Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Interview with a JET & MEXT Alumnus: “My Experience as an Art Student in Japan”

The JICC recently conducted an interview with the artist printmaker, Ms Wuon-Gean Ho, who spent two years in Japan on the Japanese Government Scholarship Programme. Below is a summary of the interview.

Please give a brief self introduction, including reference to your duties as a Japanese Government Scholar, and to your current occupation.
I am an artist printmaker, living and working in London. I spent a year and a half in Japan as a Japanese Government scholar in the Kansai region. I went to study creative Japanese woodblock technique, and on my journey met many other inspiring artists from other disciplines such as sculptors, painters and photographers.
I work part time as a printmaker, and part time as a veterinary surgeon. I also teach Japanese woodblock technique about four times a year.
My prints are a mixture of woodblock, linocut and silkscreen in vibrant colours. I’m currently developing work for several new shows. The first is in Asia House, London, that opens on the 19th June, then two more shows open in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Canada in July.
Readers of this newsletter are invited to attend the opening party of the print show ‘Masks Unmasked’ in London on the 19th June. For more information, please see my blog at

Why did you apply to join the Japanese Government Scholarship programme?
After making my first linocut at the age of 11, I developed a keen interest in printmaking, which continued during my college years. In 1995-96 I spent a year in Kagoshima on the JET scheme. It was then that I realised that Japan has a strong and impressive printmaking tradition, and some fine great masters of print with whom I wanted to study techniques and approach. The Japanese Government scholarship gave me the opportunity to study in this unique environment. The scholarship also allowed me to go to Japan straight after graduation from my university in England, at a time when I would not have been able to finance the trip on my own.

Please describe one of the most memorable experiences from your time in Japan.
Japan, the place, the people, the culture, the food, as a whole, has been and continues to be a memorable experience for me in many ways.
In particular I have fond memories of the people I’ve met there, and of participating in the daily routine, and of the refined aesthetic that permeates the everyday. On an artistic level Japan is memorable for its ability to engender a strong sense of dislocation and creativity in me.
However, I have to say some of my fondest memories are of the swim team in Osaka University of Education, which I joined as by far the slowest participant. We trained every day for two hours in a beautiful outdoor pool on the top of a mountain, and in June had an intensive swim week of four hours of swimming a day- from 5am to 7 am, breakfast together, and then 5 pm to 7pm. We all ate together and slept in the same hall for a whole week and it was intense, exhausting, challenging and lots of fun.

What did you learn from your stay in Japan and your participation in the Japanese Government Scholarship programme?
My stay in Japan was a good time to reflect on the values and routines in my life, as the culture is so alien to the one in which I was brought up. I particularly loved learning the language, meeting new people and finding different phrases and ways of communication that do not exist in English. The challenge and experience in adapting to new environments quickly and enjoying different ideas and cultures has held me in good stead ever since.
The swim team that I mentioned above taught me a lot about having a disciplined approach to whatever I want to achieve, and how to persevere even in the face of challenges and physical exhaustion. I use this approach in my artistic life and I find it helps me to stay focussed on my goals.

What impact, if any, did your experience on the Japanese Scholarship programme have on the development of your career?
I graduated in Veterinary medicine but had a dream to become an artist and printmaker. The Japanese Government Scholarship gave me my first experience of studying printmaking in a professional environment. Since then I have held residencies in many different places and countries and have been slowly walking towards to my goals.
In 2000, I left Japan and went straight to London to join a professional print studio on the Southbank, close to the Tate Modern. After a couple of years I did another printmaking residency at Intaglio printmaker, in the same part of London. I returned to Kyoto to study woodblock printmaking again as a private student in 2004-5, when I also held two solo shows of my work. In 2005 I was invited as a visiting artist to Crow’s Shadow Press, in Oregon, USA, to make prints in collaboration with a master printmaker. In the spring of 2007 I spent 5 months in Oregon, USA, where I was on two artist residencies. The first was in the snowy mountains of central Oregon (where the landscape resembles Japan) and the second was a printmaking residency on the coast.
I think the Japanese Government Scholarship has given me the confidence to apply for these various residencies, and also the credibility in the eyes of the selection committees. The experience has opened many interesting doors for me.

What would you say to someone who was considering applying to join the Japanese Government Scholarship programme?
The programme is a wonderful opportunity to live abroad and to study in Japan. The students and teachers may be a lot more relaxed than in a British university so you need to remain clear in what you would like to achieve and be quite self motivated. It is important to enjoy the opportunities that present themselves to you, even if they are completely different to your expectations (for me this was the swim team!) The experience gives you much more than purely technique or facts, but a small insight into and chance to participate with a fascinating and rich culture.

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