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Japanese Semiotics Aesthetics

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Presentation on Japanese Aesthetics delivered to Space Doctors. Very much my own vision and a digest of thinking inspired by my time living and working in Japan, by my love of Japanese art and design and observations gleaned from semiotics projects conducted in Tokyo. The pres structure:

1. Japan: A Semiotic Culture
2. Aesthetic Approaches
3. Art / Design Traditions
4. Japanese Visual Codes
5. My Interest in Japan

If you're interested in Japanese visual culture then take a look! Enjoy.

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Japanese Semiotics Aesthetics

  1. 1. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS Thursday 28th April 2016
  2. 2. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. 1 JAPAN: A SEMIOTIC CULTURE 2 AESTHETIC APPROACHES 3 ART / DESIGN TRADITIONS 4 JAPANESE VISUAL CODES 5 MY INTEREST IN JAPAN CONTENTS
  3. 3. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. 記号論 = SEMIOTICS (LITERALLY ‘SIGN THEORY’) 記号(きごう) = SYMBOL, SIGN, CODE, NOTATION (ARCHAIC: AIDE-MEMOIRE) 印(しるし) = STAMP, SEAL, MARK, IMPRINT (ARCHAIC: OMEN) SEMIOTICS IN JAPANESE
  4. 4. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. “The modernisation of Japan has been orientated toward learning from and imitating the West. Yet Japan is situated in Asia and has firmly maintained its traditional culture” What I call Japan’s ‘ambiguity’ is my lecture is a kind of chronic disease that has been prevalent through the modern age” Kenzaburo Oe, “Japan, the Ambiguous and Myself”, Nobel Prize for Literature Speech (1994) JAPAN, THE AMBIGUOUS AND MYSELF
  5. 5. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. 1. JAPAN: A SEMIOTIC CULTURE Context Dependence Unique Writing System Japanese Exceptionalism
  6. 6. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. Japan is a high context, detail driven culture in which everything is inscribed with information saying how it should be used and in what way. The above are taken from Japan Metro public service ads. Industrial design objects like toilets, public information signage all contain a wealth of text in order to orient and inform the Japanese. CONTEXT DEPENDENCE
  7. 7. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. CONTEXT DEPENDENCE Where to stand when queuing to pay: “Please stand here and wait for the cashier to call you forward” At a Zen Garden in Tokushima. Slightly unusual form of sign. Often in Japan there is information that might seem to be redundant.
  8. 8. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. Unique to Japanese is the semantic complexity of the script, three writing systems that involve knowledge not only each sign and its referent, but also about how the writing scripts combine in syntax in grammar and how the meaning of ideograms shift in combination. UNIQUE WRITING SYSTEM 2. KATAKANA 3. KANJI 1. HIRAGANA
  9. 9. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. UNIQUE WRITING SYSTEM Puru puru,(ぷるぷる)meaning ‘bouncy’ Tsubu tsubu, (つぶつぶ)meaning ‘grainy’ For instance, Japanese has a system of onomatopeiac, mimetic sounds called gitaigo that enabled them to express, feeling, nuance, sensation – this is a fun facet of Japanese often used in advertising
  10. 10. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. Uniquely Western and Eastern – post modern before post modern. Colonial power that asserted itself in the region in late 19th Century. An Asian country that deep down sees itself as unique and separate from other nations in the region. Though mix of Ainu and SE Asian. Shares the Confucian values, sensibilities of North Asian nations but shares the alienation clannishness of Scandinavian / Baltic countries. Nihonjinron discourse feeds sense of Japanese exceptionalism and feeds both insular, psychic togetherness and persistent xenophobia. JAPANESE EXCEPTIONALISM
  11. 11. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. JAPANESE EXCEPTIONALISM 1920s Moga Modern Japanese girl : “Shiseido Face of Beauty” Nihonjinron has fed beliefs about the uniqueness of Japan and the Japanese: one of the areas of this uniqueness is the Japanese face As Mikiko Ashikari writes: “Although there may be no ‘Japanese race’ in any scientific or biological sense, the Japanese tend to perceive themselves as a distinct ‘racial’ group who share the same skin.” “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cpsmetics Boom and Japanese Identity” Photo from Tokyo Design Week 2013
  12. 12. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. 2. AESTHETIC APPROACHES EMPTINESS: Empire of Signs OCCLUSION: In Praise of Shadows TRANSIENCE: Situational Aesthetics
  13. 13. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. EMPTINESS: EMPIRE OF SIGNS “Empire of Signs? Yes, if it is understood that these signs are empty and that the ritual is without a god.” ROLAND BARTHES, THE EMPIRE OF SIGNS
