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The ARC-iJAC project Ukiyo-e, illustrated books, albums and painted books in Madrid Collections emerged as an initiative of Asia Research Group (GIA), attached to the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain, which has been collaborating with the Art Research Center (ARC) for about two years and thanks to which significant progress has been made in the analysis and cataloging of ukiyo-e albums and books that are part of the collections of the Complutense University Library and that have remained almost unknown and, in some cases, in a poor state of preservation.
Involved in this project have been the professors Pilar Cabañas, Matilde Arias, Aitana Merino, and Ana Trujillo with the new incorporation of the researcher Alba Finol.

Click here for the Japanese collection of the UCM:
→ARC Ukiyo-e Portal Database
→ARC Early Japanese Books Portal Database

Could you please tell us about your motivation and the purpose of conducting the ARC-iJAC research project on the ukiyo-e, illustrated books, and albums in Madrid collections?


What encouraged us to initiate this project was to give value to the collections of the Complutense Library. Due to a lack of resources, these books and ukiyo-e had remained uncatalogued in the university's collections.

This project has enabled us to study them in-depth and make them known, not only in the Spanish context as part of the heritage of our institution, but also internationally, since the ARC database is a platform of great diffusion for specialists in Japanese art from all over the world. We are delighted with this possibility. Moreover, thanks to this collaboration, being in a space of great specialists, we can compare our knowledge and expand it.

What is distinctive about the Madrid collections?

In Madrid, there are no large collections of Japanese art or a historical tradition of its study. In the absence of major collectors, this material is a unique example within the panorama of Spanish collecting. Through these pieces, we can study the motivations and interests of the Spanish artistic market of the time, determined by its particular historical context, both economic and cultural.

Although they are not numerous, they are interesting examples of costumes, kabuki plays, and other themes that make us wonder about how they were perceived at the time in the Spanish context. Given the importance of their authors, they also represent a re-evaluation of the heritage of Japanese art in Spain.

How has the ARC-iJAC supported you in realizing this project and which research objectives have you been able to achieve?


The collaboration with the ARC-iJAC has been fundamental in the work of cataloging these works, solving our doubts whenever we have had them, especially in the transcription of texts and in the cataloging of themes and artists, as well as in certain specificities related to the art history of Japanese antique books and ukiyo-e.

You have recently launched an online exhibition on shini-e. Can you tell us more about it?

The virtual exhibition of SHINI-E, hosted on the website of the Complutense Library of Madrid, was an initiative on our part to publicize our project. We decided to focus on a specific aspect of the collection that would be attractive to users, and it seemed to us that the shini-e genre was little known to the general public.

The preparation of this exhibition involved presenting the public with specific information, not only about shini-e but also about more general aspects related to shini-e. Some of the merits achieved have been the opportunity to study specific aspects of each print - not only technical data collected in the print;something that already appears in the ARC database -but also information about the characters depicted.The transcription of the texts that appear in the images is perhaps the most valuable information obtained through this process. This allowed us to translate them into Spanish, including linguistic decisions that we understand will be useful for future students and researchers of the collection.

Likewise, the presentation is made in a way intended to be clear, and useful, even for those uninitiated in the Japanese language. Another specific aspect is that each image shown is accompanied by a link that directs the user to the ARC database to access detailed information that appears in neither the interface of the Complutense Library collection nor in the virtual exhibition. In these cards, we have tried to include texts in English to facilitate communication with those users who are not familiar with either the Japanese or Spanish languages, although these are isolated cases and not the entire collection.


How do you feel about the execution of the ARC-iJAC project? Have you come across any particular challenges?

Thanks to the implementation of this project, detailed cataloging of part of the library's holdings has been carried out. This research has led to new discoveries within the collection itself, such as the existence of poems, characters, and kabuki plays not yet studied in the Spanish scene. It has also meant a clear dissemination of information that has generated interest among the general public and students of Japanese art. All this makes clear the importance of the ARC database as a working tool for researchers who want to specialize in Japanese prints.

As for the challenges, although the albums were already digitized, when we checked the original material we could see that some of the albums were in a poor state of conservation, discolored, and out of order. The lack of institutional funds for the project also contributed to the limitations in achieving and meeting deadlines.

How did you first connect with the Art Research Center (ARC) at Ritsumeikan University? How did you hear about the International Joint Digital Archiving Center for Japanese Art and Culture (ARC-iJAC)?

It was through the collaboration scholarships offered on their web page. It seemed like just what we were looking for. In addition, the database is also well-known among specialists in Japanese art in Spain, so we were delighted to have been able to collaborate with the ARC-iJAC.


In our experience, collaboration with Japanese institutions has always been great. We have always learned a lot from them, and this was no exception.

Is there anything else you would like to comment on or highlight, for example, regarding the direction of future collaboration?

It is an honor for us to be part of this immense project, considering our small contribution. We are excited and look forward to moving forward in the future.

Activities carried out as a result of the collaboration with the ARC-iJAC during FY 2023:

- Virtual exhibition of SHINI-E, hosted on the website of the Complutense Library of Madrid, was an initiative on our part to publicize our project. Focused on the shini-e genre. (

- Complu-Asia Seminar: Museums in Asia. With two lectures on: digital archives // our collaboration with the ARC-iJAC (

- Revista de museología: Spanish publication with upcoming issue dedicated to Japanese art collections and museums both in Japan and internationally, again paying special attention to the digital humanities (

- International Joint Digital Archiving Center for Japanese Art and Culture (ARC-iJAC) & "Digital Humanities Center for Japanese Arts and Cultures"-Project, Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University FY2023 Annual Report Meeting: "Ukiyo-e, illustrated books, albums and painted books in Madrid Collections" conference (Aitana Merino)

Prof. Ruck Thawonmas, a research member of the Art Research Center (ARC), received his B.Eng. degree in electrical engineering from Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, in 1987, an M.Eng. degree in information science from Ibaraki University in 1990, and a Ph.D. degree in information engineering from Tohoku University in 1994.
He is a Full Professor at the College of Information Science and Engineering, Ritsumeikan University, where he leads the Intelligent Computer Entertainment Laboratory (ICE Lab).

