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Disgusting and embarrassing as it is to think about, just over 100 years ago, so-called “human zoos” were a popular sight at World’s Fairs and the like. The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair in particular featured each imperial/colonial power showing off their colonized peoples. Individuals from Africa, South America, the Pacific, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere were brought, most of them completely against their will, to live in mock-ups of their traditional homes, literally for the purpose of being on display as examples of their primitive, exotic cultures and selves.

I expect that at most of these World’s Fairs, the architecture was entirely temporary, and was taken down after the Fair. I’ve never been to St. Louis, but I imagine that nothing much remains, am I right?

But, apparently, according to a Messy Nessy Chic blog post a friend just posted on Facebook, a whole bunch of buildings from one such “human zoo” built in 1907, on the outskirts of Paris, are still standing.

I’m amazed that these things are still standing; I truly had no idea that the remains of any of these “human zoos” were still extant.

But, given that they are, it presents an interesting dilemma for the French authorities. As the blog post points out, if they knock it all down, it could be interpreted as trying to hide the past. But if they restore it, it could be seen as celebrating that period of its history, and not being properly remorseful and penitent over it. So, what to do?

A stereoview photo entitled “Stalwart Basutos (So. African aborigines) and their extraordinary homes, World’s Fair, St. Louis, U.S.A.” Not directly related to the Paris sites discussed in this article, but a genuine example of these types of terribly racist & dehumanizing “human zoos.” Public domain image courtesy of the NYPL, via Wikimedia Commons.

Two years ago, I was honored to play a small role in a Hawaii Kabuki production, The Vengeful Sword, and to serve as dramaturg. This involved doing research on a variety of elements that come up in the play – including the historical events that inspired the play, the history of the locations, the meaning of certain terms – and sharing the results of my research with the cast & crew via a private (closed) blog. I’ve posted before, on numerous occasions, about the production, but now, I’m finally getting around to re-posting, publicly, some of that content. I hope you find it interesting.

This post was just a cheeky mini-update to share a print series I happened upon.

William Pearl, a local Honolulu-based art collector and overall really nice guy, has, in “The Kuniyoshi Project“, put together a beautiful and thorough website cataloging and sharing the works of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), an ukiyo-e artist especially known for his print series depicting famous warriors, and for the innovative effects deployed in them. You may know him from a particularly famous work depicting a skeleton spectre.

In any case, in 1847-48, Kuniyoshi apparently produced a series of 10 prints depicting famous swords and the warriors / stories to which they belong. The one above features our “hero”, Fukuoka Mitsugi, with (presumably) Okon (a courtesan in the teahouse, and Mitsugi’s chief love interest character) in the background. Unless that’s Manno (the scheming mama-san of the teahouse)… I find it interesting that in a series of famous swords, it is Mitsugi’s name, and not the words “Aoi Shimosaka” (the name of the sword) which appear in the cartouche (the title box).

I have not taken the time to read through the whole inscription (it’d be better/easier if I had a larger version of the image), but one can assume it tells the story of the play. We see the artist’s signature in the mid-to-lower left, with a seal that I guess belongs to the artist, though it could belong to the publisher, Ise-ya Ichibei (a coincidence, I am sure). Another publisher’s seal, reading “hanmoto [printer/publisher] Ise Ichi”, appears on the stone by Mitsugi’s foot.

I was also interested to notice that another print in the series also features a sword by Shimosaka Yasutsugu, though I have yet to find anything much at all about the play “Oriawase Tsuzure no Nishiki” in which this character, Shundô Jirôemon, appears.

I love the splotchy texture of the red used here, and the realization that Kuniyoshi would have had to carve a separate woodblock of just handprints and such for applying the red ink onto the print. I cannot say for sure in what order the colors were applied, but the idea of having each copy of this print be relatively “clean” and then be “bloodied” in the course of its production is pretty interesting and amusing to me.

Ack, did I really never post about the symposium at which I presented this past February? And the associated small exhibition I co-curated? I’m ever so sorry.

