Groups, Clubs, and Scenes: Informal Creative Practices in Japan

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: East Asian Studies


What does it mean to engage in arts practice as a group of amateurs? What do people get out of informal and unpaid creative practice? These are common questions in various academic fields and journalistic investigations. Yet each field faces its own problems and challenges in answering these questions. Some problems are specific to the history of the discipline in which creative practices are studied, while others reoccur in many fields: researchers tend to focus on either the dynamics of the group, the operations of creativity, or the final artistic product. Instead, we propose taking an interdisciplinary approach to the question of group-based informal creative practice to address these questions more holistically. This network brings together researchers from a variety of disciplines and countries to build a toolbox of methods for studying the meaning and impact of informal creative practices, specifically those conducted in groups.

Informal gatherings and group practices contribute to personal and shared senses of well-being. Therefore, this network's collaborative work has relevance for contemporary social issues including isolation, the disappearance of regular and well-compensated work, and how creative activities can improve our environments and lived experiences. Network activities will have relevance to the study of social practices, health, and ageing, as well as developing the first wide-ranging study of non-professional arts groups in Japan.

Daily life in Japan is notable for its high number of activities conducted in organized groups. Many social groups are dedicated to the arts, yet scholarship on clubs (kurabu) and circles (saakuru) tends to focus on those with an obvious developmental effect on the individual, such as sports clubs or language learning groups. At the same time, clubs and circles are a space of relatively egalitarian or 'horizontal' social engagement, in a social context that has often been described as predominantly a 'vertical' society. While the groups included in the network activities vary in the nature of their organization and the degree of hierarchy, they offer alternative spaces for social engagement with notable consequences for conviviality and wellbeing.

Too often we assume that group-based practice is motivated by the desire to build community or improve the self, and so we lack a nuanced understanding of the many uses that citizens have found for group-based creative practice. How do we account for the experiences of people who practice an art with no intention of improving their skill? Or those who engage in group activity without developing significant relationships with other group members? Exploring such cases, which do not fit easily into a simple understanding of informal group-based creative practice, will improve understanding of the roles of creativity and relationality in everyday life.

Japan's creative industries are world-leading, and yet Japan also faces severe social challenges, including ageing, precarity, and overcrowding. To overcome these societal challenges, creativity and innovation is needed both in formal and informal structures of practice. This network will focus on informal creativity conducted in groups to develop models for understanding how relational creativity can be deployed to solve or alleviate the challenges that will face most countries in the near future. We will draw from network members' research on a variety of informal creative practices conducted in groups around Japan to develop models for studying similar practices elsewhere, and to better understand the value of these practices in relation to living a good and satisfying life. We are particularly interested in the role (and limitations) of the group structure and the implications for how we think about building life-worlds, socialization, and resilience across the life course.

Planned Impact

The network has 3 impact goals:
1) draw to public attention the benefits of relational creativity;
2) increase awareness of empirical, critical, and normative research into relational creativity and its exhibition;
3) promote new ways of looking at non-professional group creative activities for use in museums and exhibitions.

We aim to change the narrative of creativity at both public and academic levels in order to reveal the benefits of relational creative practice for wellbeing and artistic innovation. This will change how creative outputs are discussed and displayed in museums, and impact on how practitioners deploy relational creative practices for improved mental and physical heath outcomes.

The network will have impact on 2 main groups: stakeholders in museums and cultural heritage, and informal creative arts practitioners engaged in collaborative practices. Sections of the network website will target each group using the appropriate language (academic, non-academic, and policy-appropriate). Informing practitioners of research into relational creativity and its social and health benefits will stimulate greater involvement in creative practices at community levels as a means of enhancing personal wellbeing. We also aim to have an impact on public understanding of and discussion about the nature and potentials of group-based creative practices. This will be supported by changing the narratives around creativity in public sites such as museums, to demonstrate the relational aspects of creative outputs that are considered of high value.

Members have links to non-professional creative practitioner groups through current research projects, including groups of musicians, amateur filmmakers, cosplayers, and artists. These communities have shown interest in reflecting upon group-based creative activity and engaging with academic researchers to better understand their own practices. They have committed to forming 'user groups' to feed into the planning of the network's activities, discussions, and outputs. They will be centrally involved in the fieldsite visit, where they will share their experiences of group-based creative practices and reflect on their potential benefits.

We seek to reach our target audiences via 4 project outputs:
1) Website where network members share work and plan collaborative research, open to the public. Open notebook entries from members' research projects will demonstrate the methods and findings of our on-going research. Reflective writing and non-traditional format pieces (audio and film) will explore our experiences as a group studying groups. A dedicated Youtube channel linked to the website will showcase network members' discussions.

2) Special issue of the academic journal Transformative Works (2022). This issue will have significant impact as the first interdisciplinary publication to focus on informal and non-professional arts practices and group structures in Japan.

3) Edited volume on Groups, Clubs, and Scenes: Informal Arts Practice in Japan (2024). This will be a reference work for several fields, prioritizing new scholarship by young researchers alongside established voices.

4) Public-facing report on findings and recommendations for engaging group-based informal arts practice to live well across the life course, available for free download from the project website. We will publicize the report in articles in newspapers and radio broadcasts (Co-I has prior experience), and on social media.

The network will enable academic engagement with non-academic audiences involved in group-based creative practices. Our work will contribute to the enrichment and valuing of informal creative cultures, improve public understanding of the benefits of engaging in relational creative practices, and foster a better informed and better understood approach to creative engagements, both in exhibition practices and in the community.


10 25 50