Prof. Thawonmas, thank you very much for your time today. Can you tell us how you joined Ritsumeikan University and the Art Research Center (ARC)?

ruck_1.jpgProf. Thawonmas: After I finished my Ph.D. at Tohoku University, I worked at several places in Japan. One day, I saw an interview with a non-Japanese professor at Ritsumeikan University. Seeing that the interviewee was a full professor doing well despite being non-Japanese in an international atmosphere environment encouraged me to join the university.

I joined Ritsumeikan University in 2002 when the university was planning to establish my current college--the College of Information Science and Engineering (CISE).

While my early research focused on data mining, upon joining Ritsumeikan, I decided to slightly change my research area to set myself apart from other professors. I started to look into entertainment computing and computer games, which were not yet well-recognized research areas at that time, either domestically or internationally.

From the beginning of my tenure at Ritsumeikan, I became involved in the ARC's research activities, including the application and subsequent execution of the 21st Century COE (Center for Excellence) Program of the Ministry of Education (MEXT) "Kyoto Art Entertainment Innovation Research." Guess who added the term entertainment there!

As the Head of the Intelligent Computer Entertainment Laboratory (ICE Lab), you have been engaged in research on game AI and intelligent techniques for increasing the entertainment value of computer games. Could you give us some examples of how digital resources of the ARC have been utilized in your research projects?

Prof. Thawonmas: As part of our effort to promote Japanese culture through games, ukiyo-e prints from the ARC Ukiyo-e Portal Database have been incorporated as background images in various projects on game AI.

Read more>>

Related article → The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) Collection of Ukiyo-e Prints and Japanese Old Books has been released

Related databases → Royal Ontario Museum Ukiyo-e Database / Royal Ontario Museum Japanese Old Books Database

Dr. Akiko Takesue joined the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in 2021 as the Bishop White Committee Associate Curator of Japanese Art & Culture, an endowed position, and is in charge of researching and developing the ROM's collection of Japanese art and culture that comprises approximately 10,000 objects.
Dr. Takesue holds a doctorate in Art History from York University and Master's degrees from the University of Toronto and the University of New South Wales. In addition to the ROM, she has broad curatorial experience at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

Dr Takesue, thank you very much for your time today. What sparked your interest in Japanese art history?

ROM2021_18174_57_3.jpgTakesue: It is a long story since I left Japan almost 25 years ago. When I was younger and living in Japan, I was more interested in Western than Japanese art. Hence, I went to Sydney, Australia, to study art. At that time, I had the idea to work in an art gallery dealing with Western contemporary art.

Then, while I was doing an internship at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney under a Japanese curator, I discovered the beauty and excitement of studying and dealing with Japanese art. Interestingly, I realized the Japanese art collection there was different from what I thought of Japanese art, which was sort of a trigger for me to research the global circulation of Japanese art since the Meiji period.

As the Japanese collections overseas consist of many export arts, i.e., made in Japan but only for the Western market, I discovered many things I never knew about when I was in Japan. So, I became fascinated with the fact that Japanese art in Sydney was indeed different from my understanding of Japanese art. This interest continues even now.

I also investigated in my PhD dissertation how objects stay the same while their meanings shift from time to time, place to place.

How did you first connect with the Art Research Center (ARC)?

Takesue: It was through my predecessor, Dr. Rosina Buckland, who is now at the British Museum. In 2020, she started the digitization project of the ROM's Japanese art collection with Prof. Akama whom I met when he and his team was taking photographs of the collection. So, after Dr. Buckland left in 2021, I continued to complete this project, and I feel fortunate and grateful that she started it.

Comprising approximately 10,000 objects, the Japanese art collection of the ROM is the largest of its kind in Canada. Considered to be particularly comprehensive is the ukiyo-e print collection. What do you find fascinating about it and why?

Takesue: Over 2,000 ukiyo-e prints and surimono of Sir Byron Edmund Walker, one of the founders and the first chairman of the ROM, were bequested to the ROM in 1926, which became the core of our entire Japanese print collection.


The ROM already had some woodblock prints since 1916, but at that time, no one knew much about Japanese art at the museum. With the Walker Collection and the earlier prints, our print collection expanded, comprising over 4,000 prints today.

Furthermore, there is a variety in the genres of the prints. The ROM's collection consists of actor prints, prints of beautiful women, landscape prints, including those of Hokusai and Hiroshige, as well as prints from the Meiji period and war prints. So not only the sheer number of prints but the range of subjects make our collection quite valuable and unique.

For example, we have an almost complete set of Hiroshige's Meisho Edo Hyakkei (One Hundred Famous Views of Edo). It may not be well-known, but our set is almost like a 'first edition'. 'First edition' may be a tricky term, but our set is in a very good condition, and you can see the highly skilled printing techniques used. While everyone knows about the first edition at the Brooklyn Museum, hardly anybody knows about our set.

When I recently went to the Brooklyn Museum, I compared their set with printouts of some of our prints with the curator there, and we realized that both of our sets are almost identical. So, I was glad I could confirm that our set is also a high-quality series.

You also have a rare collection of Ogata Gekko prints. What are your thoughts on this collection?

Takesue: This collection is very unique, too. Although Gekko was quite well-known in his lifetime in the Meiji period and produced many prints, paintings, and book illustrations, he became somewhat of a forgotten artist.

A Toronto-based collector and former law librarian of York University, Balfour Halévy, accumulated over 600 of Gekko's works and donated the whole collection to the ROM in 2016. According to him, another extensive collection of Gekko prints exists in New Zealand. Since these two collections seem to be the only comprehensive collections dedicated to Gekko outside of Japan, we are very fortunate to have one of them at the ROM.

In June this year, 4,233 ukiyo-e prints and 74 old Japanese books from the ROM's collection were released in the ARC portal database. What is the significance of this database?

