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Asian Art: Search Strategies

Searching Japanese Terms

Be aware the while modern Japanese Romanization (Hepburn Romanization) is standardized and fairly consistent, is has not always been so:

Example: Noh (), a genre of theater, has had multiple Romanizations:

Notice that searching each of these in OneSearch gives different results.

A plain search of "No" cannot produce the correct results because it is identical the English word "No." You must add additional keywords to clarify:

Searching and Cultural Awareness

When searching for relevant terms, keep in mind that many keywords are simply left in Japanese. Academic scholars in particular rarely try to translate Japanese specific cultural norms and concepts into English.

For Example, the word "Geisha" is sometimes translated as

  • courtesan
  • prostitute

However, neither term is appropriate and in scholarly journals and books, would rarely be translated. Additionally, it is important to avoid placing Western values and ideas on top of concepts like geisha, which have extensively stereotyped in Western and even modern Japanese media. Famous geisha were in fact known for their sharp wit and ability to provide entertaining conversation and musical pieces.

Further, while many are familiar with the term "geisha," many are often much more unaware of the larger social context and associated terminology, reading From Japan Knowledge's "Encyclopedia of Japan" or Wikipedia's articles on geisha reveals far more diverse keywords that can in turn be used to broaden your searches in other databases:

  • geigi, geiko, karyūkai (literally "flower and willow world" that describes the lives and careers of geisha), danna, gohiiki, mizuage, shamisen, okiya, shikomi, oshaku, hangyoku, maiko, hanamachi, kamban, ryōtei kumiai, ochaya, ryōriya, geigi kumiai, hanadai, senkōdai, gyokudai, hōkan, taikomochi, onna geisha, yūkaku 

These words that share a relationship to the idea of geisha do not have English equivalents and are the only words you can use to further explore the concepts of cultural relevance to geisha. Many of these terms describe types of people or places you may see in depicted in ukiyo-e.

Google is Your Friend

The results for "Ukiyoe Shinto" in OneSearch may not seem very helpful, the first few results are:​

  1. Ukiyoe: images of unknown Japan
  2. Designed for pleasure: the world of Edo Japan in prints and paintings, 1680-1860
  3. Hokusai
  4. Images from the floating world: the Japanese print : including an illustrated dictionary of ukiyo-e

Something like "Ukiyoe Depictions of Shinto" may help reveal more about Shinto. This search reveals the article "Mythology in Art: Depictions of the Storm God Susanoo by the Masters of Japanese Ukiyo-e" which discusses important Shinto dieities, especially Susanoo. By learning the names of some of these dieiteis, you can incoporate these into you Library Searches.

Most importantly, look in the indexes of various books in the library to see if terms like "Shinto" and "Susanoo" are covered. Your topic could easily be spread across multiple volumes of books.

Boolean Searching

There are three major operators you can use to join keyword terms when constructing a search: AND, OR, and NOT. Each is discussed below.


"AND" Operator:

Example search using "AND": Female AND Military

Using the AND operator with these search terms would retrieve results that contained BOTH terms (each result would have to contain the term "female" and the term "military").


"OR" Operator

Example search using "OR": Female OR Military

Using the OR operator would retrieve results that contained either term (each result would contain EITHER the term "female" or the term "military" - not necessarily both).


"NOT" Operator

Example search using "NOT": Female NOT Military

Using the NOT operator would retrieve results that contained only the first term without including the second term (each result would only include the term "female" and could not include the term "military")


Combining Operators


Complex search statements can be constructed by using more than one operator at a time. If you wanted to search for both major concepts, including the additional synonym keywords you thought of, you could construct a search statement that looks like this:


(female OR woman OR girl) AND (military OR soldier OR army)


That statement would look for results that had any of the terms in the first set (female, woman, girl) and then look for results that had any of the terms in the second set (military, soldier, army), then it would return results for documents that had at least one term from the first set and at least one term from the second set.


Constructing a complex statement like the one above allows you to get more results on your topic by incorporating more keyword terms that may be used to describe articles you're interested in.