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Doctoral Project

The European Perceptions of Japan in 16th and 17th Century Illustrated Travelogues and their Reception in the 18th Century
Eva Zhang (M.A.)

During the 16th century the first Europeans travelled to Japan and returned home with their own ideas, pictures and stories from Japan. Western missionaries, traders and scholars created a multitude of diverse and colourful images of Japan. Through these numerous encounters and the constantly growing flow of information, Europe's perceptions of Japan gradually evolved into a more realistic image of the country. The aim of this study is to analyse and document these European perceptions of Japan particularly in illustrated travelogues which are representative for the perceptual horizon of visitors to Japan during the 16th and 17th century. The selection of sources will be a representative cross-section of the different types of reports, images and other media on Japan. Based on these sources, the interdependence of image and text in travelogues on Japan will be analysed and the findings of the analysis will be incorporated into the examination of the genesis of a visual tradition of illustrations on Asia.
In order to visualise the Japanese as people of a different culture, new iconographic codes had to be invented, old concepts were adapted and stereotypes emerged. What kinds of images (visual and verbal) were received and exchanged between Japan and Europe, how they were modified through this process, and which models of visualising Japan and Asia (i.e., China, India, Siam etc.) were implemented? Concise assumptions about the nature and function of these images will be generated. Furthermore, historical evidence will be critically reviewed on the basis of early modern Japanese sources and contemporary research on Japan. The encounters of and exchanges between Europe and Japan also impact the self-definition of these societies. On the basis of different internal and external perceptions new theses on the depiction of 'otherness' will be generated. In addition, it is intended to show that such projects of publishing travelogues on Japan belong to a complicated network of transcultural exchange. Which processes of selection, communication, imagination and reception had an influence on the depiction of diverse cultures? The traditional perceptions of Asia as ‘the other’ versus Europe as 'the other' shall be replaced by a new concept of cross-cultural dialogue based on the awareness of 'each-other'. The decipherment of illustrated travelogues on Japan are in this way expected to make a contribution to the development of new methods and theories for the study of intercultural exchange and the perception and depiction of different cultures.