Takesue: The contents and quality of our print collection are good, however, not many people, including researchers, seem to be aware that we have such a comprehensive collection of prints. So, we are grateful for this ARC digitization project to make our collection available to researchers and the public for their studies, research, and pleasure. Otherwise, those prints remain just hidden in our storage. Except for a few notable research efforts, the whole collection has not been studied extensively.

Our goal is that many scholars and researchers will take note of the prints in the ROM's collection so we can contribute to the development of ukiyo-e research. The release of our collection marks a significant starting point.

What are your thoughts on the importance of digitization for museums, and how does it play a part in your plans at the ROM?

Takesue: Digitization of the collection is crucial to provide the public access to what we have. The ROM is a huge museum with 13 million objects in total in its collections. So, I believe that anyone can find at least one favorite object.

We try to exhibit as many in the museum as possible, but space is limited. Only less than 5% of our collection is publicly displayed. The rest is in our storage, with many objects never being on public view.

While, as a museum curator, I believe in the power of objects when you see them with your eyes, if a collection is available online, people have another way to enjoy the collection. Availability and accessibility are crucial particularly since we have no permanent Japanese gallery at the ROM right now.


I have recently completed an online exhibition on catfish prints. COVID has, in a way, accelerated the development of virtual channels. Digitization has become essential to showcase the Japanese collection at the ROM.

Finally, could you share a few of your personal favorites within the ROM's ukiyo-e print collection?

Takesue: I like ukiyo-e prints with some layers of meaning behind them, for instance, parodies (mitate-e) or complex ideas, which I realized when I did the online exhibition on the catfish prints. They are not just funny prints but encompass emotions and thoughts of people about society at that time. This is why I am fascinated with this kind of print.

Hiroshige's Meisho Edo Hyakkei (One Hundred Famous Views of Edo) is also one of my favorites, mainly because of its composition. Hiroshige uses very striking, innovative perspectives of having something huge at the front with other elements kept smaller at the back, which, at that time, was quite innovative and a reason why Western artists, including Impressionist artists were so fascinated with the Japanese prints.

Images credit: Courtesy of ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), Toronto, Canada. ©ROM

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li)

Related article → The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) Collection of Ukiyo-e Prints and Japanese Old Books has been released

Related databases → Royal Ontario Museum Ukiyo-e Database / Royal Ontario Museum Japanese Old Books Database

Masami Yamada, leader of the ARC-iJAC project Re-thinking Japonisme: Digitization of the V&A's collection of Japanese illustrated books and researching its formation in the late 19th century, is a Curator in the Victoria and Albert Museum's Asia Department. She has particular responsibility for the collections of Japanese lacquerware, netsuke, ukiyo-e woodblock prints and contemporary craft. Her current area of research is contemporary craft, particularly the work of urushi lacquer artists. In 2022, she received the inaugural Sir Nicholas Goodison Award for Contemporary Craft from the Art Fund to further develop the Museum's internationally renowned Japanese lacquer collection.

Thank you very much for your time today. How did you first connect with the Art Research Center (ARC) or hear about the International Joint Digital Archiving Center for Japanese Art and Culture (ARC-iJAC)?


Yamada: The V&A was the first museum where Professor Ryо̄ Akama from the ARC conducted the digitization of a Japanese art collection in Europe 20 years ago. In this first phase of the partnership project, every single artwork from the Museum's extensive collection of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, numbering over 25,000 in total, was photographed. These images were subsequently uploaded onto the Museum's publicly accessible collection database, Explore the Collections. It was a remarkable achievement in the early 2000s when the digital presence of museums was fairly limited.

Soon after I joined the V&A in 2018, I had a chance to meet with Professor Akama and Dr. Ryо̄ko Matsuba, Lecturer in Digital Japanese Arts and Humanities at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC), in London to discuss the possibility of initiating the second phase of the digitization project. The collections of ukiyo-e prints and illustrated books remain largely uncatalogued and without photographs in the case of the book collection. We agreed that there was much scope to improve the visibility and accessibility of these important collections. So, a collaborative project with the ARC was something I planned to initiate from the very beginning of my time at the V&A.

Could you please tell us the motivation and significance for your ARC-iJAC research project Re-thinking Japonisme: Digitization of the V&A's collection of Japanese ukiyo-e prints and illustrated books and researching its formation in the late 19th century?

Yamada: The current research project, launched in 2022, is expected to take at least a few years to complete considering the volume of the target areas. The prime objective is to systematically digitize the ukiyo-e woodblock prints and illustrated books in the V&A collection to provide a more comprehensive overview.

digitization_v&a.jpgTo date, three publications in English and two in Japanese on the ukiyo-e collection have been released between the 1980s and late 2000s. The 170 selected works traveled to Tokyo in 2007 for a special exhibition, Masterpieces of Ukiyo-e from the Victoria and Albert Museum, held at the Ōta Memorial Museum of Art in Tokyo, contributing to the collection's recognition in Japan. However, the selection of prints for these previous publications and the exhibition tended to focus on the most iconic prints of the ukiyo-e genre. The number of prints we can display in our permanent gallery of Japanese art is limited to no more than 15 at a time. I am excited to make thousands of prints that have never been displayed or published before accessible online through this project.

The presence of the illustrated book collection, on the other hand, remains largely unknown despite its incredibly rich contents. There is only one publication on the collection compiled by Leonard G. Dawes in 1972. It introduced just a small selection of the most important titles, and there is currently no other publicly available resource to explore over 700 titles in the collection in full.

Our immediate focus is on the large group of Japanese prints and books acquired in 1886. The Museum purchased over 12,000 prints and 300 books as a single lot from a London-based art dealer, S. M. Franck, at the height of the European craze for all things Japanese. Analyzing print and book genres offered in this bulk acquisition would ultimately contribute to creating a new understanding of the Japanese art market in London in the late 19th century.

What do you hope to achieve with this joint research project?

workshop_v&a.jpgYamada: I hope this collaborative project will further reinforce our existing partnership with the ARC and SISJAC. The V&A could not initiate this exciting new phase of the digitization project without their expertise and support.

