WEEK 3: Researching Oh Haji’s Korea and Japan

The significance of shadows

Traditional Japanese architecture offers ―the magic of shadows…that formed…a quality of mystery and depth superior to any wall painting or ornament. Miyao’s book contends that this ―aesthetics of shadows (kage no bigaku) had a profound influence on many different Japanese filmmakers and artists in several different periods.

Shadow play is an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment which uses flat articulated shapes to create new figures through placing an object in between a source of light and a screen or surface.

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Traditional and Heritage crafts 

The weaving of silk from silkworm cocoons has been known in China since about 3 500 BCE. Silk that was intricately woven and dyed, showing a well developed craft, has been found in a Chinese tomb dating back to 2 700 BCE. Sericulture and silk weaving spread to Korea by 200 BCE, to Khotan by 50 CE, and to Japan by about 300 CE.

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Historical context of numbers

Koreans like the numbers 3 and 7, in ancient Korea, 3 symbolized person (1 = sky, 2= earth, 1+2=3, Sky + earth = Person). 7 has the meaning of ‘lucky’.

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Koreans dislike the number 4, as the number has the same pronunciation as in Chinese, meaning “to want to die”. Due to protest the number 4 was completely removed and was removed from number plates, in hotels ‘G’ is used instead of 14 for floor numbers, in Korea the number is sometimes replaced by the shape of a star.

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Nature and the imagery of flowers

TThe national flower of Korea is the mugunghwa (무궁화), rose of sharon. Every year from July to October, a profusion of mugunghwa blossoms graces the entire country. Unlike most flowers, the mugunghwa is remarkably tenacious and able to withstand both blight and insects. The flower’s symbolic significance stems from the Korean word mugung, meaning immortality. This word accurately reflects the enduring nature of Korean culture, and the determination and perseverance of the Korean people.

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Colour and Culture

Korean traditional colour symbolism is based upon the five elements and the five basic colours are blue, white, red, black and yellow. Traditionally, blue symbolises creativity, immortality and hope; white symbolises chastity, truth, innocence and death; red symbolises the sun, fire, production, creation, passion and love; black symbolises existence; yellow symbolises light and essence of vitality.

These five colours reflect the traditional principle of yin and yang, male and female, positive and negative and light and dark, symbolic of a harmonious world in the East Asian cosmology. As shown in the figure  below these five colours also correspond to the four points of the compass and the centre (blue- the east, white-the west, red-the south, black-the north, yellow-the centre); the five elements of the weather (cold, warmth, wind, dryness and humidity); and the five blessings (longevity, wealth, success, health and luck).

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Ties to History

August 15, 1945, and the Republic of Korea was established three years later. Every August 15, South Korea commemorates the nation’s liberation from Japanese occupation and the formation of the Republic of Korea. On 22 August 1910, Japan effectively annexed Korea with the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910 signed by Lee Wan-yong, Prime Minister of Korea, and Terauchi Masatake, who became the first Japanese Governor-General of Korea.

The Japanese occupied the Korean peninsula during the Second World War, and it was only on August 15, 1945 that this occupa􏰀on ended. At the end of the Second World War, about half of those Koreans who lived in Japan returned to Korea. Around 600,000 Koreans remained in Japan. At present, there are approximately 590,000 Korean residents in Japan, the second largest ethnic community a􏰂er the Chinese. About 420,000 of them are Zainichi with special permanent residence in Japan, but who are not recognized as naturalized ci􏰀zens of Japan. I am a third genera􏰀on Zainichi born in Japan.


Imagine your Korea 2015, ‘National symbols’, accessed 21 August 2015, http://asiaenglish.visitkorea.or.kr/ena/AK/AK_EN_1_4_1.jsp

UOW TAEM 2015, Wearing Memory, Artist In Residence: Haji Oh, University of Wollongong The Arts, English & Media, TAEM Gallery.

Oh, H 2015, Wearing Memory, Haji Oh, viewed 19th August 2015 <http://hajioh.com/?page_id=138&gt

Shin, M.J & Westland, S & Moore, E.M & Cheung, V 2012, ‘Colour Preferences for Traditional Korean Colours’, in Journal of International Colour Association, vol. 9, pp. 48-59

Oh, H 2011, ‘What Does the Ethnic Costume Represent’, Asia Colloquia Papers, vol. 1, no.3, pp. 1 -12

Hein, L & Jennison, R 2015, ‘Against Forgetting: Three Generations of Artists in Japan in Dialogue about the Legacies of World War 2’, in The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, vol. 2, no.3, pp 1 – 29, accessed 22 August 2015, http://www.japanfocus.org/-Laura-Hein/3573/article.html

Li, L  2007,  “Superstition or Modernity?: On the Invented Tradition of Lucky Mobile Phone Numbers in China,” in Journal of Media and Culture, vol. 10 , no.1, accessed 24 August 2015, http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0703/07-li.php

 Montgoris, M 2014, ‘The Aesthetics of Shadow, Part 1: Japan’, Journal of Communication, vol.2, no.1, pp. 1 – 12


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