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JAANUS: A magnificent online dictionary of Japanese art and architecture

Published By: John on 06/06/06
Categories: Art

If you need to understand a term in Japanese art or architecture, JAANUS should be your first place to look.

JAANUS, the Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System, is the fruit of two decades of effort by the late Dr. Mary Neighbour Parent, a specialist in Japanese architectural history, and those who have chosen to carry on her terminological work in her memory.

With 8,000 entries (searchable by English or romanized Japanese) and thorough cross-references between entries, it covers a huge terminological swath in traditional Japanese architecture and gardens, painting, sculpture, and iconography. It does not aim to cover more modern terminology (developments since the end of the Edo period in 1868) or the highly specialized vocabularies of Japan’s rich craft traditions, but what it does cover is enormous. And it covers it well; Dr. Parent and her colleagues have done a wonderful job of rendering the meanings of Japanese terms accurately, so that the non-Japanese reader understands what the term means in the appropriate context. (They give the kanji as well, though the site does not support searches by kanji.)

Surely art and architecture dictionaries are a dime a dozen, you think? Not for Japanese art, in English. There are books on specific topics, with glossaries. There are reliable entries in the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. There are dictionaries giving artists’ biographies (Roberts, A Dictionary of Japanese Artists), even an excellent cd-rom developed by Kim Scheufftan with biographical and some terminological information.

But I know of nothing as good as JAANUS, partly because the entries are cross-referenced across all the fields covered; the language is thus consistent, and differences in the meanings of specific terms by field are explained. The result, backed by serious study of the various fields, is coherent and thorough.

I do find it annoying to have to click on “go” to start a search—I’m spoiled by the usual convention of hitting the “return” button. And it would be helpful at times to be able to search by kanji and kana instead of romanization. But those are trivial complaints far outweighed by the wealth of information available on this site.

I’m currently working on an essay about chawan (Japanese tea bowls). To focus my thinking and refresh my tea vocabulary, I of course went to the site and searched on chawan. The site does not claim to cover ceramics (which most tea bowls are), but the tea ceremony and its ramifications are so important in Japanese art and architecture that, yes, it has a very thorough entry.

Thanks, Dr. Parent. Thanks, JAANUS.

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