We are currently working together to make the ARC databases of the V&A's print and book collections publicly accessible. By interlinking the V&A's collection database in English with these specialist databases in Japanese, we will not only improve the accessibility of our collections for Japanese-speaking specialists and general audience, but also create opportunities for international specialists and audiences to discover the ARC's dedication and excellence in the field of Digital Humanities.

As part of the project, Dr. Matsuba from SISJAC regularly organizes hands-on digitizing workshops in the V&A, inviting young researchers and students. Spending one to two weeks, these workshops are designed to photograph the book collection for the above-mentioned databases. Every single book is being photographed from cover to cover, ensuring that new photographs meet today's publication standards. So far, seven university students and one researcher have taken part and learned best practices for digitizing museum collections. Offering learning opportunities for the next generation of researchers is another important goal for me.

v&a.jpgCould you give us an insight into your current role as curator at the V&A and what do you find particularly fascinating about the Japanese Collection of the Museum?

Yamada: I am one of the three curators responsible for the Japanese art collections at the V&A. We hold over 48,000 objects in the Japanese art collections. Our permanent gallery, the Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art, celebrates the extraordinary craftsmanship and artistic creativity of Japan from the sixth century to the present day through displays of swords and armor, lacquer, ceramics, cloisonné enamels, textiles and dress, inrō and netsuke, paintings, prints, and illustrated books, as well as contemporary craft, product design, fashion, and electronics.

While making our existing collections as widely accessible as possible through exhibitions, displays, research papers, lectures, and digitization is at the heart of our daily routine, the V&A is also committed to supporting and promoting new creative practices, acting as a resource and platform for contemporary artists, designers, and performers. As a Japanese national who has lived in Europe for many years, it is my passion to support contemporary Japanese practitioners and create opportunities to introduce their artistic creativity on the world stage.


Our audience is diverse, not just in terms of nationalities, but also of age range. Young V&A (formerly the V&A Museum of Childhood) opened its doors to the public at the beginning of July 2023. This historic museum in East London has been entirely redesigned and is now reborn as a new museum where children, young people, and families can imagine, play and design. Its inaugural special exhibition will be all about Japan, Japan: Myths to Manga, and will open in October 2023. The exhibition has been collaboratively curated by Katy Canales, Young V&A Curator, with us in the Japan section of the V&A's Asia Department.

The ARC places great emphasis on fostering young researchers--the next generation of digital archiving experts. So, last but not least, based on your experience of studying and working in the UK, what would be your advice to students wishing to go abroad or join an international research project but worry about language barriers and other challenges?

Yamada: Studying and working abroad was the best thing I did in my early 20s. I highly recommend any early career researcher in Japan to go abroad or join an international research project if any opportunity arises. Although it has become easy to connect with international researchers virtually, meeting and working with them in person is an entirely different, far more powerful experience. Living in another country far from home is always challenging, but often life-changing and rewarding. It is exciting to exchange ideas with researchers from culturally diverse backgrounds who might have a completely different perspective on your research topic.

In terms of language barriers, I strongly believe the proverb, 'What one likes, one will do best.' If you are passionate about your research field, the most important thing is the contents of your research, and English is just a tool to communicate it. I went to a public school in Japan and could not speak English until I enrolled at the International Christian University in Tokyo, renowned for its fully bilingual education. So, my English was by no means perfect when I lived in London for the first time as a student, but I had learned that my Japanese heritage and language skill are unique assets that contribute to research projects in an international context.

Images credit line: Ⓒ Victoria and Albert Museum, London

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li)

Supported by the ARC-iJAC, the research led by Dr. Ewa Machotka and Dr. John Pavlopoulos (Stockholm University) has pursued the large-scale digital geospatial exploration of places depicted in Japanese early modern ukiyo-e landscape prints through Natural Language Processing (FY 2021). Their follow-up project aims to apply NLP technology to inscriptions on ukiyo-e landscape prints to facilitate a large-scale exploration of textual information featured in those prints (FY 2023).

Project leader: Dr. Ewa Machotka (Dept. of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Stockholm University)
Project manager: Dr. John Pavlopoulos (Dept. of Computer and Systems Sciences, Stockholm University)
Project members: Konstantina Liagkou, Panagiotis Papapetrou, Marita Chatzipanagiotou

Thank you very much for your time today. Could you please tell us the motivation for your ARC-iJAC research project Natural Language Processing for a Geospatial Exploration of Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints?

Unknown-2.pngMachotka: The last several decades saw the rise of interest in the concept of Global Art History, understood as a heterogenous transnational and critical study of the world's cultural production. One of the challenges of this new research direction is the question of how to acknowledge the conceptual and material heterogeneity of artistic production across the world in a way that does not support a universalist understanding of cultures. This concern prompted our research. We saw that Japanese early modern landscape prints, as globally recognizable non-Western pre-modern artifacts, offer a critical testbed for considering these issues.

We know that these prints are often defined today as fūkei-ga, or landscapes. However, we should not forget that the notion of fūkei is a modern cultural translation entangled with the ideology of modernization and colonial power. Originally these images were largely defined as meisho-e or 'images of famous places', and they are rooted in poetic rhetorical figures that tie seasonal images with either actual or imagined places. So, to understand meisho-e prints and their social function at the time of their production, we have to understand what places were depicted (i.e. considered culturally significant) and how these geographical locations were represented and mediated by the prints. We wanted to identify a general pattern in this mediation, which can be done easier at a large scale instead of at the level of individual prints.

Considering the richness of the corpus that includes thousands of objects, we thought that recent advances in Natural Language Processing (NLP) could effectively help us to take the first step in this study, namely the geolocation of places depicted in prints, and identification of their distribution across time and space. Our exploratory mixed-method analysis has so far delivered promising results. We developed a novel application of NLP for the Digital Humanities that demonstrates the transformative potential of AI for the study of Japanese early modern prints and Art History at large.

