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Why I love classical literature

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:35 am Print

From Yoshida Kenkō's Tsurezuregusa, aka Essays in Idleness (Stephen Carter translation in McCullough's Classical Japanese Prose, p. 416)

Today you had planned to do one thing, but something else comes up and takes the whole day. The person you are waiting for is detained, but someone you hadn't expected shows up instead. Something you had confidence in goes awry, but something you had no hope for works out. The task you worried over comes off without trouble, but the task you thought would be easy proves to be difficult. As the days go by, what happens bears no resemblance to what you had anticipated. It's that way for any year; it's the same for a lifetime.

But just as you start to think that things never turn out as planned, something does and you feel more at a loss than ever. The only way we can be sure of things is to realize the truth: that all is uncertainty.

Ah, there's nothing new under the sun, is there?


自己紹介: Thomas Ekholm

Filed under: — Thomas Ekholm @ 5:26 am Print
My name is Thomas Ekholm and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at Göteborg (Gothenburg) University, Sweden. I have a masters degree in Japanese and equivalent of a kandidate in history at Lund University, Sweden. Due to the university rules I was not able get a degree in both Japanese and History as they are within the same faculty. At first I planned to study up to Master level in history, but the chance of starting these Ph.D. studies made me change my mind. My research is centered around the missionaries and tea during late 16th and early 17th century. What I want to find out is political connections (if any) between the Jesuit missionaries and the chanoyusha (which some refer as to tea masters). As we all know, the Jesuits adapted to many Japanese customs in order to be able to preach. They started to serve sake to guests and wear silk instead of the normal Jesuit robe just to mention some. The part of this adaption in which I have more interest, is the policy to bring the chanoyu into their own residences. As for the Japanese rulers, chanoyu was a social tool. It was used for political negotitations between Daimyo and Daimyo-merchants sometimes used chanoyu as means to meet. The chanoyusha sometimes got a lot of influence due to them knowing and sometimes instructing Daimyo in the art of chaoyu, Sen no Rikyu and Imai Sokyu are two famous ones. The rulers, especially Toyotomi Hideyoshi, used the chanoyusha for his own political agenda. Did the Jesuits do the same and try to use chanoyusha to get influence or protection from the daimyo? This was a short explanation of my research project. Any comments, questions or advice? Don't hesitate to write.


Capital and Water: The Role of Rivers in Tokyo City Planning, 1880s-1940s

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:17 am Print
One of our weblog's authors, Roderick Wilson, is giving a talk this Friday in Tokyo at the Modern Japanese History Workshop. Since Rod is one of us, I just want to put in an extra plug for his talk here and wish him the best of luck. Below is the blurb found in the H-Japan posting about his upcoming event:
For many years now, Tokyo has been much maligned for its lack of greenery and waterside spaces. Typically, blame is cast on the influence of industry and a succession of Kafkaesque bureaucrats and city planners during the city s rapid industrialization from the 1890s onward. But, while the city indeed industrialized, society changed, and the environment suffered, Tokyo also remained a city of canals and rivers through the 1950s. And, these waterways teemed with barges, lighters, and rafts--more than twenty thousand of them in 1920--hauling the fuel and food that fed the city s factories and people. Thus, it was because of, rather than in spite of, the interests of industry and commerce that successive generations of city planners both retained and maintained the city s vast network of waterways. At November's Modern Japanese History Workshop, I will present my ongoing research about how Tokyo s city planners sought to harness and control the city's waterways for economic growth. This work is part of a chapter in my larger dissertation project entitled Riverwork: A Social and Environmental History of Tokyo's Sumida River, 1850s-1950s, where I show how industrialization produced new social and environmental relations along the city s waterways. Moreover, by showing how Tokyo has always been both more and less than the capital city of Japan--a metonymical place for all things national, I use the history of Tokyo and its rivers to show how the city worked as a nexus amidst several layers of cultural, social, and economic networks--local, regional, national, imperial and international. Specifically, in November s presentation, I will use this approach to show how transnational ideas and technologies about urban planning and civil engineering were institutionalized at a national level and applied locally with dramatic consequences for the entire Kanto region.
I hope we can hear more about Rod's research in the future. You can find directions to the talk in the original announcement.