Here’s the story. Some time ago, the National Museum of Japanese History (国立歴史民俗博物館, or Rekihaku for short) was planning to do an exhibition on processions and parades in Early Modern Japan, and decided they wanted to borrow a handscroll painting from the University of Hawaii collection to include in that exhibit. The University of Hawaii – and most especially Tokiko Bazzell, the Japan Specialist Librarian – decided to take advantage of the opportunity, to hold our own small exhibition, in conjunction with the return of that scroll painting from its being loaned to Rekihaku. I’m sure there were all kinds of behind-the-scenes considerations and negotiations, and then, completely unexpectedly, I found myself being invited to co-curate this small exhibition, alongside my MA advisor, Dr. John Szostak.

As I was graduating, I was not able to be on campus to work hands-on directly with the objects, or with the gallery, in order to help figure out what would fit where, or anything like that. But, having handled some of these objects before in person, and drawing upon my MA thesis research, I was able to contribute gallery labels, to suggest which sections of the scrolls to show, etc. It was an absolutely privilege and pleasure to get to have my curatorial debut be in Hawaii, and to be an Okinawa-related exhibit; and, of course, it was a privilege and pleasure to work with Tokiko-san and Prof. Szostak on this.

Long story short, the exhibit, entitled “Picturing the Ryukyus: Images of Okinawa in Japanese Artworks from the UH Sakamaki/Hawley Collection,” opened at the University of Hawaii Art Gallery, and showed from February 7-22 this year. While the Rekihaku exhibit featured a wide variety of early modern processions and parades, from sankin kôtai daimyô processions and festival parades to Korean, Dutch, and Ryukyuan embassy processions, ours focused in on just Ryukyuan (i.e. Okinawan) subjects. The highlights of the exhibit were a 1671 handscroll painting depicting a Ryukyuan embassy procession in Edo in that year, the oldest such Ryukyu embassy procession scroll extant, and another scroll, this one sixty feet long, and in much brighter, bolder colors, depicting a 1710 procession. The 1710 procession is of particular significance as a mission which set new standards in dress, ceremonial, and form of the embassy, precedents which would stand, to a large extent, for the remainder of the early modern period. Plus, it’s simply a wonderfully beautiful object. Given its incredible length, however, we were only able to show a small section.

Here is me talking about the exhibition:

(Backup video link)

Other objects in the exhibition included a scroll painting depicting Chinese investiture ceremonies in Ryûkyû and related subjects, copied by the Japanese artist from a Chinese source; a set of colorful woodblock prints depicting a procession of the 1832 embassy, the year of a so-called “Ryûkyû boom” – 1/4 of all popular publications produced in the early modern period were produced in that year; and, finally, a Meiji period accordion book depicting “customs and folkways of Okinawa.” All beautiful objects, and all just wonderful to see on display like that. I’m sad that the exhibit is gone, existing now only in our memories, in installation photos we’ve taken, and in the various documents we produced in the planning and preparation. But, fortunately, all of the objects are still quite visible and accessible online, either at the Sakamaki-Hawley Collection Digital Archives webpage, or through the UH Library’s Treasures from the Libraries webpage.

You can see all my photos of the installation here.

The exhibition was accompanied by a set of public lectures, and a symposium, held in conjunction. Prof. Kurushima Hiroshi from Rekihaku, Prof. Szostak, and myself, presented on a panel alongside two of the truly top experts in Ryukyuan history, Prof. Yokoyama Manabu of Notre Dame Seishin University in Okayama, and Prof. Gregory Smits of Penn State. It was kind of nerve-wracking to be up there along with such prominent scholars, but was really quite pleasant, and extremely informative, in the end. As they say in Japanese, taihen benkyô ni narimashita 大変勉強になりました.

I apologize to not summarize or comment upon the talks here, as I have been doing for the AAS talks I attended last month. But, many of the talks, associated PowerPoints, and even video of the presentations, are now available online, on a UHM Hamilton Library webpage. These will all eventually be added to the University of Hawaii University Repository, also known as ScholarSpace.