How have the ARC-iJAC resources supported you in realizing this project?

ishiyamadera_1.pngLiagkou: To put it plainly, our research would not be possible without the Ukiyo-e Portal Database being developed by and hosted at the Art Research Center at Ritsumeikan University. First, the Portal Database offered us access to print collections kept in different museums around the world. If this feature sounds trivial, please note that not all museums freely share their collections online with the public.

Second, the ARC Ukiyo-e Portal Database offers access to an extremely rich corpus. When we started our research, the Portal Database hosted 678,429 prints kept at 28 institutions in Japan and abroad, and it is continuously growing. Hence, it offers access to a very large corpus of ukiyo-e prints facilitating 'distant viewing' or a macro analysis of the prints, thus also enabling a diversity of analytic tasks.

Third, the Portal Database features not only high-quality visual data itself (delivered in a standardized protocol) but also rich and high-quality metadata facilitating different kinds of explorations and analyses. In the context of our project, we especially appreciated image-content-related transcription of inscriptions on prints which often mention names of the places depicted in the prints. We identified these mentions with NLP, geotagged them, and then visualized them on a map.

As part of your research project, you developed an online application called Ukiyo-e Distant Viewer. Could you briefly explain its merits/ purpose?

Pavlopoulos: The Ukiyo-e Distant Viewer aims to facilitate the geolocation and visualization of recognized place-name entities found in ukiyo-e prints, enabling users to identify culturally significant places and explore their spatial distribution. This analysis covers thousands of images across Japan and provides a large-scale perspective on early modern landscape imagination.

It is important to note that our focus is not on individual prints or print series, but rather on identifying trends and changes across time.Ultimately, this tool will enable us to trace the chronological development of this imagination and gain insights into its cultural and historical significance.

Unknown-3.pngHow do you feel about the execution of the project? Have you come across any particular challenges?

Liagkou: Our exploratory mixed-method analysis has so far been successful. First, by employing the NLP approaches such as transfer-learning and Named Entity Recognition (NER) and applying our fine-tuned recognition model on a large dataset of prints, we provided a use-case of how a macroanalysis of a visual dataset can be undertaken in art historical research of Japanese visual culture.

Machotka: We also identified a number of methodological challenges. As we know, the field of Spatial Art History--combining Geographical Information Systems (GIS), NLP, and Corpus Linguistics--has advanced in the past few years. However, although these tools perform well on modern datasets, it is not the same for historical materials.

We can encounter several problems, such as OCR errors, difficulties related to place reference identification, and place reference disambiguation (related to language changes over time), among others. The situation is even more complicated in the case of mapping meisho-e prints due to the ambiguity of the depicted visual motifs. We need to note that place identification in prints is not always facilitated by iconography or visual motives but by the image-content-related inscriptions printed in the images that often feature place names.

So, the geolocation of these sites requires the reading of inscriptions. And transcription of inscriptions is one of the main obstacles for art historians interested in a large-scale analysis of the prints. This is due to the complexity of the Japanese early-modern writing system, problems with adequate identification of place names, and material aspects of a print (e.g. color scheme and preservation state). We plan to address some of these issues in our next project, which focuses on exploring possibilities of using computational tools for the automated transcription of inscriptions on prints.

Your next project, AI-powered Text Recognition of Inscriptions in Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints, will continue to utilize Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology to study the landscape prints (meisho-e) in the ARC Ukiyo-e Portal Database. What is the significance of this project?

Pavlopoulos: In this project, we will focus on resolving the linguistic problems related to transcribing the inscriptions on prints enabling geolocating of places mentioned in these inscriptions. We will investigate the development of computational tools for the automated recognition of the text of inscriptions on prints rather than using already-transcribed inscriptions provided in the database.

As we established previously, NER can be used to successfully extract the place names from inscriptions on ukiyo-e prints. However, the tool requires transcribed digital metadata to generate information, while many museum collections lack reliable transcriptions of inscriptions on prints.

Optical character recognition and handwritten text recognition (HTR) can be used to recognize the text from an image. Due to the technological, formal, and linguistic characteristics of ukiyo-e print inscriptions, which do not use a standardized writing system or movable type, we hypothesize that handwritten text recognition could be effectively applied to inscriptions on Japanese prints.

We expect the recognized text to contain errors, and we will investigate the accuracy of extracting place-named-entities from the recognized (not transcribed) text. This multimodal methodological challenge requires testing on non-transcribed inscriptions on prints, and our study will facilitate this.

How did you first connect with the Art Research Center (ARC)? / How did you hear about the International Joint Digital Archiving Center for Japanese Art and Culture (ARC-iJAC)?

Machotka: As a scholar of Japanese art history educated in Japan, at Gakushūin University in Tokyo (thanks to the doctoral fellowship issued by MEXT), I have been well aware of the pioneering contribution of the Art Research Center (ARC) and the International Joint Digital Archiving Center for Japanese Art and Culture (ARC-iJAC) to the digitization of Japanese cultural artifacts, and computational analysis of Japanese art.

I also had the honor and pleasure to meet the leading ARC researchers, Prof. Akama Ryo, Prof. Suzuki Keiko, Prof. Yano Keiji, Dr. Matsuba Ryoko, and many other colleagues at different academic events in Europe and Japan. So, I have been aware of the important work done by the ARC, its faculty, and the research value of the ARC databases for a long time. And I have to admit that I probably would have never started my own research adventure with Digital Art History if not for the ARC and its ground-breaking work.

Is there anything else you would like to comment on or highlight?

Machotka: We would like to stress one important issue, which we think is the key to the success of Digital Humanities, and can push the frontiers of research in (Global) Art History. It is the need and value of collaboration across various disciplines, institutions, and national borders.

Communication between researchers, exchange of experiences, sharing knowledge and good practices is the key to knowledge production. Digitization processes are going fast, and many museums invest in building their digital databases and sharing their collections with the general public. But to benefit from this incredible work, we would also like to see a strengthening of analytical aspects of Digital Art History, using computational tools not only to offer wider accessibility to museum collections but also to facilitate analysis and a better understanding of art objects.

