Interview with Yoko Haruhara

Expressing the profound charm of Japanese art in English

Covering everything from ukiyoe and pottery to folk crafts

In my course "The World of Japanese Art," you will learn about Japanese art from the Edo period to the present in English. Out of the eight classes, two will take place in the classroom, and the remaining six on-site-in art museums, resource centers, and antique stores. This is because I believe that becoming familiar with the works by taking a look at them in real life and if possible, touching them hands-on, is essential to understanding and enjoying their "beauty."

For example, by actually touching ukiyoe (a genre of Japanese art produced through woodblock prints and paintings popularized in the Edo period), you may be surprised by how thin and light they feel. In the same way, by actually experiencing how to hang, put away, and store hanging scrolls, you will naturally become closer to them. In addition, by listening to the historical and cultural backgrounds of the works and their artists, you will acquire layers of knowledge that are beyond the scope of simple education.

Since the entire course is conducted in English, there may be some of you who feel that your English skills are inadequate. However, there is no need to worry. In this course, you can find students who have only just finished an introductory level English course freely interacting with foreign students discussing topics such as painting and pottery. The subject of "art" makes this possible. Here, there is no language barrier.

The following is a comment from a teacher of tea ceremony: "Thanks to this course, I am now able to confidently teach foreign students." There are some technical terms that are not commonly used, such as "hanging scrolls," "folding screen," and "mounting" which will be taught beforehand, but having fun in this class is more important. Once you are having fun, you will be able to pick up English expressions naturally.

Developing a proper understanding of Japanese art and building the knowledge and skills required to communicate this in English

I am very particular about explaining Japanese art in relation to the social environment and the way people led their lives during that period of time. I believe that by doing so, you will gain an even deeper understanding of the works, which will allow you to focus on the "stories" behind them as well. How did people on the streets live during those times? What is the meaning behind the decorations on the hand guard of a sword? Where did the folk art furniture come from? Let your imagination roam... the possibilities are endless!

Students come from various countries and occupational backgrounds, ranging from business professionals, embassy staff, and art museum guides to housewives. I have noticed that when people of different backgrounds exchange their opinions and thoughts, differences in the way they view artwork become clear, allowing them to expand on their individual interpretations. It is very meaningful for Japanese people to properly understand their country's traditional culture and art, and learn how to describe its characteristics and charms.

In this course, I want to make it easier to learn English while learning about art at the same time. I will continue to value this simplicity.

This article was translated from the original interview that appeared in the September 2018 issue of the English Journal (by ALC PRESS INC.).