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Japan Kingdom of Characters Lands in Jamaica

Japan: Kingdom of Characters exhibition

The travelling exhibition Japan: Kingdom of Characters recently opened at the National Gallery of Jamaica. If one is not overly au fait with Japanese manga and anime, at first glance, the exhibition is more than a little bewildering. However, once one gets deeper into the exhibition it proves interesting. 

There is much art and artistry in Japanese manga and animation, but most of that is not present in Japan: Kingdom of Characters. The exhibition is not about animation, or even solely about the characters, but rather their impact on and penetration of Japanese society, exploring the ways that the characters have grown to permeate every day life.

HE Yasuo Takase, Ambassador of Japan to JamaicaThe exhibition is a collaborative event between he NGJ, the Japan Foundation and the Embassy of Japan in Jamaica. H.E. Yasuo Takase, Ambassador of Japan to Jamaica, outlined that the exhibition is being staged as a part of the commemoration of 50 years of diplomatic relations between Jamaica and Japan.

“We thought the exhibition was a good opportunity for us to reflect on the cultural dynamic between Jamaica and Japan,” said Verle Poupeye, Executive Director of the NGJ.

A slightly tenuous link between the two cultures came via the morning’s performances. Jamaica Cosplay demonstrated how the trend of adopting characters has been penetrating a tiny enclave of Jamaican society. Donning the costumes of the characters they have chose to embody, they were often visually arresting. However, there attempt at a performance was lamentable.The Sky is Broken performs at the opening of Japan: Kingdom of Characters

The band, The Sky is Broken had the very opposite effect. With a sound somewhat reminiscent of Evanescence, the promising young band presented an interesting mix of their own music as well as tracks from Japanese anime and games. 

“We can see by the light on, especially children’s faces, that it’s been a great success,” Charles Campbell, Chief Curator of the NGJ said.

Yet, the exhibition attempts to do more than delight children.

Kingdom of Characters moves from the earliest stages of mangas and animation, in post World War II Japan through to the present. It features posters, life size and larger-than-life sized mascots ranging from Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atom) of the 1950s, to Hello Kitty of the 1970s on to Pokemon of the 2000s.

Hello Kitty one of Japan's most famous charactersHello Kitty, one of the most prevalent of the Japanese characters whose fame has spread far beyond Japan, gets a full installation, highlighting the number of merchandise that have been graced by the expressionless little white cat. It seems there may be more manifestations of Hello Kitty than all the cat pictures currently floating around the internet put together.

The exhibition points out that these characters are as much accepted by children as by adults and have made their way well beyond t-shirts, back packs and notebooks to take up residence in homes, schools, business and even more.

Truthfully, the information boards take primacy of place in understanding the exhibition, rather than the visuals. For this reason, Japan Kingdom of Characters could more arguably be at home at another of the Institute of Jamaica exhibition halls rather than the NGJ. Members of Jamaica Cosplay

As Campbell indicated, Kingdom of Characters provides enough fare for children to wonder at. And, though the exhibition boards do make for an enriching read that brings insight into a cultural phenomenon of Japanese society, one tends to expect more visually stimulating fare from the NGJ.

Or maybe, I’m just disappointed that Full Metal Alchemist was nowhere to be seen, but I guess they’re not that kind of character.

Japan: Kingdom of Characters opened on May 11, 2014 and continues through to June 14, 2014 at the National Gallery of Jamaica, downtown, Kingston.