Scenes of Childhood: Exhibiting Childhood as National Imagery

Aurore Yamagata-Montoya

Abstract


Japan, March 2006. After four months of high attendance, the exhibition Nihon no Kodomo: 60 Nen organized by the Japan Professional Photographers Society ends with a huge success. Just six months later, the exhibition was remodeled by the Japan Foundation for what would be a five-year-long world-touring exhibition, under the new name Scenes of Childhood: Sixty Years of Postwar Japan. The tour started in Jordan and toured 20 countries in North and South America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, before closing in Cuba in September 2011. Within its Arts and Cultural Exchanges section, the Japan Foundation has developed a Traveling Exhibitions Program to ‘introduce Japanese arts and culture to overseas’ (Japan Foundation, 2016, n.p.) that runs about twenty exhibitions every year. Scenes of Childhood has been one of the most largely displayed and successful photographic exhibitions of the Japan Foundation in those last five years, following an interest for childhood and youth. I focus on this specific exhibition to analyse how a cultural institution like the Japan Foundation produces and exports a national self-representation using photographs of children. The photographs are exported not only as cultural objects, but also as testimonies of Japanese history and culture. Looking at them helps us consider what self-image Japan sends to the rest of the world. What does the exhibition say about Japan? What place does childhood occupy in the national imagery? I refer to both Western (Higonnet 1998) and Japanese (Jones 2010) models of childhood to consider how childhood is integrated within the national history and imagery. I focus especially on the assumed “innocence” of children to show how a national imagery is created. I argue that Scenes of Childhood promulgates an image of Japan that is that of a harmless, pacific and victim nation.


Keywords


Exhibition; Japanese Childhood; Photography; Japan Foundation; National Identity; Cultural exchanges; National Self-Representation; Postwar Japan

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Mutual Images Journal by Mutual Images Research Association is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.