Halting Speeches

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:14 am Print
I will continue to post the odd passage I find here and there during my reading that I find particularly memorable. In Andrew Gordon's Labor and Imperial Democracy in Prewar Japan there is an interesting section where he lists phrases from 15 speeches (out of 22 total) made at one rally of the Sôdômei's Electric and Machine Worker's Union that were halted by the police who attended. The final phrases show nicely what kinds of words specifically brought action:
1. Capitalists are...[halted] 2. We workers first must destroy...[halted] 3. The only course is to build the road to freedom with our own strength...[halted] 4. We have absolutely no freedom. At dawn I had a dream. I was advancing down the road to freedom carrying a sword, when I fell into a deep crevice. This is a crevice that captures those who speak the truth...[halted] 5. It is just too irrational for members of our own class [i.e., the police] to stand above us and repress us...[halted] 6. As Lenin said, "Those who do not work will not eat...[halted] 7. To discover how, and with what, to destroy this system is our objective...[halted] 8. In order to live we must finally destroy the present system...[halted] 9. Together with all of you, I will devote all my strength to the destruction of everything...[halted] 10. We must destroy capitalism...[halted] 11. In order to live we must attack capitalism at its roots; we must entirely destroy the existing social order...[halted] 12. One after another the speakers have been unjustly halted...[halted] 13. We must struggle against those who oppose us...[halted] 14. For example, a revolution...[halted] 15. The labor movement must move to end the plunder of capitalists...[halted] (136)
The phrases translated from a 1921 report cited in Gordon's footnotes. Gordon has noted in italics the final words in the original Japanese phrasing of each speech.


Minamata Justice

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:29 am Print

Japan's Supreme Court ordered the government to pay compensation to additional victims of one of the most egregious and troubling cases of environmental injustice: Minamata Bay mercury poisoning. The actual pollution happened in the 1950s, and the relationship between environmental mercury and neurological and mutagenic damage was recognized almost immediately. Minamata Bay residents became increasingly organized and radicalized in the 1960s, as the government and the responsible company put off their claims and refused to deal substantively with the issue. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Minamata movement was one of the linchpin issues in the growing environmental movement in Japan, a movement that was blunted by the government's adoption of rigorous clean-air laws in the mid-70s. But the failure to address Minamata directly led to the filing of a lawsuits for responsibility and compensation in the 1980s. A settlement in the mid-90s failed to address the issue of government responsibility (in an echo of Japan's ongoing "comfort women" problem) and left out some victims who had not been so designated in an earlier round of bureaucratic management (an echo of Japan's continuing problem with non-citizen [i.e. Korean forced labor] and late-classified hibakusha [atomic bomb victims]). In typically slow fashion, the case has finally been addressed by the highest court.

In Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens we encounter the Four Horsemen (on motorcycles, real Hell's Angels) of the Apocalypse: War, Death, Famine and .... well, Plague gave up when vaccinations and sulfa drugs started taking the fun out of disease (and missed out on some real fun), but he was replaced by Pollution, who takes immense pride in the much more pervasive and permanent damage done by heavy inorganics like arsenic and mercury..... Did I mention that it's a comedy?

This case has gone on so long, that it's history: Tim George, a gentleman historian and fine scholar, did his Ph.D. dissertation and first book on the Minamata activists. This is not unusual in the Japanese courts: it took almost thirty years for Ienaga's textbook case to make it through the courts, and the cases involving Tanaka Kakuei were eventually dismissed due to the fact that he had died in the interim. This ruling is interesting, as the justices were quite direct and damning in their statement that the government should have known and should have acted much earlier than it did. I don't think they're done prosecuting the Aum Shinri Kyo (Tokyo Subway Gas Attack) cases yet, and that was almost ten years ago now.

[Crossposted at Cliopatria]


Online Glossary of Japanese Historical Terms

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:45 am Print
The presentation I attended on the Japan Memory Project which I covered in my last posting also discussed another part of their institute's online efforts. Wakabayashi Haruko introduced us to their Online Glossary of Japanese Historical Terms which allows researches to search a database of (currently) about 21,000 pre-modern historical terms. The contents of the database itself is made up the glossary entries found in many English language (and later apparently other languages will be included) works on pre-modern Japanese history. For example, if you search for the term 天皇 the glossary will show you how seven different works, including the Cambridge History, have translated and romanized the word. You can also enter whole passages, perhaps copied and pasted into their search box. However, their search algorithm does a poor job of separating the words as the algorithm is based on modern Japanese rather than classical. Although an audience member was hard on them for this, the truth is that such algorithms for even modern Japanese and Chinese are still full of errors. According to one Chinese language professor I heard present at a recent conference in New York, the careers of many bright programmers are dedicated to solving the difficult question of how to accurately divide words in texts without spacing. UPDATE: The glossary seems to have moved links. The new home can be accessed via here: Access to the Japanese Historical Terms Glossary and other databases

