Conference Review – Transnational Cultural Interactions between Korea and Japan

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by Yoonjung Seo (Art Histories Fellow 2014/15, Forum Transregionale Studien)

Conference Review – Transnational Cultural Interactions between Korea and Japan, From the Pre-modern to the Colonial Period; Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, May 17–19, 2015

Scholars in the field of Korean and Japanese studies from all over the world congregated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel for a three-day conference on Transnational Cultural Interactions between Korea and Japan, which began on May 17th, 2015. This international conference is held under the auspices the Frieberg Center for East Asian Studies and Korean Cultural Center in Jerusalem and the Dr. Jooyeon Lee and Dr. Nissim Otmazgin at the Department of Asian Studies.

© Yoonjung Seo

© Yoonjung Seo

The conference opened with a haunting keynote address by Dr. Theodore Hughes (Columbia University, USA), entitled “Colonialism, Area Studies, Globalization,” in which he emphasized the importance of current scholarly inquiries derived from transnational perspectives and evoked the changing dynamics of area studies in the era of globalization. Certainly these ideas expand the scope of research through renewed consideration for global interconnectedness, the complex issues revolving around trans-regional exchanges and colonialism and post-colonial discourse. Such approaches bring together multiple perspectives and voices from scholars on different continents, facilitate interdisciplinary pedagogy, and enhance awareness of entangled issues involving transcultural processes that we have occasionally tended to lose sight of within the traditional frame of areas studies, focusing on historical eras and geographical divisions.

Twenty-two scholars representing academic institutions in Korea, Japan, Israel, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and many other countries presented papers at the conference. The themes involved the key questions articulating Korea-Japan cultural interactions, with a special emphasis on transnational perspectives; this encompass issues of artifacts and artists traveling across boundaries, exchanges between intellectuals from colonial Korea and Japan and their consciousness of modernity, ethnicity and nationalism, as well as the emergence of gender issues and subculture in post-colonial Japanese and Korean society.

Theodore Hughes’ thought-provoking words were brought prominently to bear on the second day of the conference, when Sol Jung (Princeton University, USA) opened the first panel on traveling images and artifacts with her presentation: “Kōrai: Korea’ Place in Sixteenth Century Aesthetics.” Through a careful reading of Japanese tea-related primary documents and the Portuguese-Japanese text, she analyzed the aesthetic standards of Japanese elites in the sixteenth century and the historical perception of foreign objects imported from the continent to the Japanese archipelago. In the same vein, Yoonjung Seo take on Korean Buddhist paintings in Japanese collections and Satoko Sakaguchi’s (Kyoto University of Art and Design, Japan) work on Korean envoy-painters’ paintings and their cultural exchange with Edo painters shed light on the afterlife of cultural artifacts and the reception aesthetics of reception.

© Yoonjung Seo

© Yoonjung Seo

As represented in the panel topics for the second day, “Korean Students in Japan,” “Intellectual Exchange between Colonial Korea and Japan,” and “Japan and Korean Literature,” a recurring theme was exploring how Japanese and Korean intellectuals, or activists responded to various social issues such as the colonization of Korea, the Korean Independence Movement, Christianity and Protestantism, and Marxism and socialism in the early twentieth century. The final panel of the conference could be considered a continuation of examination of inquiries raised by the previous panels as well as a meaningful addition to the program through the incorporation of gender issues and subcultures in Post-colonial period. The presentations by Todd Henry (UC San Diego, USA) and Nadeschda Bachem (SOAS, UK) focused on the multi-faceted play, tension, and negotiation between subjectivity via imperial masculinity and the effeminate colonial body, which was exemplified in the gay and transgender cultures and literature that emerged after the Korean liberation.

All in all, the international conference on Korea-Japan cultural interactions draws our attention to the importance of transcultural approaches and reconfirms our commitment to interdisciplinary research as a way to create cross-dialogue among visual, textual, material and archeological evidence and to use border-crossing materials in our own disciplines. In addition, the conference provokes larger questions for scholars in Korean and Japanese studies; how can we define Korea and Japan as the premise for an analytical frame and how can we expand the connection to other area studies, including Middle Eastern and North American studies, beyond current national and geographical borders. The conference’s intriguing talks, productive discussions, and fruitful exchanges in and out of the conference venue offered numerous insights into diverse facets of the field, and alternative direction though which researchers elsewhere find their own avenues of inquiry.

Find the conference program here.

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Yoonjung Seo is an art historian specializing in Korean art. She received her PhD recently in Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her dissertation examines the ways in which meaning is constructed, modified, and reinstated both in textual and visual forms, and what may happen when themes from a literary text are adapted to painting and/or move across time and cultures. This inquiry further opens onto key cultural issues such as how Chinese antiquity has been appropriated by posterity in East Asia for self-fashioning and the celebration of contemporary events.

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Citation: Yoonjung Seo, Conference Review – Transnational Cultural Interactions between Korea and Japan, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 20.07.2015 https://trafo.hypotheses.org/2518.


Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien is a research organization that promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. The Forum provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. In cooperation with universities and research institutions in Berlin and the rest of Germany, it carries out research projects that examine other regions of the world and their relationship to Germany and Europe systematically and with new questions.

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