  14. 14. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. “The West has understood this law only too well: all its cities are concentric; but also, in accord with the very movement of Western metaphysics, for which every center is the site of truth, the center of our cities is always full… The city I am talking about Tokyo, offers this precious paradox: it does possess a center, but this center is empty. The entire city turns around a site both forbidden and indifferent, a residence concealed beneath foliage, protected by moats, inhabited by an emperor who is never seen… The streets of this city have no names… the largest city in the world is practically unclassified. In this enormous city, really an urban territory, each district is placed on the rather empty map, like a news flash.” ROLAND BARTHES, THE EMPIRE OF SIGNS EMPTINESS: EMPIRE OF SIGNS
  15. 15. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. “What is remarkable about Japanese culture or the Japanese language as well, is that this semiotic mechanism is working quite strongly…in order for alien elements to be admitted into the culture… The empty center, however, could have no scruple about it, since it is at least theoretically ready to lend itself to, or even invites, all kinds of possible reorganization based on any standard of values and ideologies. A culture with an empty centre would this tend to work centripetally – it is somewhat like the astronomer’s black hole which draws and absorbs evertyhig into itself – without suffering any change at all. A culture with an empty centre can accommodate and keep in it apparently diverse elements.” YOSHIHIKO IKEGAMA (ED.), THE EMPIRE OF SIGNS: SEMIOTIC ESSAYS ON JAPANESE CULTURE EMPTINESS: EMPIRE OF SIGNS
  16. 16. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. OCCLUSION: IN PRAISE OF SHADOWS “Whenever I see the alcove of a tastefully built Japanese room, I marvel at our comprehension of the secrets of shadows, our sensitive use of shadow and light… This was the genius of our ancestors, that by cutting off light from this empty space they imparted to the world of shadows that formed there a quality of mystery and depth superior to that of any wall painting” JUNICHIRO TANIZAKI, IN PRAISE OF SHADOWS
  17. 17. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. “We do not dislike everything that shines but we prefer a pensive luster to a shallow brilliance, a murky light, that whether in a stone or an artifact, bespeaks a sheen of antiquity. I realised then that only in the dim light is the true beauty of Japanese lacquerware revealed.” JUNICHIRO TANIZAKI, IN PRAISE OF SHADOWS OCCLUSION: IN PRAISE OF SHADOWS
  18. 18. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. “This particular aesthetic system does not recognize beauty in the individual elements of a scene … beauty is born of a combination of circumstances, including time, setting and scenery. It is not an inherent, innate, fixed characteristic of an individual object… In Japanese aesthetics… it is believed that beauty arises from a specific situation. It can disappear when circumstances change. Western societies, in contrast, have formulated … ‘substantial aesthetics’, in which the mainstream notion of beauty is traditionally considered to have a specific objective reality”. When a Westerner says, for example, “The bird is beautiful,” he perceives that beauty exists in the bird itself, independently of the bird’s circumstances. Because this system of substantial aesthetics is predicated on the notion that beauty is something with an objective reality” SHUJI TAKASHINA, BEAUTY IN JAPAN AND THE WEST Face to Face: Shiseido and the Manufacture of Beauty 1900-2000 TRANSIENCE: SITUATIONAL AESTHETICS
  19. 19. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. TRANSIENCE: SITUATIONAL AESTHETICS The beauty of a Zen garden inheres not in the qualities of individual features, but in the placement and inter-relationships between them.
  20. 20. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. TRANSIENCE: SITUATIONAL AESTHETICS Kou you,(こうよう 紅葉) meaning red, yellow leaves’ Autumn viewing is popular, One aspect of this is the Japanese love for changing of the seasons, which occasion social gathering for viewing the cherry blossoms in the Spring and for viewing Red, Yellow Leaves in the Autumn. Consumer culture is often carried away by a focus on seasonal colour schemes and the special feelings, rituals associated with each of the seasons. Sakura,(桜 さくら) meaning cherry blossoms. Spring viewing is popular,
  21. 21. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. TRANSIENCE: SITUATIONAL AESTHETICS The Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture provides a typical example of this. “Every twenty years, the shrine is razed and rebuilt in a rite called shikinen sengu. Obviously, the newly rebuilt structure is not the same as previous one. According to Western Aesthetics,… the rebuilt copy is a copy, if not a sham... Having no faith in permanence of memory, Japanese believe permanence of form ensures succession of memory.” SHUJI TAKASHINA, BEAUTY IN JAPAN AND THE WEST
  22. 22. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. TRANSIENCE: SITUATIONAL AESTHETICS “This famous poem by an unknown author is made up of a total of 47 hiragana characters (every symbol except the n). It dates from the Heian Era. It originally appeared in an official document in 1079. It is used by Japanese children to learn the 50 sounds of Japanese. Even at a young age, Japanese are confronted with the ephemeral. Colours and shapes may blossom, but not for long. In this life, nobody lives forever. Going beyond the summits of illusion. No longer shallow dreams of ecstasy.
