Ghosts and Goblins in Early Modern Japan (Public Lecture, 10th November)

Join Roisina Buckland, senior curator at the National Museum of Scotland, as she takes us back into eighteenth and nineteenth-century Japanese society, where ghosts were an important part of religion, folklore, and visual and literary culture. This third lecture in the Institute of Advanced Study’s Evidence of Spirits series is on Tuesday 10th November, at 18.15, in Elvet Riverside 140. Everyone welcome.

Supernatural creatures were inextricably woven into early modern Japanese society. Their forms ranged from benevolent manifestations of sacred beings, through humorous goblins, to malevolent shape-shifters and ghosts. These themes were a mainstay of popular visual culture, theatrical productions and literature, and while the various creatures often provided entertainment, they also served to remind people of the importance of religious and folkloric beliefs. Some forms were imported from China, as part of the larger framework of classical civilization and learning, but other were native to Japan, emerging from particular topographies and practices. These supernatural beings can provide us with insight into the way Japanese people of the time understood the world around them, as well as that which lay beyond the knowable world. The lecture will present examples from the visual tradition, in woodblock prints, paintings, masks, and personal ornaments, exploring both the anthropological meanings and the artistic interpretations to be found in this rich cultural sphere.

This series of lectures forms part of the Institute of Advanced Study’s year on the theme of ‘evidence.’ Future lectures will look at topics ranging from the ghost stories of Charles Dickens to John Keats’s shadows. Full listings can be found at the Institute of Advanced Study. Other lectures from the series are available to listen to now.


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