So, we would like to encourage other art historians and computer scientists to explore possibilities for collaboration. Interdisciplinary work across distant disciplines like ours is not an easy task, as we need to learn to understand and respect our divergent research approaches. But it has been a rewarding experience for our team and brought out new findings that can move our disciplines forward.

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li.)


Kelly Midori McCormick is an assistant professor of Japanese history at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, specializing in the history of the material and visual culture of modern Japan.
Carrie Cushman is the Edith Dale Monson Gallery Director and Curator at the Hartford Art School. She holds a Ph.D. in Art History from Columbia University and is a specialist in postwar and contemporary art and photography from Japan.
Supported by the ARC-iJAC, their project team has created and launched the bilingual website Behind the Camera--part database, part educational tool--spotlighting a diverse range of international experts on the history of Japanese photography from the perspective of gender and power.

Thank you very much for your time today. Could you please tell us about your motivation to start your FY 2021 ARC-iJAC project Expanding the Study of Japanese Photography and Gender: Modules for Teaching and Public Access?

Kelly-McCormick-Edited-270x298.jpgProf. McCormick / Prof. Cushman: Conceived in 2017, Behind the Camera was established to address the lack of scholarship and access to primary sources on the histories of Japanese women in photography. The idea for Behind the Camera was sparked with a simple question: what resources existed on the roles that women have played in the history of Japanese photography?

Since the introduction of the first camera to Japan in 1848, women have been integral to the social constructions of photography as a visual technology, art form, and commercial practice.


Women photographers require a history that intersects social and political history with the close analysis of their work and its implications for visual culture in Japan.

Beyond accounting for historical omissions, we sought ways to interrogate the overwhelmingly male-centered historiography of Japanese photography and to address the ideologies that have consistently reinstated gendered hierarchies within the photography world.​​ We knew that these efforts could not be individual but would require a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach.

To that end, in 2019, we brought together a multidisciplinary group of scholars from Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel for a two-part panel at the Association of Asian Studies (AAS) Annual Conference, sponsored by the Japan Art History Forum. The conversations generated at the AAS made clear that the histories of Japanese women in photography required a sustained platform that would allow for research to develop organically and collaboratively.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the project transformed into a website where specialists share carefully researched arguments and source materials made available to the public in both English and Japanese. In times when travel to archives and conferences is difficult, this website seeks to bring photographs, scholarly perspectives, and historical resources directly to you.

We are delighted about the launch of your digital humanities website Behind the Camera: Gender, Power, and Politics in the History of Japanese Photography.

Can you share some of your experiences with us during the implementation of this project? Have you come across any particular challenges?

BtC Timeline Screenshot 2.pngProf. McCormick / Prof. Cushman: The Art Research Center at Ritsumeikan is an incredible resource for researching Japanese visual culture and producing new information about it. We were thrilled at the opportunity to work with the ARC but the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that our initial goals of using the recording facilities to conduct interviews with current Japanese women photographers were not possible.

We were able, however, to use the generous funding to produce an interview between the photographer Nagashima Yurie and art historian Handa Yuri. This interview will be the first to introduce a wide range of audiences to Nagashima's scholarly work on the history of the Japanese women photographers who gained recognition for their work in the 1990s and Nagashima's critical interpretation of the male photo critics who shaped the way the world saw this generation of women photographers.

Is there anything particularly fascinating you found while implementing this project?

Prof. McCormick / Prof. Cushman: To create the modules for the site, we approached historians of photography to present an issue from the history of Japanese photography from a gender studies perspective. One of the most gratifying things about this project is how many new angles scholars have approached and created their modules from. Many have seen the new format of a video lecture paired with an image archive as a structure that allows them to explore new topics or synthesize larger projects in a compelling and captivating way.


For instance, Dr. Elena Creef drew on networks of Japanese war brides that her mother is a part of to create a collection of family photographs that illustrate their experiences as they moved from Japan to the United States in the postwar period.

While the majority of the modules are focused on historical events, a selection of the modules has been created by curators who reflect on exhibition practices in relationship with the gender histories of Japanese photography.

Maggie Mustard's module on the exhibition she curated, The Incomplete Araki: Life, Sex, and Death in the Work of Nobuyoshi Araki, held at the Museum of Sex, New York in 2018, examines the many challenges with presenting work by the very controversial photographer in the context of the MeToo movement.

Do you have plans to expand this website, for example, by adding new modules? If possible, could you please tell us more about them?

Prof. McCormick / Prof. Cushman: We will be adding a new collection of modules to the website in 2023. We are excited to present lectures by Ayelet Zohar on Ishikawa Mao; Kerry Ross on marketing cameras to women in the Taisho and early Showa period; Judy Legewood on May Ebihara's anthropological photographs in Cambodia; Phillip Charrier's lecture, Shigeo Gocho, women, and everyday resistance in 1960s Japan; Miryam Sas on Rethinking Japanese media theory, and interviews with Eileen Smith on photographing Minamata; and an interview between Komatsu Hiroko and Franz Prichard.

How did you first connect with the Art Research Center (ARC) at Ritsumeikan University? / How did you hear about the International Joint Digital Archiving Center for Japanese Art and Culture (ARC-iJAC)?

We saw a call for applications and after investigating the resources at the ARC were excited to partner with Ritsumeikan in the hopes of spreading the word about the project and collaborating with Japanese scholars.

Is there anything else you would like to comment on or highlight?

We are actively seeking contributors in Japan and around the world who would like to contribute new modules on the history of Japanese photography from new perspectives. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have a proposal for a module.

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li.)

IMG_4633.JPGMurakami san, thank you very much for your time today. Would you please tell us about your time at the Art Research Center (ARC)?

Murakami: I have very fond memories of the ARC. During my graduate studies at Ritsumeikan University, I could obtain a variety of experiences through my classes, writing my master's thesis, and the internship opportunities in Japan and abroad provided by the ARC.