  23. 23. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. 3. ART / DESIGN TRADITIONS Calligraphy Decorative Art
  24. 24. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. “There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will not destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible…” Bill Evans Liner notes from Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue CALLIGRAPHY
  25. 25. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. “In calligraphy there are also many styles to be mastered: these range from the more restrained, rectilinear styles, such as the kaisho style, through oracle and seal scripts through the cursive script (gyousho) all the way through to running script (sousho) style as well as non- standard abstract expressionist forms like Zen’ei.” CALLIGRAPHY
  26. 26. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. CALLIGRAPHY 光男間,(みつを あいだ) Popular poet, calligrapher and philosopher who emphasized importance of human beings individuality and encouraged human flaws, failings as natural. This calligraphy reads: “It’s okay to stumble. We are human after all”
  27. 27. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. CALLIGRAPHY 早雲武田(そううんたけだ) 1978-present Contemporary avant-garde calligrapher who does a lot of working promoting the artistic freedom and therapeutic benefits of calligraphy in Japan. This calligraphy spells the character ‘Hope’ at Meiji Jingumae station in Tokyo.
  28. 28. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. CALLIGRAPHY In this ad for Shu Uemura mascara, eye liner, calligraphy is referenced for the precision and refinement of the strokes and its inky blackness In this ad for Tama San barley tea, the calligraphy strokes are rough and convey an organic warmth that helps connote natural ingredients. In this ad for Sendai Table tourney 2015, the white calligraphic strokes seek to convey speed and flair and the responsiveness of top players
  29. 29. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. DECORATIVE ART - LACQUERWARE • Japanese lacquer is an organic substance that is crafted to look eventually like a synthetic substance – just like Japan itself, glossy perfection on the surface, conceals warmth and love of nature. • Production of lacquer is something incredibly time consuming and that demands great artistry: it is a process that parallels the idea honing one’s strength of character, like beating a samurai katana. • “I discovered in the gloss of this lacquerware a depth and richness that of a still, dark pond, a beauty I had not seen before”
  30. 30. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. DECORATIVE ART - LACQUERWARE On my trip to Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture in 2014 I the studio of Shioyasu where they Took me through the process from extraction of urushi (lacquer) sap through to the mixing with earth, through to a bitumen paste The sort of box you see here (price was about £2000) is the result of extremely painstaking craft, of either chinkin gouging or maki-e painting but the final product is beautiful and actually quite durable too.
  31. 31. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. DECORATIVE ART - LACQUERWARE Tsubaki shampoo launched by Shiseido in 2007 and marketed for Japanese hair used packaging that resembles lacquerware. The connotation is clear – lacquerware is the acme of Japanese beauty.
  32. 32. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. 4. JAPANESE VISUAL CODES Yohaku Wabi Sabi Simpuru Kawaii O-Share Zeitaku Hade Otaku
  33. 33. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. 余白 This literally means, blank space, margin, which incorporates the concept of ma 間 which is an interval or space. As Ara Isozaki writes in Ma: Space-Time in Japan (1978/2009) “MA is literally defined as the natural interval between two or more things existing in a continuity”. It is very much valued in and of itself. It is invisible, but not insensible, it creates fullness out of void. Valued in architecture. JAPANESE VISUAL CODES - YOHAKU - 余白
  34. 34. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. 詫び寂び Wabi Sabi describes a traditional Japanese aesthetic sensibility based on an appreciation of the transient beauty of the world. Often uses beige, brown, earthy colours or Japanese moss green. This aesthetic is most employed in travel advertising and artisanal design, particularly of furniture, objets d’art, tableware to evoke something unique, warm, idiosyncratic and modestly Japanese. JAPANESE VISUAL CODES - WABI-SABI - 詫び寂び
  35. 35. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. JAPANESE VISUAL CODES - SIMPURU – シンプル シンプル ‘Simpuru’ described a minimalist design style that involves minimal use of materials, contour bias and a focus on emotional design. Uncluttered graphics signify an appreciation of humility, discretion and restraint. It is used in product and packaging design, in poster design and appeals as warm, friendly by among younger generation
  36. 36. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. JAPANESE VISUAL CODES - KAWAII - かわいい 可愛い Kawaii has etymological roots in the term kawayushi, denoting shyness, embarrassment, and vulnerability, and kawaiiso means pathetic, poor, and pitiable. It came to prominence associated with young girls but then became associated with the rise of more independently minded, but socially frowned upon hedonistic young women with disposal income. Kawaii has morphed hugely. Too complex to do justice really in one slide.
