Douglas Slaymaker - Associate Professor of Japanese and Director of Japan Studies Program, University of Kentucky
We know about the “lost generation” and the central role that Paris played in Anglo-American cultural production; we know much less about the role that Paris occupied in the Japanese imagination. Japanese artists travelled to Paris in the 1920s for the same reasons as others: it was the most exciting city in the world, it was a refuge from a constricting society at home, and it was the city for art. I will compare the imagery produced by painter Fujita Tsuguharu (1886-1968) and that of poet and painter Kaneko Mitsuharu (1895-1975), whose Paris years overlap.
Fujita was one of the most widely recognized artists in 1920s Paris, fully integrated as a Parisian artist. While the color and tone of many paintings reflect the exuberant Paris he is so closely associated with, the images are contravened by the solitary loneliness one finds in his self-portraits, many of which have him surrounded by markers of Japaneseness. Kaneko reproduced the seedy Paris he knew as an outsider without proper papers. Fujita incarnated one of the most insistent Japanese images of Paris, the Paris of Flowers; Kaneko, meanwhile, paints Paris as a city of cadaver flowers, a decaying and putrid beauty. Furthermore, in contrast to many of his more cosmopolitan-appearing countrymen, it is Kaneko who offers neither “Japan” nor “France” as the nostalgic village of origins, the repository of cultural feelings, the touchstone for identity. These two provide important understandings of the Japanese expatriate experience in the early twentieth century.