And, the full audio from my talk at the symposium can be found via the Samurai Archives Podcast. In the next episode of the podcast, I talk with C.E. West, Shogun of the Samurai Archives website, about the presentation, the symposium, and the exhibit. Now that the following third and final episode in the series is available, I’ve added the link to that here.

Meanwhile, you can also read about the Rekihaku exhibit here; I myself did not get to see the exhibit, which sounds like it was spectacular, but, at least I’ve managed to get my hands on the catalog, and a mighty beautiful catalog it is, for just 2000 yen.


Getting involved with thinking about and talking about comics, learning about new comics, is quite dangerous. It’s so tempting to just dive right in, and start reading all kinds of things… I’ve been reading comicbooks for almost as long as I’ve been reading, and when I was younger, comicbooks were my everything. As a kid, alongside astronaut or paleontologist or whatever, I wanted to run a comicbook store. And, when I was a little older, I entertained the idea of teaching courses or publishing books on the history of comicbooks; I guess part of me still does.

My interest in comics has never really waned, I don’t think – it’s just been sidelined as my schoolwork, and certain other hobbies and interests, have taken up more of my time and attention. And so, while some friends began to delve into and explore the indy comics world, and while others pursued serious graduate degrees in “new media studies” and the like, I’ve, basically, fallen behind.

So, give me an opportunity – like helping to put together a small exhibition on the history of comics, culminating with a three-day events-packed campus visit by Scott “Understanding Comics” McCloud himself – and, well, suddenly I’m spending a lot more time and money again on comics. I so wish I could go with the flow on that. But I have work to do!!

When my professor first started telling us about new and different and innovative things some webcomics were doing, I didn’t quite buy into it. Pretty much all the webcomics I read, all the webcomics I have ever read, follow the comic strip format, and don’t play around much with dimensions or animation or anything. So, whatever a few random extra-artsy people are doing over in some corner of the internet, I thought, that is not the mainstream of webcomics. And, for whatever reason, I had no interest. But, then Scott McCloud showed us some of them, and explained why they’re so cool. I wish I could reproduce, or even properly summarize, his entire talk here, but, to put it super-briefly, suffice it to say, the core of his argument is that, online, there’s no reason to adhere to the format of the page. There’s no reason that your panels have to be a certain size, or that you have to be limited to a certain number of panels before the viewer/reader has to “turn the page,” i.e. click “Next.” Why can’t you have a comic that’s entirely vertical, that you just scroll through, any number of panels, without ever going to a “next page”?

A Norwegian artist who goes by the handle “jellyvampire” on DeviantArt, has done just that, and gone further, in a super cute comic strip titled “Born Like an Artist.” I’m sorry to not share it with you directly here, but because of the size/format, and because I’d rather not steal the host’s pageviews or whatever, please do click through.

A comic called “Pup Ponders the Heat Death of the Universe,” by Drew Weing, uses similar means to great effect, as well. The scrolling action on a webcomic like this one actually reminds me a lot of traditional Chinese or Japanese handscroll paintings – as you scroll through it, viewing one section at a time, each next section can be dramatically surprising or impressive. Scrolling through this comic, coming across certain moments (no spoilers), reminds me of scrolling through the “Night Attack on the Sanjo Palace” handscroll, watching samurai gather up, attack a palace, and then, suddenly, coming across a huge conflagration! Granted, print comics can have a similar effect, too, and can vary in the size of the panels or of the images, as well; but, here we see it done in a different format, creating dramatic effects in a new and different manner.

And, it’s not just scrolls. As I mentioned in a recent post, the great ukiyo-e master Katsushika Hokusai recreated this scrolling feeling in a series of woodblock-printed books depicting the view along the Sumidagawa in Edo. As you turn each page, the image continues, seamlessly connecting into one, long, scroll-like panorama image. The Freer-Sackler has reproduced this effect in a beautiful online interactive.