  37. 37. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. JAPANESE VISUAL CODES - O-SHARE – オシャレ オシャレ Usually associated with the Economic Bubble of the 1980s and the fashion conscious, luxury label obsessed Japanese consumer. Carries connotations of snazzy as well as some class envy (c.f. Pijo in Spanish) Aesthetically quite close to what we think of as premium design, which is slick, sleek and sharp often deploying blacks, metallics and greys.
  38. 38. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. JAPANESE VISUAL CODES - ZEITAKU – 贅沢 贅沢 Zeitaku means both extravagance and lavishness. Historically, Zeitaku was considered a sin in Japan where a Buddhist parsimony was to be appreciated. Today, it has both positive and negative connotations. It also means abundance or richness. In brand communications, the term ‘zeitaku’ is used when expressing ‘richness’ of ingredients. And it is now expressive also of experiences (e.g. travel, spas, healing, gastronomy).
  39. 39. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. JAPANESE VISUAL CODES - HADE – 派手 Space for Images (delete boxes) 派手 Hade is usually defined as showy, bright, gaudy. Usually entails layering, protrusion and a cacophony of colours. It is very much the style of Osaka and the Kansai region rather than Tokyo or Kanto, which is a result of the merchant, not samurai pedigree. They are generally seen to be loud and to have a penchant for extroversion and humour. Hade is the preserve of 15sec attention getting ads, TV entertainment shows.
  40. 40. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. JAPANESE VISUAL CODES - OTAKU – オタク オタク “Otaku signifies more than manga and anime fanboys and geeks. It is a new type of culture – one that blurs the world of children and adults, worships pop culture minutiae, fetishizes objects real and virtual, and at its worst spawns an almost autistic, inward looking possessiveness.” Otaku is migrating from clandestine sub-culture to Cool Japan export.
  41. 41. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. 5. MY INTEREST IN JAPAN JET Programme Calligraphy, Art Business Trips Abroad Futuristic Fantasy Novel
  42. 42. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. MY INTEREST IN JAPAN – JET PROGRAMME I spent one year teaching English as a foreign language in Yamaguchi Prefecture in Western Japan. There were few English speakers so my time there sparked my interest in Japanese language and culture
  43. 43. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. MY INTEREST IN JAPAN – CALLIGRAPHY I have maintained an interest in Japanese calligraphy. On the left, this is Misato Watanabe, who is a calligrapher and typographer I met in London. On the right is the virtuosic sign for a pizzeria in Nagato City.
  44. 44. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. MY INTEREST IN JAPAN - CALLIGRAPHY I have since practiced Japanese calligraphy under various teachers in London. It is one of my passions. I have written articles on it and I’m keen to improve my brushwork technique and repertoire over time.
  45. 45. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. MY INTEREST IN JAPAN - BUSINESS TRIPS I conducted a study for eYeka, one of which was for ADK Stand for Japan, geared towards using semiotics to filter down global crowd sourced entries paying tribute to the best of Japanese pop culture.
  46. 46. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. MY INTEREST IN JAPAN – BUSINESS TRIPS From 2003-2008 I conducted several studies for Unilever Japan on topics as diverse as moisturisation, seduction, scalp care and beauty helping Dove understand why Real Beauty did not really work in Japan
  47. 47. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. MY INTEREST IN JAPAN – FUTURISTIC FANTASY NOVEL I have just finished writing a detailed synopsis for a novel called Tokyo Gloaming 2045, which is a dystopian techno thriller with a strong moral dimension set in Japan where technology change sex and love forever. Image: Dan Kitchener
  48. 48. Space Doctors / Japanese Aesthetics CREATIVE SEMIOTICS LTD. CHRIS ARNING Mobile: 07951 160 921 Skype: chrisarning E-Mail: chris@creativesemiotics.co.uk Website: www.creativesemiotics.co.uk

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