Spirits of Old Japan: the Yokainoshima Exhibition in Lyon

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Yokainoshima, Spirits of Japan Exhibition, Confluence Museum, Lyon, France

If there is an exhibition on about Japan – I want to see it.  I have an old, old fascination with the country, and its wonderful culture, and this exhibition at the Confluence Museum promised to be fun.  After all, it was advertised with this lovely photograph:

“Yokainoshima, spirits of Japan” Exhibition, Confluence Museum, Lyon, France

Gee, ain’t they cute?

The photograph is by Charles Fréger, who in 2013 went to Japan to photograph Japan’s ritual masked figures.  He travelled through the more remote inland areas of the country and the islands, documenting the ‘spirit’ traditions that emerged from the harsh landscape.  Festivals and ceremonies which seek to appease or drive out ghosts, monsters, ogres and goblins were the focus of his pictures, and this exhibition had many of these intriguing, and sometimes amusing, images on the walls.  If you’d like to see some of Fréger’s photos for the project, please click through to his own website here: www.charlesfreger.com

The objects on show in the exhibition provided tangible examples of Japanese attitudes towards gods and spirits.  As with most polytheistic religions, the traditional Japanese deities appeared not just in statues to be venerated, but also in more everyday or domestic items, like netsuke or incense holders.  There wasn’t an awful lot on display, but what they had was enjoyable to explore.

In some ways the highlight was the display of costumes used during festivals – basically some of the gear which you see in Fréger’s photographs.  The diversity of masks and outfits was fascinating, and it’s extraordinary how Japanese culture’s kawaii aesthetic even influences their most ghoulish figures.

So In Summary

While the exhibition was quite small, it had enough in it to make for a coherent exploration of the role of ‘spirits’ in Japan.  The use of Fréger’s photos against the real objects was fun, and set the mood for the exhibition very well.  Looking back, I just wish they’d had more on show!

Further Information

In my usual way, I’ve written about an exhibition that’s already finished.  However, if you want to find out more, there is a website with information in English: www.yokainoshima.fr


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