On a different subject, McCloud talked about the use of animation in webcomics, and how most of the official professional electronic comics – e.g. “digital comics” versions of Watchmen, or of certain Marvel comics – do animation wrong. The fundamental feature of comics is their sequential nature – that as one moves through space, from one panel to another, one also moves through time. Introduce animation, that is, the moving through time as one moves through time, rather than through space, and it messes with this. These Marvel and DC digital comics seem to focus too much on the two-dimensional artistic character of the comics, and standard elements such as speech bubbles and narrative boxes, making these pop in and out, which only enhances the feeling of blockiness and flatness, and does nothing for the story, or for the enjoyment of the medium.

One solution McCloud suggests, based on seeing innovations by various webcomic artists, is the use of looping animation within panels, thus keeping intact that fundamental feature of the comic strip panel. BOL, by Vincent Giard, is a great example of this.

Furthermore, these traditional stick unnecessarily to the format of the page, essentially creating a printed & bound comicbook within the digital realm, rather than creating something more fundamentally attuned to the new/different format. If you are going to create a digital version of a printed & bound comic, then at least… well…

Consider this – one of the simpler, but most mind-blowing, things that McCloud suggested during his talks: Why did we ever decide that the single page, rather than the single opening (i.e. two pages), was the essential element of print media? Our laptop screens are horizontal. Our PC screens are horizontal. Our tablet and smartphone screens are, admittedly, vertical, but they can be horizontal as well. When we read real books, we have them open to two pages at once, horizontally. Why do we read books, and comics, in a vertical manner when they could be laid out horizontally?

Above: One page from “Exit Wounds” by Rutu Modan. Below: One opening from “How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less” by Sarah Glidden. Which do you think would look better, and would be a more engaging reading experience?

After last week’s talks and events with Scott McCloud, I’m certainly re-energized, re-motivated, to keep my eyes out for new and different and interesting comics. Do you know of any particularly innovative and interesting webcomics? Let me know! And check out Scott McCloud’s blog for plenty more links (and far more intelligent & eloquent thoughts) regarding comics & webcomics.

The Asahi Shimbun reports today that a document has been discovered, sent from Annam (Vietnam), and addressed to Toyotomi Hideyoshi using the title “King of Japan” (日本国王). The announcement comes from the Kyushu National Museum. Up until now, the oldest known extant document related to Japan-Vietnam relations was believed to be one from 1601, received by Tokugawa Ieyasu, and visible today at the National Archives of Japan Digital Archive – a document which, incidentally, I once wrote a paper on.

The Tokugawa-era document comes from Nguyen Hoang, lord of southern-central Vietnam1, who writes to Ieyasu reporting that he has captured the pirate Shirahama Kenki, who had terrorized the Vietnamese coast sixteen years earlier. Nguyen uses this occasion as a pretext for extending offers of good will, and requests for a continuation of good relations. Ieyasu’s response, which I have never seen as an image of an original document, but have only read descriptions of, describes the shuinjô (“red seals”) system, explaining that any Japanese seamen who do not carry licenses with the shogunate’s red seal can be apprehended as smugglers or pirates, but that those who do carry such licenses are licensed “above-board” merchants, authorized by the shogunate. Thus was the earliest known extant document recording, marking, the establishment or continuation of Japanese-Vietnamese relations – that is, until now.

The 1601 letter from Nguyen Hoang to Tokugawa Ieyasu, from the Gaiban Shokan.

The newly discovered Hideyoshi-era document is on display at the Kyushu National Museum in Dazaifu (Fukuoka prefecture) as part of a Vietnam exhibition which opened April 16.

In this document, a Lord Nguyen (presumably the same Nguyen Hoang, r. 1558-1613) writes, in Classical Chinese of course, something to the effect of “I offer gifts, and would like to bind us in friendly relations.” The document is dated with a Vietnamese reign era which corresponds with 1591 on the Western calendar, and is explicitly marked 「日本国・国王」 (“Country of Japan, King”). It seems to have been brought to Japan by a Japanese merchant, many of whom were actively engaged in maritime trade in Southeast Asia at the time. The primary figure active in Japan at that time for whom the title “King of Japan” would correspond would have been Toyotomi Hideyoshi; however, whether the Vietnamese were aware of Hideyoshi, or knew specifically who they were writing to, is unclear.

