Phenomenal beings: The spirits of Japan

Phenomenal beings: spirits in Japanese art and culture

09 November 2019 - 09 November 2019 2.00pm - 4.00pm
Domain Theatre
Strange stories from the popular art of Edo - and Meiji-period Japan
Lucie Folan, curator of Asian art, National Gallery of Australia

During the Edo (1603–1868) and Meiji (1868–1912) periods there was great public enthusiasm for supernatural narratives, as expressed in popular games, theatrical productions, literature and the visual arts. Many artists depicted ghosts, demons and magical beings in scenes that range from the bizarrely humorous to the grimly terrifying. This lecture discusses iconic supernatural images by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798–1861), Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831–89), Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839–92) and Shirai Toshinobu II (1866–1903), and the ancient folktales, religious traditions and unsettling contemporary events that inspired them.

The spirit(s) of modern Japanese fiction
Rebecca Suter, associate professor, School of Languages and Cultures, University of Sydney

This lecture explores the portrayal of monsters and ghosts in modern Japanese literature. I focus in particular on yūrei (ghosts), yōkai (spirits/demons) and a third, more diffuse category that I call, after contemporary novelist Murakami Haruki, achiragawa (the other side). Elucidating the way in which the liminal and ambiguous nature of modern Japanese spirits lies at the core of both the entertainment value and the critical potential of the works I examine, I show how fantastic literature reflects and affects the ‘spirit’ of modern Japan and its complex relationship with Western culture.

This program is presented in partnership with the Japan Foundation