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About My Project (2008)

In 2008 I visited Kanazawa in Ishikawa prefecture to conduct a small research project:

The primary objective of my research project is to codify Japanese color-emotion association links as they are expressed through commonly-used phrases and sayings as well as in traditional Japanese art. Through examination of existing research on Japanese color expressions as well as through personal interviews of fluent speakers, especially artists, I hope to codify the major cultural associations between colors and emotions and/or personality characteristics and compare them with American cultural sentiments on the same colors. If possible, I would also like to examine whether or not the Japanese cultural perspective on color is expressed through its distinctive style of animation, which has become a major method of cultural communication of late. Anime has sparked interest in Japanese culture for many young people, especially in America, so I would like to examine some of the most popular exported anime to see if Japan’s cultural relationship with certain colors is communicated through characters’ color palettes.

This research will serve to improve my language skills, increase my understanding of traditional Japanese culture, and demonstrate a link between that culture and the distinctive animation style it has recently become famous for. This research is also based on previous projects of mine, though those projects were more about the psychological aspects of color-emotion associations than the cultural aspects I hope to explore here. I attended a math/science magnet high school from 2001 to 2005 and submitted several projects to the Virginia Junior Academy of Science on color-emotion association research. Most of these projects were focused on determining how individuals’ color-emotion links might influence how they interpret emotion on colored faces; this idea drew a lot of inspiration from Japanese animation, as I personally saw a link between characters’ abnormal hair colors and their personalities. My high school research was generally unsuccessful, as I found that any perceived existing facial emotion overrode the color-induced emotion I was trying to explore. I also found a certain resistance in my subjects to the faces with more unnatural hair colors (green, blue, purple), even when I conducted research with elementary-school children; yet imported animated shows with blue- and purple-haired characters are very popular in America, across many age groups. I learned a great deal from the research done for those studies however, and this project directly stems from a finding of one of the published studies I cited (Hemphill 2001): color-emotion associations evolve with age. While children form theirs based entirely on personal experience, adults have generally incorporated their culture’s opinions on colors through language and idiomatic expressions. I intent to explore this cultural influence from the perspective of a culture that has always placed an emphasis on the aesthetic, and I am curious to see whether Japan’s hallmark use of color in animation leads to cross-cultural dissemination of their own color identities.

Kanazawa is located on Japan’s western coast, on the Sea of Japan across from Korea and bordered by the Japanese Alps. It is famous for its traditional arts and crafts, including Noh theater, kaga yuuzen (a kimono-dyeing technique), gold leaf, and lacquerware.

For more information about Kanazawa:

  • Wikipedia – gives the historical background of the city and mentions some of its main attractions as well as famous former residents
  • Kanazawa City – a tourism guide with detailed pages on local crafts, cuisine, seasons, and festivals
  • Kanazawa University –  the English-language website of Kanazawa’s biggest university (where I will be staying and attending some classes)
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