Guiding a group of New England art collectors on a trip to old temples in Japan in the mid-1880s, art dealer and historian Okakura Kakuzo spoke about art the way we now speak about historical memory. Memory, like art, is contextual. In fact, all cultural products are products of their time, informed, in different ways, by longer-standing practices, experiences or habits of mind. All historians are interested in contexts, that of the historical event or product they are studying as well as the context in which they work. But the historian of memory is specifically interested in the processes by which these different contexts interact or fuse. Art historians look primarily to the artistic composition of a work of art, in which they recognize old and new themes and techniques as part of the contemporary art world. Cultural historians tend to use visual materials as a contemporary commentary on the social and cultural milieu in which they were produced. Those attentive to the processes of memory find in art a particularly potent medium of remembering, whether through the collecting and exhibiting of selected artworks, the creation of commemorative art specific to an event or experience, or the engagement with visual language to draw connections between otherwise separate moments in time with implications for the future. One might also think of this as layers of memory, which the historian peels

back to understand the composite dynamic of remembering. In the case of Japan, and Asia in general, there is an added layer every Euro-American scholar has to contend with, and nowhere is this more apparent than in dealing with visuals. This is the history of looking at Japan as memory. Our inquiry into Japan’s visual culture of memory is already bounded by a century and a half of visualizing ‘Japan’ by certain motifs and in a certain style, so much so that Japanese artists who paint in Western style are often regarded as not authentically ‘Japanese’. Edward Said termed the creation and recreation of such essentialism ‘Orientalism’.2 As a habit of mind, it remains with us even today. Consider, for example, the authoritative six-volume Cambridge

History of Japan, published around 1990 and covering Japan from prehistory to the twentieth century. Each of the six volumes features the same dust jacket, no matter what time period it covers – a reproduction of an eighteenth-century painting of Ryo-goku Bridge in Edo (today Tokyo). It is as if Japan was frozen in late-feudal society, peopled by women and men in elegant kimono and umbrellas enjoying a leisurely outing against the background of an exotic temple-dotted landscape.3 The uniqueness of Japan is a memory of a bygone era, in essence timeless, unchanging. Of course this image is itself historically constituted and thereby adds a layer of memory with which a historian using Japanese art as source material has to contend. To demonstrate how historians might use visual sources to understand the

place of memory in public culture, I focus on art collections rather than individual works of art. By that I mean art exhibitions at museums and fairs, photo albums that were once commercially available or have now been preserved for public consumption, series of postcards or woodblock prints that were designed as collections and form certain narratives, but also an artist’s body of work insofar as it addresses a particular concern. A collection offers an immediate context for a piece of art. At the same time, it demands a certain space in public culture, where cultural products compete for visibility. Moreover, collections are almost always commemorative, whether a curator puts together an art show as a retrospective, a print-maker retells a series of events to witness and mourn, or a painter pushes against the limits of received memories to prompt new ways of imagining the future. Most importantly, collections remind us that memory is selective, even reductionist, and committed to a particular meaning or purpose to the exclusion of others. A collection hides as much as it reveals in ways more easily recognizable than with a single work of art. These, then, are the three areas of memory work I discuss in this chapter: first,

Japan as memory and myth focuses on the making of memory as national identity by both Americans and Japanese through collecting and exhibiting ‘old Japan’ at three historical moments – world fairs and commercial photo albums in the late nineteenth century, Japanese art exhibits in America and Meiji centennial celebrations in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s, and the webbased project on image-driven scholarship ‘Visualizing Cultures’ of the 2000s. Second, Visualizing counter-memory walks the reader through a book of 53 original Japanese woodcuts published in 1951 that retells the wartime massacre of Chinese forced labourers at a mine in Hanaoka, Japan, as an example of how local custodians of traumatic memory staked out a place of their own on the contemporary political map. Third, Layers of memory uses the life work of the artists Iri and Toshi Maruki, who painted murals of the Hiroshima atomic bombings and other mid-twentieth-century mass atrocities, to reflect on the potential of witness art ‘to push at the limits’ of knowing the past, to prompt an inquiry into what is not remembered, so that it may inspire fresh, ethically responsible action in the future. This is about what it means to let art move the viewer (an outsider to the original event, a belated


witness) to come to new conclusions rather than replicate established memories. In this sense, ‘art does not reflect memory, it anticipates it’.4