Supernatural Japan: Ghosts, Monsters, and Folk Spirits with Dr. Rafael Balboa - Context Travel

Supernatural Japan: Ghosts, Monsters, and Folk Spirits with Dr. Rafael Balboa


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Monsters, ghosts, and supernatural spirits are a fascinating aspect of Japanese folk and contemporary culture. We’ll explore representations in art and literature and also understand how the afterlife shapes modern Japanese life.

From traditional to contemporary culture, Japan has a deep fascination for the eerie and the supernatural. American writer Lafcadio Hearn collected and documented extensively some of these ghost stories when he arrived on the archipelago at the end of the nineteenth century. Certainly, monsters, ghosts, and supernatural spirits precede his accounts and are well embedded in Japanese folk culture, and depiction and representation of the creatures of the afterlife can be traced back in traditional ukiyo-e (woodblock) prints, scrolls, manga, and oral culture.

Starting in the 1980s Japan has experienced a renaissance of the ghostly in contemporary culture, and figures such as Japanese philosopher Inoue Enryō contributed during the Meiji Period to reposition yōkai studies in a more scholarly context. In this seminar, we will immerse ourselves in this occult universe, becoming familiar and learning more about the concepts of yōkai, yūrei, and bakemono, and the folk characters associated with them. Then, we will elaborate on the inventiveness and plurality of these characters and their stories, along with their assimilation into traditional and contemporary culture.

Led by an expert on Japanese culture and aesthetics, Rafael Balboa, this interactive seminar will explore ghost stories and supernatural spirits in Japanese art and literature. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of how Japanese fascination with the spirit world impacts contemporary culture.

Rafael Balboa, Architect, Ph.D. is currently a correspondent for the Italian architecture magazine Domus based in Japan and has lived in Tokyo for over 13 years. He received his Master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo under the guidance of Prof. Kengo Kuma. He is currently a Senior Guest Researcher at The University of Tokyo (Kuma Kengo Laboratory) and a guest researcher at Keio University, and a visiting lecturer in other architecture institutions in Japan and abroad. Member of the JIA (Japan Institute of Architects), he co-founded and runs his architecture and urban design practice STUDIO WASABI since 2013. From 2017 he became Director of Casa Nano, an art residency in Tokyo part of Casa Wabi Foundation in Mexico. An avid toy collector, he has a keen interest in the ludic-cultural aspects between people and their cities.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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