SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Radu Leca

BA, Japanese Literature (Kanazawa University), MA, History of Art (SOAS)
  • Overview
  • Research


Radu Leca
Radu Leca
Email address:
Thesis title:
The Backward Glance: Concepts of 'outside' and 'other' in the Japanese spatial imaginary of the seventeenth century
Internal Supervisors


Born in Romania, I started studying Japanese in University of Bucharest. While researching literature in Kanazawa University, I became interested in book illustrations and the imaginary spaces depicted therein.

2012, 2014 - Graduate Teaching Assistant, Department of History of Art and Archaeology, SOAS, University of London.

I taught tutorials for the undergraduate course Introduction to the Arts of East Asia. This meant delivering presentations to groups of 10-15 students to complement lectures. I was centred on Japan but made connections across East Asian culture. Topics ranged from the Tomb of the First Emperor to Modernity in China. I coordinated group discussions and advised on essay and exam topics.

PhD Research

This study is chronologically focused on the late seventeenth century, which I consider to have been a time of rapid changes in the spatial experience, and focuses on the impact of representations on the changing spatial imaginary of the period. My investigation shows the degree to which the cultural identity of urban publics depended on references to peripheral spaces and identities.

In order to reconstruct the vernacular experience of space, I consider a wide range of sources: besides prints (which do, however, make up the majority) and paintings, I discuss maps, encyclopaedias and three-dimensional objects such as decorative stands and mechanical dolls. I especially focus on changes in media formats from paintings to prints, and in narrative genres from otogi zōshi (‘companion tales’) to ukiyo zōshi (‘floating world tales’).

My study shows that the above sources structured the social imaginary of the urban population along five characteristics: geography (defining ‘home’ against ‘foreign’ territories), narrative (adapting mythical patterns to contemporary scenarios), gender (featuring predominantly male-authored constructions of femininity), pleasure (visualizing an emerging libidinal economy) and performance (mediating experiences of encounter). While these characteristics often mingled, for the purpose of the discussion I assigned a chapter to each one.

Within the wide sphere of vernacular production, the spatial imaginary was manifested through a complex interaction of fragmentary and often contradictory views. This was often related to forms of symbolic inversion configuring what is generally known now, and at the time, as the ‘floating world.’ They amount to a semiotic fluidity which I interpret as symptomatic of a changing paradigm of the spatial imaginary.

I undertook fieldwork in Japan from February to June 2013, as a Visiting Researcher at the Department of Aesthetics and Science of Arts within the Faculty of letters of Doshisha University, Kyoto. I was supervised by Professor Fumikazu Kishi. I participated in his graduate seminar, through presentations of my own research and fieldwork, feedback on other students’ presentations, and museum visits. The main content of the fieldwork was the consultation of original artworks in museum collections (Chiba City Museum of Art, Idemitsu Museum, Tokyo National Museum) and Tenri University Library. I also viewed numerous exhibitions containing artworks related to my research. Concomitantly, I met and interviewed various researchers in Kyoto, Tokyo and Kanazawa on aspects of my research related to art history, literary history and social studies. The fieldwork was made possible by a scholarship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), which also allowed me to acquire secondary bibliographic material vital for the completion of my research. The Learning How to Look report is available online.


Loading the player...

Radu Leca - The Backward Glance: Japanese spatial imaginary of the 17th century


  • 2016 (forthcoming) - 'Cartographies of Alterity: Shapeshifting Women and Periaquatic Spaces Seventeenth-centurey Japan,' in Visualizing Gender in East Asia, 16th-20th Centuries, Ashgate.
  • 2016 (forthcoming) - Entries on Eastern European Museums, Encyclopedia of Asian Design, edited by Christine Guth and Haruhiko Fujita, Berg Publishers / Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • 2015 – ‘The Allure of Absence: the aesthetics of the female body in contemporary art and seventeenth century Japan,’Kapsula Magazine 2- 3 Longing 2/3: 25-31.
  • 2014 - ‘Brazilian Cannibals in 16th century Europe and 17th century Japan,’Comparative Critical Studies 11 Supplement: 109–130.


  • 2015, July - ‘The versatility of ship iconography on a 17th century Japanese map’, 26th International Conference on the History of Cartography, Antwerp, Belgium.
  • 2015, July – ‘Ihara Saikaku’s Regional Allegiances,’ Shifting Perspectives on Media and Materials in Early Modern Japan International Symposium (co-organizer), SOAS, University of London.
  • 2015, May - ‘The Refraction of Self-Knowledge in Early Modern Maps,’ Know Thyself - A Conference on Early Modern Images, History of Art Department, University College London.
  • 2015, March - ‘Cartographic Tapestries: Political Discourse in Europe and Japan in the Sixteenth Century,’The Sixty-First Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.
  • 2014 – ‘Sharing Frames: Cannibals in 17th century Transcultural Interaction,’ Transcultural Framing(s): Materials and Metaphors Conference, Karl Jaspers Centre for Advanced Transcultural Studies, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany.
  • 2014 - ‘Looking Back at Beauty,’ 14th European Association for Japanese Studies Conference, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia.
  • 2013 - ‘Brazilian Cannibals in 16th century Europe and 17th century Japan,’Graduate Seminar on Aesthetics convened by Professor Morihiro Satow, Faculty of Design, Kyoto Seika University, Kyoto, Japan.
  • 2012 - ‘The Cartographical Dimension of Nation Building in Momoyama and Early Edo Period,’Art Over Divides: Japanese Art and Evolving Contexts JAHF Graduate Student Panel, AAS Annual Conference, Toronto, Canada.
  • 2012 - ‘The backward glance: beautiful women and liminal spaces in seventeenth century Japan,’Myths and Orthodoxies in East Asian Art and Art History Graduate Student Symposium, Tang Center, Princeton University, Princeton MA, USA.
  • Co-organizer, Japan: Pre-Modern, Modern, Contemporary – A Return Trip from the East to the West International Conference, 9th-11th September 2015, Dimitrie Cantemir University, Bucharest, Romania.


  • European Association of Japanese Studies (EAJS)
  • Association for Asian Studies (AAS)
  • Japan Art History Forum (JAHF)
  • Renaissance Society of America (RSA)
  • International Map Collectors' Society (IMCoS)


  • Art History
  • History of Cartography
  • Cultural Studies
  • Spatial Imaginary
  • Heterotopia
  • Iconography
  • Anthropology
  • Identity and Alterity
  • Semiotics