Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Behind the Masks

About the conference

The aim of this two-day conference is to compare representations of the human face in Japanese and Western European literature and theatre from the Early Modern period to the present.

In the literary traditions of Japan and Europe, the face is the source of one of the biggest paradoxes: on the one hand, it is universally presumed to have a meaning – and to be readable –, while on the other, the evidence of such readability has always been disputed.

This conflicting nature of the face, vital to human communication, has been explored ardently by writers and playwrights from Europe and Japan, probing the effectiveness of physiognomic approaches and questioning the conventions of portraiture in a variety of genres, forms and styles. What have been the similarities and differences in the treatment of the face in these two cultural areas? Which main characteristics and mutual influences can be identified?

The conference will endeavour to explain the role of the human face in ‘modernity’ in its broadest sense, with presentation and discussion from specialists on Japanese and Western European art and cultures.


The event will feature 16 speakers, including 13 panellists over five sessions, and keynote talks by:

  • Nobuko Akiyama (Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo) - 'Le Visage du Misanthrope (de Molière) à la lumière d’Un homme trop facile (2013) d’Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt' [The Face of Molière’s Misanthrope in the light of É. Schmitt’s Un homme trop facile].
  • Nobuko Anan (Kansai University) - 'Two-dimensional Face of Neoliberalism: “Girls’ Aesthetics” in Yanagi Miwa’s Elevator Girl'.
  • Fuhito Endo (Seikei University, Tokyo) - 'Face and Surface Disfigured: Paul de Man, Wordsworth, and Freud'.

Please note that the first keynote presentation (by Nobuko Akiyama) will be in French, with simultaneous interpretation in English, and will take place at the French Institute for Scotland, West Parliament Square, Edinburgh. There will be plenty of time to walk between venues.


Booking for the conference is free but registration is required.

Register for Behind the Masks on Eventbrite


The conference has been jointly organised by Dr Fabien Arribert-Narce (European Languages and Cultures, University of Edinburgh) and Dr Akihiko Shimizu (Japanese Studies, Cardiff University), with the support of the DAIWA Foundation (UK), the Institut Français Écosse (French Institute), and the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures at the University of Edinburgh.


Behind the Masks

A two-day international conference in comparative literature on Representations of the Face in Japanese and Western European Art, Literature and Theatre from the Early Modern Period to the Present.

University of Edinburgh