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Media Release

For Immediate Release | October 11, 2018

Roland Barthes and James Bond: Encounters with Japan

A talk by Professor Emmanuel Lozerand (Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations, France)

Sex, Violence, Haiku and Topsy-Turvy Japan.

The Japan Foundation, Sydney, in cooperation with The University of Sydney, presents a talk titled “Roland Barthes and James Bond: Encounters with Japan” by Japan scholar Professor Emmanuel Lozerand at The Japan Foundation, Sydney on November 2 at 6:30pm.

As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics approach and the government ramps up efforts to welcome more outsiders to Japan, this talk harks back to how Japan was perceived by the West around the time of the previous Tokyo Olympics in 1964.

Taking two classic texts that are seemingly worlds apart, speaker Professor Emmanuel Lozerand will focus on four key themes—sex, violence, haiku and the alleged topsy-turvy dimension of Japan—to reconstruct a view of Japan that permeated the West at the time.

French theorist Roland Barthes wrote Empire of Signs–a hybrid collection of essays and travelogue–after three visits to Japan in the late 1960s, characteristically focussing on the rich symbolism in its society, culture and cuisine. Barthes’ scholarly (and arguably voyeuristic) approach of observing from afar finds its opposite in British action hero James Bond, whose hands-on danger-courting adventures in Japan first appeared in book form in 1964, and then again on film in 1967, as You Only Live Twice. Exactly what these figures have in common, and how they both saw and experienced Japan, are questions that this talk will seek to unravel.

Says Lozerand: “As the next Tokyo Olympic Games approach, it can be instructive to remember how Japan was seen in the West at a similar juncture in recent history. What has changed? What remains the same? And what better way to do this than through the eyes of two very different, but equally iconic, personas from the time?”

About the talk


Emmanuel Lozerand is a Professor of Modern Japanese Literature at the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris, France. His research centres on the language, literature, thought and history of pre-war modern Japan, and prominent authors such as Natsume Sōseki and Mori Ōgai who were active around that time. He is also interested in the changing concepts of family and the individual in the context of modern Japan.


Roland Barthes (1915-1980) was a French theorist whose work centred on how we make and perceive meaning in practices, signs and symbols. Barthes wrote prolifically on a wide variety of topics including text, culture, linguistics and semiotics. His publications include Mythologies (1957), Empire of Signs (1970), The Pleasure of the Text (1973) and Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (1980).


James Bond is the central fictional character in a series of fourteen books (twelve novels and two collections of short stories) by British writer Ian Fleming, first published between 1953 and 1966. Bond is a British secret agent who was modelled on people Fleming had encountered while serving in the British navy during World War II, and also shared a number of characteristics with Fleming himself. Fleming’s Bond stories spawned a series of lucrative film adaptations beginning in 1962. Bond outlived Fleming, who died in 1964, to appear in a further 32 novels and 9 films beyond those from Fleming’s oeuvre.


Roland Barthes wrote Empire of Signs (1970) following three trips to Japan between 1966 and 1968. Barthes had no background with Japan, but as a scholar of signs and symbols (among many other things) he was entranced by what he encountered, and Empire of Signs marks his attempts to understand and connect phenomena he observed and impressions he had while he was there.


You Only Live Twice (1964) is the penultimate James Bond novel by creator Ian Fleming, and was published in the year of Fleming’s death. It was the fifth James Bond title to be adapted into a film, released in 1967 with a screenplay by Roald Dahl and starring Sean Connery as Bond. The story is set in Japan, and the feature was largely filmed on location there. According to Guardian screen critic Phelim O’Neill, the film marked “the first time many in the audience had seen now commonplace martial arts, or heard of sumo wrestlers or ninjas.”

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Event Details

November 2, 2018
6:30pm – 7:30pm (doors open 6pm)


The Japan Foundation, Sydney
Level 4 (via lifts), Central Park
28 Broadway
Chippendale NSW 2008


Free admission
Limited capacity; bookings recommended

Media Enquiries

Elicia O’Reilly
(02) 8239 0055

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