand the Visiting Scholars in Japanese Literature Program, coordinated by the UW’s Asian Languages & Literature department since 2004, by bringing prominent Japanese scholars to co-teach with faculty in art history, architecture, and history. The grant for the interdisciplinary Japan Humanities Project is being administered and enhanced by the Simpson Center.

Bogel and Harrison have also co-organized a series of public events that run parallel to the seminar. Titled “Objects, Displays, and Edible Arts in Historical Japan and Japanese-American Seattle,” this project centers on the production and display of confectionary arts in Japan and Japanese-American Seattle.

“Food and Faith in Japan,” a free public lecture series, begins this Thursday, January 26, at 7:00 p.m. at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Bogel, Harrison, Yamamoto, and Takagishi will all speak as part of this four-part series. Topics and dates include:

Bogel and Harrison will also give free, public talks at Kobo at Higo, a gallery and store located in Seattle’s International District:

In addition to giving public lectures and co-teaching the seminar, Takagishi and Yamamoto will also participate in advising students on papers and projects. Additionally, they will each speak at the University of Oregon as part of the Jeremiah Lecture Series. This regional interaction furthers the Japan Foundation’s initiative to place visiting faculty in American institutions to encourage international and crossdisciplinary exchange.


Image: Banquet scene from Scroll of the Hungry Ghosts (Gaki zôshi). Painted handscroll, late 12th century, Heian period. 

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