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Japan Now North: Exploring contemporary Japanese culture

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Author David Peace

The second edition of a festival exploring contemporary Japanese culture is taking place in Sheffield between 19 and 25 February.

Japan Now North in a spin-off of the popular Japan Now Festival held annually at the British Library and will look at subjects including urbanism, manga, literature and the country's LGBT+ community.

Sheffield has long been an internationally recognised centre for Japanese studies in the UK.

The programme features an evening of discussions around representations of Japan in literature and visual art at Millennium Gallery, followed by an exhibition opening at Bloc Projects.

All of the artists we've programmed are really pushing at the boundaries of form or identity in some way

"There's a conversation with David Peace who's a Yorkshire-born writer," Dr Mark Pendleton, lecturer in Japanese Studies at the University of Sheffield, told Now Then. "He's been based in Tokyo for 25 years and he's in the middle of a trilogy of detective novels set in post-war Japan. His most recent, Patient X, explores early twentieth-century Japanese history through a very prominent writer called Ryūnosuke Akutagawa."

"After that there's a round table discussion with several of the artists who are in the group show," he continued. "The most prominent is a woman called Yurie Nagashima. She became well known in the 1990s and won several photographic awards in Japan."

"Then there's Rie Iwatake, who often works with her partner. They do interesting animated works based on traditions of Shunga, which are the erotic wood block prints from the nineteenth-century," said Pendleton. "All of the artists we've programmed are really pushing at the boundaries of form or identity in some way."

As well as the visual arts, the festival celebrates the enormous influence that Japanese popular culture has had in the UK.

"Increasingly a lot of our student base are coming to an interest in Japan through manga and anime," said Pendleton.

"This year we've got Jocelyne Allen, who's one of the most significant translators of Japanese popular culture into English. She's published a whole range of translations of major manga series, including Naruto, Non Non Biyori and also printed works by Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki."

Japan has in many ways since the late nineteenth-century been the perfect other

The festival also features Of Love and Law, a film presented in collaboration with Sheffield Doc/Fest and the Japan Foundation Touring Programme which "follows a civil rights law firm that's run by an openly gay couple," followed by a Q&A with director Hikaru Toda.

"Japan has in many ways since the late nineteenth-century been the 'perfect other'," Pendleton said. "It's seen as weird and wonderful but accessible at the same time."

"Through Japan Now North, we're aiming to deepen people's understanding of Japan beyond those stereotypes."

Sam Gregory

Japan Now North takes place at venues across Sheffield from 19 to 25 February. Full programme and tickets.

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A detail from an image by Rie Iwatake, featured in the exhibition Out of Bounds

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