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Cool Japan / Reviving Japonism through 'kogei' traditions

Pick up herewith "Cool Japan News" by Asahi Shinbun.
This time taking up herewith "Reviving Japonism through 'kogei' traditions".
You might be able to understand the difference between Culture in Japan and EU and/or USA.
Please feel and enjoy the Article.
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Reviving Japonism through 'kogei' traditions
Feb 20, 2010 by Asahi Shinbun

The first image that leaps to mind when one hears "traditional handicraft" is perhaps a decorative trinket.

Yet "Japanese design" implies a cool modernism admired by all the world.

Now, a curators' group has decided the homely word "craft" just doesn't do justice to the innovative design and artistic style of today's kogei traditional crafts.
photo
(Japanese kogei items attract visitors to the Crafting Beauty in Modern Japan
exhibition at the British Museum in 2007. (HIDEKI AOTA/ THE ASAHI SHIMBUN))

The Japonism Renaissance project, launched by the National Museum of Art at the start of the year, has the ambitious aim of selling the world on the appeal of Japan's many and varied handmade arts.

Aware of the sales cachet that words such as manga inspire overseas, project organizers are using kogei in their overseas promotional materials to identify a product's Japanese origin--be it pottery, lacquer ware or creations of gold leaf, wood or indigo dyes.

The group aims to exhibit and sell top-notch kogei handicrafts overseas.

"Japonism" describes the influence that Japan exerted on Western art in the late 19th century.

Back then, the government held exhibitions and sold Japanese crafts in Europe and the United States, not only to show off Japan's power and wealth, but also to acquire foreign currency.

Last fall, after two years of discussion, a symposium was held in Tokyo. Panelists included Masanori Aoyagi, director at the National Museum of Art; Kenji Kaneko, chief curator at the Craft Gallery of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; and Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere, director at Britain's Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Art and Culture.

The panel presented a new view of Japanese crafts as the early foundation of today's concept of the monozukuri style of manufacturing. The term translates literally as "making goods," but in a broader sense it refers to the entire process from initial inspiration and development through to product procurement and customer service.

More people both in Japan and abroad are showing interest in Japanese artworks, with exhibitions earning favorable reviews in London and Paris. Meanwhile, in Japan, displays of traditional products in select boutiques are drawing young consumers.

"In Europe, machine labor replaced manual labor during the 18th century's Industrial Revolution (leading to some crafts dying out). But in Japan, traditional materials and handcraft techniques continue to be used in innovative ways," Kaneko told the symposium.

The symposium discussed using Japanese words for the world market to set apart artistic crafts from old-fashioned handicrafts.

In place of the well-worn "traditional craft," Aoyagi suggested the term kogei. He hoped that, like the ubiquitous manga, kogei might become a buzzword for cool Japanese products made from wood and lacquerware, for example.

Kaneko agreed. "The word 'craft' has the same root as the German 'kraft,' meaning power and strength. But in English, it is mostly used to mean handicraft. Later, it became less valued than 'art,'" he said.

And Rousmaniere pointed out the word "traditional" is no longer applicable to many kogei crafts.

"The word has the connotation of things of the past or something no longer alive," she said. "The English language cannot possibly describe the reality of Japanese kogei, which is a (contemporary) art that uses traditional materials and technologies, yet involves new interpretations and expressions."

In Japan, traditional crafts have long followed a diverging path from "art," a term mainly used to refer to oil paintings. Kogei has not been properly appreciated since the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

In fact, the era was when art and craft became split, after Western civilization made its first broad inroads into the country.

According to art critic Noriaki Kitazawa, "The hierarchy that supposed art was superior to kogei was formulated around the start of modernism."

More than a century later, the Kogei renaissance movement will to reach out to the world market--much like the Meiji Era's revolutionizing of Japan's industry.
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By T.S. on Mar 4, 2010
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