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Visual Anthropology of Modern Japan

Richard Chalfen
Department of Anthropology
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA 19122 USA

Fall Semester, 2002


hyakubun wa ikken nishikazu
is a Chinese inspired Japanese proverb that stresses
"One look (or view) is worth more than 100 hearings/listenings”


This course offers an anthropological approach to systems of visual communication that are central to understanding Japanese society and culture. Themes and perspectives from visual anthropology will be applied to visual sign systems of everyday life (writing, clothes, food, etc.), to the prevalence and influences of popular culture emphasizing mass mediated forms as manga (comic books), advertisements, etc. The course will also include ethnographic films about Japanese culture as well a review of how Japanese culture is communicated to mass audiences through classic and contemporary feature films as well as network television. We will try to "unpack" or "unwrap" some of the stereotypic reductions common to superficial knowledge of Japan and Japanese culture. In short, we explore the visual basis of Japanese society through principles grounded in visual anthropology -- through an integration of theoretical concerns central to both culture and visual communication.

Students will understand better how a visual anthropologist would seek to study and "know" another culture, specifically Japan -- what would be looked at and what methods would be most suitable to see what has been "made to be seen."

Students will be evaluated through a late midterm exam (40%), a term project (50%) as well as short quizzes or essays based on observational exercises and class participation (10%).

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Required Readings

Packet: Readings for Anthropology 238: Visual Anthropology of Modern Japan
These packets are available from Docucare, located at 900 North Broad Street
(call 215-235-8740 before going to ensure availability and stated cost).

In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizak
Stony Creek, CT: Leete’s Island Books, 1977 (1933).

Geisha, Gangster, Neighbor, Nun [or Public People, Private People, 1996]
by Donald Richie, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1987.

Wrapping Culture--Politeness, Presentation and Power in Japan
by Joy Hendry, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

A Lateral View -- Essays on Contemporary Japan
by Donald Richie, Tokyo: The Japan Times, 1987.

The Key by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki
Rutland, VT: Charles E Tuttle Books, 1997 (1960).

Recommended Texts

An Anthropologist in Japan: Glimpses of Life in the Field
by Joy Hendry. New York: Routledge,1999.

Picturing Japaneseness
by Darrell Davis, New York: Columbia University Press,1997.

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To contact Richard Chalfen, email: rchalfen@temple.edu