1) Generally known as Quang Nam 広南 or Cochinchina, in contrast to Tonking 東京 to the north, ruled by the Trinh family, and Champa, the territory of the Cham people to the south.

A number of works from the collection I helped digitize a few years ago is now on display at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery in Washington DC, in an exhibition entitled “Hand-Held.”

Right: Just a few of the roughly 2,000 books in the Freer’s Pulverer Collection.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this is a collection of roughly 2,000 Japanese books, almost all of them woodblock-printed, and almost all of them from the Edo period (1600-1868); I’m not sure how many pieces are included in the exhibition, but I am sure that the museum has done a good job of choosing interesting, attractive, or otherwise historically important works to show.

I’m sad that I won’t get a chance to see the exhibition myself, as I don’t expect I’ll be going to the East Coast this summer. But, for anyone who is able to go, the show is up from April 6th through August 11th.

Perhaps not the most colorful works, but very important ones. Two Japanese copies of the Chinese Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston back in 2010, standing in here on this blog post for the current Sackler exhibition of which I have no photos since I am unable to go there to see it for myself.

Hopefully, it won’t be long before the online catalog database of all the works – all the thousands of photos my compatriots and I took – is up and ready for public access. In the meantime, however, the Freer-Sackler has put together a beautiful page for Hokusai’s Ehon sumidagawa ryôgan ichiran (“Illustrated Book Listing Both Banks of the Sumida River”). Click through, and you can see each opening (i.e. each page) of the illustrations, lined up next to one another, revealing a single continuous panorama image of the Sumida River which ran through the shogunal capital of Edo (today, Tokyo).

Imagine holding this book in your hands and paging through it, seeing the image continue on the next page, and the next page, and the next page. What Hokusai does here is innovative, and, I think, quite charming, fun, and kind of brilliant. The Pulverer Collection catalog, if it ever goes up, will contain literally thousands of other books, each intriguing, charming, compelling or innovative in its own way. Once that goes up, and assuming I can find the time, I’ll finally be able to start sharing with you some of my favorites.

An image from a display at the Metropolitan Museum, featuring one of the books also included in the Pulverer Collection. Once the online database goes up, it might look something like this.


Mark Erdmann’s talk on discourses of legitimacy at Nobunaga’s Azuchi Castle was followed by a talk in a somewhat similar vein, by Anton Schweizer, Postdoctoral Fellow at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts, who talked about Hideyoshi’s Osaka Castle.

Left: Hideyoshi’s Osaka Castle as it appears in a 17th century screen painting depicting the Osaka Summer Campaign.

I suppose I should have realized, but it never occurred to me before, that Osaka Castle as it stands today is a reconstruction not of the original castle built by Hideyoshi, but rather of a rather different castle, built by the Tokugawa, after they took Osaka in 1615. As we shall see, as you read along, Hideyoshi’s Osaka Castle, built in the 1580s-90s, was not the white-walled structure we see towering over the city today.

Hideyoshi first began construction on Osaka Castle in the fifth month of 1583; the tenshu (tower keep) was completed in 1585, with construction on the ni-no-maru, san-no-maru (second and third baileys), and outer bulwarks continuing into the 1590s. Textual and visual records indicate that the castle was originally lacquered in red & black, and gilded, with shachi (magical dolphin/fish) ornaments on the roof. The earliest surviving paintings depicting the structure show it in black, with gold highlights. Other 1590s-1600s buildings, such as Ôsaki Hachimangû in Sendai, reflect this color scheme as well. Sadly, I neglected to write down the other structures which Schweizer gave as examples. Such extensive use of lacquer would have been a major show of wealth, not only because of the initial cost of the vast amount of lacquer, and labor, involved, but also, Schweizer points out, because lacquer only lasts about 40 years in direct sunlight. So, even ten to twenty years after it was built, certain panels or sections would already have had to be replaced or re-lacquered.

