Organized Panel Session
In 1830s’ Japan historical realities were bordering on the grotesque: in the old capital of Kyoto, townspeople were no longer able to discern the difference between a normal person and a beggar. Nationwide famine, food shortages and inflation had caused many townspeople to lose their homes. Becoming displaced also meant the loss of personhood. Hinin, non-persons, were perceived as uncanny because they did unhuman things like eating strange foods, wandering aimlessly and begging for alms. Non-persons were often depicted in grotesque situations with exaggerated physiognomies resembling hungry ghosts. In 1837, a group of concerned townspeople in Kyoto decided to leave a visual legacy of the conditions of the displaced. They produced picture scrolls to warn future generations. Although moral admonishment through pictures was established practice in East Asia, admonishing by encouraging the viewer to project the gaze of an empathetic witness of historical conditions was novel. This new position of the viewer as a concerned witness challenged established ways of looking at non-persons as uncanny specters. Through detailed visual analysis, this paper will demonstrate how the combination of the grotesque imaging of non-persons with an empathetic gaze generated uncanny moments of looking, encouraging the viewer to enter the world of the picture, thereby amplifying the viewer’s sense of witnessing actual historical realities.