As viewers of Samurai Champloo know, there is a long tradition of Japanese influence on Western art. Of course, if you did indeed learn this tidbit from watching anime, it is clear proof that someone forgot to pay attention during art history class. Then again, if you’re watching anime, you’re following in the footsteps of luminaries such as Vincent Van Gogh.
British artist Grayson Perry is spending time in the Japanese city of Kanazawa, preparing for an exhibition. She learns the hard way that working through a translator is not necessarily the best avenue for British humor:
On my first day there I met the head of the art college, the director of the museum and the mayor. Each meeting was a little ceremonial; we exchanged business cards, drank green tea and chatted, watched over by a dozen or so attendants and local media. Like most people I met in Kanazawa they were warm and gentle and liked a joke. I would use the translator as a kind of buffer and would try out a quip on her, on which she might choke with laughter, sometimes I thought she used diplomacy in the translation. I would then wait for what seemed an age for my host’s chuckle while she relayed my casual banter. I had to be satisfied with about a 30 per cent joke-to-laugh ratio.
While exploring the parallels between her world and Kanazawa, Perry found herself intrigued by the general orderliness of her temporary world, comparing it to England:
I think of all the rules that hold this society together. In the UK we seem to need more and more laws to control the anarchic individualism for which we pride ourselves â€” many of us have lost a natural sense of what is decent behaviour. In Japan in ten days I never saw one policeman. I guess their laws are internal, every citizen carrying quite a burden of shoulds and shouldn’ts.
Perry found herself seeking the darkness in the heart of the Japanese culture. Typical artist — always looking for the dark cloud in front of the silver lining. It’s there. No society is perfect. Of course, as she searches, she also takes a potshot at the Western artists who fell for one of the world’s oldest tricks:
The Impressionists and post-Impressionists fell for cheap woodblock prints which were used as wrapping paper for cargoes of porcelain.