Perhaps the most famous example of Hideyoshi’s ludicrous displays of wealth is his golden tearoom – everything, from the walls and ceilings down to the tables and teabowls, were gilded. This tearoom was apparently moveable, being moved from Osaka to Fushimi to the Jurakudai in Kyoto and back on at least a few occasions within the decade or so of Hideyoshi’s height of power. How that’s possible still eludes me, somewhat, but it seems to be widely accepted as having been the case. A replica of the tearoom is apparently now installed at the Museum of Art (MOA) in Atami.

Schweizer’s talk focused on Hideyoshi’s reception of special guests at Osaka, and the tours of the castle he would lead himself. These tours were crucial; much like with the paintings lining the walls of the upper two floors (among numerous other items and elements) at Nobunaga’s Azuchi Castle, Hideyoshi’s displays of wealth, power, and legitimacy likewise only function if people see them. In fact, now that I’m writing this and thinking about it, when we ourselves give friends the “grand tour” of our houses or apartments, what underlying discursive meanings are we conveying or reinforcing? Ideas of wealth, of our cultivated/cultured taste, of our intelligence & skill at finding & recognizing a good house, and at haggling or otherwise being able to find or secure a “deal.” I’m sure there must be scholarship out there on this sort of thing…

In any case, Hideyoshi would generally lead his guests to the top of the castle, to show them the extensive view out over the surroundings, a most standard indication or intimation in any culture or period, of one’s power. His guests included powerful daimyô such as Ôtomo Sôrin and Chôsokabe Motochika, and Jesuit missionaries such as Luis Frois.

Now, a castle is, of course, very much a military structure. As with Nobunaga’s castle at Azuchi, which I discussed in my last two posts, and as with any castle, really, the castle itself, with its strong walls, and extensive defensive design elements, can play a powerful role in reinforcing notions of the lord’s warrior identity and military power. Of course, Osaka also contained numerous symbols of Hideyoshi’s cultivated taste. The golden tearoom, along with his collection of antique tea utensils, and active engagement with tea ceremony and tea culture, were a major part of this. Hideyoshi also had European-style beds, imported from Europe, featuring ornately hand-carved wooden bedframes, and red woolen pillows. The castle complex included an elaborate theatrical stage, in lacquered and gilded wood, with flanking towers or pavilions of some sort. It is not clear what this might have looked like, exactly, but it certainly sounds like it could not have resembled a proper, traditional Noh stage. What sort of theatre might have been performed there, then, at this time when kabuki & bunraku had yet to be invented, and when Noh and kyôgen were so much more dominant, especially among the samurai?

Along with wall paintings, folding screen paintings, and a myriad of other elements, Hideyoshi’s palace must have been a rather lavish, impressive, sight for his guests, assuring them not only of his wealth and power, but also of his elite tastes and personal cultivation. Given his humble origins, Hideyoshi, in particular, even more so than Nobunaga or Ieyasu, would have (arguably) felt a great need to represent himself as an educated, cultured, elite figure. Interestingly – and this was news to me – Schweizer argues that Hideyoshi not only made sure to display his cultured side alongside his military power, but in fact actively played-down the military side, through a number of provisions, including hiding all arms & armor away from sight; not only does he not put them on display in some grand manner, as we might imagine a samurai warlord doing, but he actually hides them away completely out of sight. Schweizer goes so far as to suggest that, perhaps, we might even be able to say that during such guest visits, Osaka was a “feminized space.” Certain sources – diaries or accounts otherwise written by the guests – seem to indicate that all the attendants were women: that they did not see any male attendants the entire time they were in the castle.

I’m afraid my notes on the talk end there. It is certainly an interesting topic, and I look forward to anything Prof. Schweizer might publish on the subject.

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