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At the Roots of Visual Japan

At the roots of visual Japan

Word-text dynamics in early-modern Japan

International Conference hosted by the Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge

Thursday, 14th & Friday, 15th December, 2017

[ poster ]

Outline of the conference

This two-day international conference brings together scholars in the field of Japanese early-modern literature with a specific remit: to examine the interaction of text(s) and image(s) in a systematic manner across the main genres of early-modern popular prose and poetry in print. This is done in dialogue with scholars who work on comics, graphic prose and manga.

Building on the methodology developed in influential works on Western illustrated texts (i.e., Nikolajeva, 2001; Bateman 2014; Baetens and Frey, 2015; McCloud 2001 among others), each presentation discusses selected case studies from Japanese early-modern sources, in order to offer preliminary answers to specific research questions: 

  • What ‘physical’ patterns can be retrieved in a page layout that combines text(s) and image(s)? (e.g., text separate from illustrations; texts within illustrations; etc.)

  • Do we identify specific patterns in page layout according to different periods of publications? Do these patterns go hand in hand with ‘genres’? Or with the place of publication? Or with other factors?

  • Are there ‘genres’ that display a variety of page layouts, which change according to the visual trends associated to the period of publication? (e.g. hanashibon) How do text(s) and image(s) interact? (e.g., complement, enhancement, counterpoint, contradiction, amplification, reduction, etc.)

  • Can we identify types in the movement from one image to another? (e.g., moment-to-moment, action-to-action, scene-to-scene, etc.)

  • Are the dynamics similar for texts that were conceived to be performed as well as read? (e.g. kōwakamai, hanashibon, ehon banzuke, etc.) 

  • Is a distinction between ‘illustrated books’ and ‘picture-books’ meaningful when looking at Japanese early-modern popular prose in print?

  • Can we talk of ‘graphic prose’ at all? What are the narrative strategies at play in texts that combine text(s) and images(s) Who are the agents at play in the creation of text(s) and image(s)?

  • What is the audience (or what are the audiences) addressed?

  • Could the same outcomes have been achieved by using only text?

Presentations are closed each day by a wrap-up session with a view to sum up the answers emerged during the day, to highlight new research questions, and to offer points of discussion for the roundtable. A roundtable closes the conference. It features scholars of comics, graphic prose and manga. The goal is to position early-modern Japan in a continuum with contemporary Japan and to view its visual culture as an integral part of visual cultures around the World and across time.


To view the programme please visit:


To register please visit:

The deadline for registration is Friday, 8th December, 2017


The conference sessions will take place in Rooms 8 & 9 at the Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies,
Sidgwick Avenue Cambridge, CB3 9DA [ map ]

 For further information, contact:

Dr Laura Moretti
University Senior Lecturer in Pre-modern Japanese Studies
Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies
University of Cambridge

Phone: +44(0)1223-335148