Within the well-established research environment of the ARC, I could immediately put the knowledge I had obtained in the classroom on digital archiving into practice, the most memorable of which was the filming of the Katayama family's Noh play that I was lucky to participate in.*

Which research area have you specialized in, and why do you find it fascinating?

Murakami: I have specialized in the digital archiving of contemporary Japanese theater.

I have loved theater for years, and because of that, during my undergraduate days, I was doing research on a certain playwright in contemporary theater. However, learning about digital archiving at the ARC, I came to realize that the digital archiving of materials related to contemporary Japanese theater had not progressed that much. So, I chose this as my research theme.

It is so interesting to capture theater, a temporal form of art that cannot be archived in its own right, from the perspective of its related materials.


What did you experience during your internship abroad, and what are your thoughts on it?

Murakami: I was very fortunate that I could do my internship training at the University of California, Berkeley, for a week as part of my graduate course, as the ARC has been closely collaborating with the university for many years.

Under the guidance of the librarian in charge of the Japanese collection at the C.V. Starr East Asian Library, we worked on the Virtual Institute of the 'Japanese Special Collections in the C.V. Starr East Asian Library, University of California, Berkeley' created in collaboration with the ARC. We also got an opportunity to talk to librarians in other departments at the library as well as staff in charge of digital archiving.

Nowadays, the ability to communicate in English, in particular, conveying your own ideas, is essential in order to study, network, and conduct research abroad. Therefore, I am thankful that the ARC facilitated our internship opportunity at UC Berkeley and provided an environment for us to actively engage in English conversations without worrying about making mistakes.

Can you tell us about your current job?

Murakami: I work as a curator at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum in Tokyo and am mainly in charge of its digital archiving projects. I am glad I can utilize my knowledge acquired at the ARC for my current digital archiving duties by leading a joint research project with the ARC and discussing plans for the digital archiving of materials in the museum collection.


I have been researching how to do digital archiving of a wide variety of materials related to sports. After all, sports are something that almost everyone experiences, so depending on the angle you take, it would be easy to attract people's interests, which is quite rewarding.

Can you tell us more about the joint research project with the ARC and the significance of this project?

Murakami: The joint digital archiving project encompasses all kinds of sports materials in our museum collection--from three-dimensional materials such as athletic equipment, medals, and uniforms to paper materials such as books and newspapers on sports, and documents on tournament management.


Although most of the materials are from Japan, there are also many books in foreign languages, and documents on foreign athletes and overseas competitions.

In the study of sports, research on so-called 'sports science' has been quite advanced. Yet, research on the cultural aspect has not been as extensive. Hence, our joint research project to construct a digital archive on sports materials aims to further develop the study of sports as an activity of the people and society.

What do you hope to achieve with this joint research project?

Murakami: Our goal is to leverage the ARC digital archiving system to eventually digitize all of the museum's materials and build a digital archive on sports that will facilitate collaboration with other institutions as well.

We hope to release our database in 2025 and make all those items with no issues regarding copyrights available to the general public.


*The ARC has been closely working with the Katayama Family Foundation for the Preservation of Noh and Traditional Kyoto Dance (片山家能楽・京舞保存財団/ ) to film and digital archive their performances for more than 20 years.

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li.)

Professor Hans Bjarne Thomsen has held the Chair for East Asian Art History at the Institute of Art History, University of Zurich, since 2007. His publications include Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Ernst Grosse Collection (2019). Supported by the International Joint Digital Archiving Center for Japanese Art and Culture (ARC-iJAC), Art Research Center, Prof. Thomsen conducted his research project 'Tracing the Reception of Japanese Art in the West: Case Study of Freiburg im Breisgau' in FY 2021, followed by the project 'Tracing the Reception of Japanese Art in the West: The Case of Monte Verità' in FY 2022.

IMG_20220711_152607.jpgProfessor Thomsen, thank you very much for your time today. How did you first connect with the Art Research Center (ARC)?

Prof. Thomsen: I met Professor Akama in Geneva more than a decade ago. Since then, we have embarked on several projects digitizing and cataloging Japanese woodblock prints at the Print Cabinet in Geneva.

Thanks to the efforts of the ARC in digital archiving of these prints, we have held two exhibitions at the Print Cabinet--one on kabuki prints in 2014 and the other on surimono prints that is currently ongoing.

In 2016, the University of Zurich also held a three-day international symposium on katagami in Zurich where several ARC faculty members presented their research.

You are the leader of two ARC-iJAC international joint research projects. 'Tracing the Reception of Japanese Art in the West: Case Study of Freiburg im Breisgau' was conducted in the fiscal year of 2021, while you examine the case of Monte Verità in the current fiscal year. Could you tell us your motivation for these projects?

Prof. Thomsen: There has been a prolonged interest in academia to study Japanese art outside of Japan that goes back to the 1970s. However, the focus has mainly been on meibutsu (名物) and their connections to Japan.

My research interest lies not only in finding and identifying objects that have been traditionally seen as meibutsu but to expand on this. Some Japanese art collections across Germany and Switzerland, such as the collections left behind by Ernst Grosse (1862-1927) and Baron Eduard von der Heydt (1882-1964), have been little explored.

As part of our ARC-iJAC projects, we have been digital archiving and cataloging these artworks as we intend to not only examine their connection and existence within Japanese art history but place them in context of both their Japanese origin and a piece of local Swiss/ German history.

Freiburg.pngIn your ARC-iJAC projects, you also investigate the art collectors and other agents involved in bringing artworks from Japan to Europe. Could you tell us why?

Prof. Thomsen: We hope to get a better understanding of the roles these various pioneers held in spreading public and academic knowledge of Japanese art.

In graduate schools, the students typically look at the most recent texts, whereas older ones are neglected because they are considered 'old history'.

We are inclined to think that there is a sudden burst of light, and we know everything about a subject--but it builds over time. The gradual growth of knowledge on certain subjects tends to be ignored in the West.

