In this Book
Allegories of Time and Space explores efforts by leading photographers, artists, architects, and commercial designers to re-envision Japanese cultural identity during the turbulent years between the Asia Pacific War and the bursting of the economic bubble in the 1990s. This search for a cultural home was a matter of broad public concern, and each of the artists under consideration engaged a wide audience through mass media. The artists had in common the necessity to establish distance from their immediate surroundings temporally or geographically in order to gain some perspective on Japan’s rapidly changing society. They shared what Jonathan Reynolds calls an allegorical vision, a capacity to make time and space malleable, to see the present in the past and to find an irreducible cultural center at Japan’s geographical periphery.
The book begins with an examination of the work of Hamaya Hiroshi, whose images of village life expressed a nostalgia for the rural past widely shared by urban Japanese. Reynolds identifies a similar strategy in photographer Tōmatsu Shōmei’s search for an authentic Japan. The self-styled iconoclast Okamoto Tarō emphatically rejected the delicate refinement conventionally associated with Japanese art in favor of the dynamic aesthetics he saw expressed on prehistoric Jōmon-period ceramics; architect Tange Kenzō likewise embraced Japan’s ancient past in his work. As a point of comparison, Reynolds looks at the Shintō shrine complex at Ise as portrayed in a volume produced with photographer Watanabe Yoshio. He shows how this landmark book re-presented the shrine architecture as design consistent with rigorous modernist aesthetics. In the advertising posters of Ishioka Eiko and the ephemeral “nomadic” architecture of Itō Toyoo from the 1970s and 1980s, Reynolds reveals the threads linking urban nomad fantasies with earlier efforts to situate contemporary Japanese cultural identity in time and space.
In its fresh and nuanced re-reading of the multiplicities of Japanese tradition during a tumultuous and transformative period, Allegories of Time and Space offers a compelling argument that the work of these artists enhanced efforts to redefine tradition in contemporary terms and, by doing so, promoted a future that would be both modern and uniquely Japanese.