The Other Japan

A Documentary Photography Project by Students of the Institute Japanese Language and Culture

Japan in a peep box: a perfect miniature world in which the past is preserved and ever unchanging. A world that presents itself to the beholder as a harmonious natural landscape of Fuji-san, temples and geisha, or as Swiss author Christian Kracht (2000) writes: “Tea-ceremony, wabi-sabi, za-zen, miniature gardens, these things.” Yet another, ‘disturbing‘ image slides in front of the image of the exotic paradise: “I myself didn’t know anything at all about Japan, except that over there schoolgirls sell their underwear to the owners of vending machines.” This new image appearing in the peep box is one of modernity; composed of topoi as high technology, mega-cities, emotional indifference, social isolation, suicide, sexual perversion, etc. While the distortion of the well-preserved harmonious image of a traditional Japan is experienced as fracture and rupture, it also confirms and feeds a meta-stereotype: Japan is different and – in its difference – cannot be understood by ‘the others’. This perception of the incomprehensible other, the astonishment of difference then is the fuel for numerous newspaper articles, TV shows, documentaries, travel blogs and tourist photography, in which stereotypical images of Japan are constantly reproduced and consumed. And also the Japanese discourse of self-description relies on stereotypical topoi of ‘its own’ in order to communicate a sense of identity towards the inside and – as diplomatic soft power – to disseminate a positive image to the outside.

The project “The Other Japan” asked students who spent one or two terms in Japan (Kanazawa, Kyoto, Kobe, Sapporo…) as part of their exchange program in BA III and MA II to overcome the ‘tourist gaze’ and detect and deconstruct the handed down “place myths”.

Research on orientalism, the construction of national myths, the historical, political and social role of stereotypes is one of the academic interests in the Department of Languages and Cultures. Our research then translates into and is reflected in seminars, in which students are trained to understand the logics of national and cultural identities, cultural nationalism, invented traditions, the conceptuality of “othering” and the gaze of the West. By mapping the semantic and conceptual space of Japan-markers like harmony, homogeneity, nature, tradition vs. modernity, sexuality, family, etc. students are guided not only in the way in which students will perceive Japan, but also in the way in which they individually experience and then photographically capture Japan.

The photographs that will be shown at the Vandenhove Pavillion between 24.8.-11.9.2021 has already be presented in the Ghent’s sister city Kanazawa (Kanazawa University)  in December 2020.




Curators: Marlies Holvoet (UGent, Japanese Studies), Andreas Niehaus (UGent, Japanese Studies), Peter H. Waterschoot (Visual Artist)

With the cooperation of: Geertrui Ivens and Bram Vandeveire (Vandenhove, Production), Jeroen Migneaux (Graphic Design), Raphaël Van den Bergh (Intern, Online platform), Hans Blomme (Online platform) UGent Japanese Studies students and alumni (Photography)

With the support of: VANDENHOVE, City of Ghent, Ghent University Faculty of Arts & Philosophy Internationalisation@Home

The physical exhibition can be visited at VANDENHOVE
When: 24-08-2021 until 11-09-2021
Where: Rozier 1, 9000 Gent
Opening hours:
Thursday: 14.00 – 18.00 p.m.
Friday: 14.00 – 18.00 p.m.
Saturday: 14.00 – 18.00 p.m.