Japanese collections had been brought to Europe for particular reasons--the art collectors could have considered them interesting, and perhaps important. The motivations and individual stories of these collectors--two key persons were Ernst Grosse and Baron Eduard von der Heydt--should not be forgotten.

For instance, despite his early influence in East Asian art studies and contributions to the establishment of the Japanese art collections in the West, the role of Ernst Grosse has largely been forgotten. Furthermore, many other people, including middlemen, were involved in the process of knowledge transfer of Japanese art in the West. It was not a simple process.

To 'resurrect' these histories of learning, we should give credit to these pioneers.

Monte Verita.JPGHas there been something particularly fascinating that you found regarding these pioneers?

Prof. Thomsen: For instance, as opposed to Ernst Grosse, von der Heydt had never been to Japan. So, where did he buy his artworks, and how did they arrive there?

Furthermore, von der Heydt gave his East Asian art collection to Museum Rietberg in Zurich. However, some key pieces, including a fine collection of Japanese woodblock prints, never went to Rietberg. Instead, they have remained at his home, a modernist-style Bauhaus building in Monte Verità where they have been largely forgotten and become a part of hotel decoration.

So, what are the pieces he did not give to Museum Rietberg, and what does this tell us about the status of these objects?

We would like to address some of these questions as part of our ARC-iJAC projects, directed toward rediscovering a forgotten history of the reception of Japanese art in the West.

We intend to fully digitize and catalog the collections of Grosse and von der Heydt that have been lost to the public.


Could you please tell us more about your post-COVID plans?

Prof. Thomsen: I plan to continue working with Japanese art collections here in Europe. In the last fifteen years since joining the University of Zurich, I have had the pleasure working with more than 50 different museums--including museums in Switzerland, Germany, Ukraine, France, and Italy.

Regarding our ARC-iJAC projects, we faced the problem during the pandemic that we could not enter the museums for a long time. Therefore, many of the Japanese artworks Ernst Grosse left behind still remain in cardboard boxes. Once we get permission from the museums, I plan to take higher-quality images of the objects that we can replace and add to our ARC database.

I am excited that there is still an incredible research potential in these art collections in Freiburg and Monte Verità, and I hope to continue the delightful research collaboration with the ARC for many years to come.

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li.)

Dr. Mohamed Soliman is an Egyptian archaeologist and the Director of the Advanced Studies Unit for Cultural Heritage at the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics (NRIAG) in Cairo. While completing his two-year JSPS Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Ritsumeikan University's Institute of Disaster Mitigation for Urban Cultural Heritage (DMUCH), Dr. Soliman started his research project "Qait'bay Citadel (1477-1479): Visualizing the Main Coastal Fortification of Medieval Alexandria, Egypt" in FY 2021 supported by the ARC-iJAC.

received_1166561990470172.jpegDr. Soliman, thank you very much for this interview. How was your time here in Japan?

Dr. Soliman: Thank you. Although the pandemic hit us soon after my arrival, and I had to adapt my research plans, I had a rewarding time in Japan. The field of cultural heritage studies, in particular, relies a lot on field data acquisition, so working from home is difficult.

However, I received a lot of guidance from my host professor Keiji Yano* to achieve my research goals, conduct joint research and expand my network within the Japanese research community.

*Professor Keiji Yano (College of Letters, Ritsumeikan University) is a Deputy Director of the Art Research Center.

Could you please tell us why you started the project of visualizing Qait'bay Fort?

c_2021-02-06 at 12.34.43.jpeg

Dr. Soliman: Qait'bay Fort, built in the 15th century, is not only considered one of the most significant fortifications in Egypt but along the Mediterranean Sea.

The Fort stands on the same site as the legendary Pharos Lighthouse. However, it is exposed to natural and man-made disasters such as seismic hazards and tsunamis due to this location.

The fire disaster at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 2019 reminded us of the importance of 3D visualization to preserve and document cultural heritages at risk and make our research outcomes available to scholars and the public alike.

At the same time, the project contributes to the sustainability goals of our local tourism industry, reflected in the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS): Egypt Vision 2030.

Furthermore, we consider this a prototype project to build bridges of scientific collaboration between Ritsumeikan University, E-JUST** and NRIAG.

**Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology (E-JUST)

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Dr. Ryoko Matsuba, a specialist in Edo period print culture, received her Ph.D. from Ritsumeikan University in 2008. She is now Lecturer in Japanese Digital Arts and Humanities at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC), University of East Anglia. Before taking up that post, she participated, as a member of curatorial staff, in two major exhibitions at the British Museum: Hokusai Beyond the Great Wave (2017); and the Citi Exhibition Manga (2019). She co-authored the exhibition catalogue for the latter.

TTL21Jan21.jpgMatsuba sensei, thank you very much for joining us today. Would you tell us about your time at the ARC?

Dr. Matsuba: When the Art Research Center was established, I was an undergraduate student at Ritsumeikan University. I joined the digital-archiving project led by Professor Akama as a part timer involved digitizing kabuki playbills from Osaka and Edo dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.

I gradually came to grasp the techniques and basic procedures of digital archiving, such as scanning photographs, cataloging, and improving the searchability of items, while I worked through the kabuki playbills. This experience laid the foundation for my M.A. and Ph.D. research topics. So, I treasure my time at the ARC very much.

We are glad to hear this. How did it come about that you started to work in the UK?

Dr. Matsuba: When I was still a graduate student, the ARC first provided me with the opportunity to travel to the UK and work at the British Museum as part of the team preparing the exhibition Kabuki Heroes on the Osaka Stage 1780-1830 (2005).

The ARC has been digitizing Japanese collections in renowned museums around the world, and supporting them in creating exhibitions. These activities offer many hands-on training and networking opportunities for young researchers.

Subsequently, I participated in the preparation other British Museum exhibitions such as Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art (2013); Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave (2017); and the Citi Exhibition Manga (2019). In addition, I contributed to and assisted in editing the exhibition catalogs for those exhibitions.

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