The Japan Memory Project

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:30 am Print
Three visiting scholars (Sakakibara Sayoko, Roy Ron, and Wakabayashi Haruko) from the University of Tokyo's Historiographical Institute gave a talk this week at Harvard about their massive Japan Memory Project. The project consists of a collection of online databases of mostly pre-modern primary sources, including the 『大日本資料』 and 『大日本故文書』as well as many other important collections of historical documents. Many of these sources have been digitized through the project and their indexes can be searched online. Also, many of the documents, maps and other visual sources can be viewed and downloaded directly from their site, but depending on the database, may only be available to scholars visiting the institute. After outlining the structure of the organization and its major departments, the presenters demonstrated the online databases, which have access to an incredible amount of materials for those doing research on pre-modern Japanese history. Not only are many of the materials available online for full text searches, but images such as some of their map collections have detailed commentary and explanations. The presenters argued that over the last few years there has been a considerable shift in the thinking of the institute towards moving materials online and providing more open access to these materials. Whereas getting into the institute in the past was apparently something of considerable difficulty, now anyone working with a professor and university they "recognize" can get access by filling out an application. While I still find this elitist for an institute which is close to being a public Japanese archive (their handout says that the "responsibility for compiling historical materials [was] transferred from the Cabinet" to the university in 1888), I'm glad that things are gradually opening up. Apparently the reason that some of the materials are not full text online (such as one Kamakura period archive that was demonstrated) is because they have "copyright" problems that force them to limit access to those who visit the institute. While I am aware of the fact that even for very old works, there exist complicated rights involved with photographs of materials and when archives are held by institutions that only allow access to them on a kind of contractual basis, it absolutely flabbergasts me that these kind of restrictions last. I gladly accept the label of radical if I may be permitted to say that such legal obstacles to research, scholarship, and the increased online spread of information need to be swept away. On the technical side, their site seems light weight yet full of features, although it apparently slows down in the mid-afternoon here for a while as they update their databases in Japan. Unfortunately, some of their programming was a little unprofessional, leaving some pages (such as the name/email registration page) without a proper header to indicate the correct page encoding. This results in occasional gibberish for non-Japanese browsers. The text pages that are returned on searches are high detail TIF graphic files, not text or searchable PDFs, which means that we can't manipulate the text on download. Also, text pages in graphic form are displayed one page at a time. The maps and graphics are very nice high resolution graphics, but we were told that some of the resources require plug-ins for use. I am strongly against the use of unnecessary plugins, as they are often not compatible across operating systems or browsers. One audience member brought up the important question of how to cite these materials in academic publications. Roy Ron answered that he had seen others do this and it was easy to offer the web address of the institute. However, I believe this issue is actually very important and it seemed to me that the institute had not really given this much thought so far. I asked whether there were permanent addresses for the specific resources. While Mr. Ron did show that copying and pasting the link into a new window for one of the portraits gave the same image, some of that information contained cookie data. Also, it is at the mercy of future server updates and such, though Mr. Ron assured us that he didn't think the links would change in the future. The experiences of many other such online projects show, however, that such optimism is not to be trusted. As another audience member and I argued, there exist registration services to establish a "Digital Object Identifier" (DOI) that can permanently register a graphic, text, etc. even though the actual location on the web might change over time. One such example of a registration service for academic research is CrossRef. One audience member asked if it was possible to search multiple institutes as there are a number of databases online with similar resources that involve a lot of overlap. The answer the presenters gave was an honest one. These days, they said, it is a race to get the information online, with places like Waseda also doing similar projects. Mr. Ron said there is no cooperation or division of labor and that many of these institutes get money through the government's COE (Center of Excellence) program which gives them money for five years. I was reminded of my own experience at Waseda as a research assistant for their COE for Contemporary Asian Studies. They were working to get several conferences done, publish an English language journal, and always anxious to produce their center's "results" to the Ministry of Education. There is a fierce struggle for funding and I think there are a lot of structural obstacles to smooth cooperation between universities, archives, and other such institutes. In response to a question about the accuracy of the texts that were being inputted they said that almost everyone at the institute was somehow involved in getting the materials online. The questioner said that similar projects in China might involve two typists working together in parallel followed by as many as five checks by editors afterwards. The presenters said that they outsourced the inputting job but then spent a lot of time working over the inputed materials, as it was done by someone without academic expertise in the field. This resource is wonderful and I hope that they will continually open up more full text resources to outsiders via the web. I also hope to see a better organization of the data which will allow more flexibility in remote access, citation, and perhaps downloadable text. Those of us studying modern history can only look on in envy as I have heard of nothing comparable in scope for modern materials in Japanese history.


Self Intro: Kim Youngsoo

Filed under: — Kim Youngsoo @ 10:18 pm Print
はじめまして、ヨンスと申します。 皆さんは英語で書かれていますが、私は主に日本語でたまに英語で書くと思います。もし韓国に関することでしたら、韓国語でも書くつもりです。 簡単に自己紹介をします。 現在東京大学 総合文化研究科 地域文化研究に所属しています。今年は修士2年目なので、12月までは忙しいと思います。その後本格的に参加しようと思います。 個人的な関心は明治期前後においての西洋との接触です。接触がもたらす変化っていうことですね。そういうわけで、横浜に興味を持って、いろいろ調べようとしてます。主に横浜開港資料館で史料を集めています。現在は横浜の衛生について調べているところです。これからは横浜のことだけではなくて、上海などの租借地も含めて研究したいと思っています。 まだいろいろ足りないですが、よろしくお願いします。


Why did the Mongols Attack Hakata Bay Twice?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:58 am Print

I've been doing Japanese history for fifteen years, now, and Chinese history for a decade, and I've never figured out why the Mongols, after their first attack failed, would make landfall at the exact same spot where they made landfall before and the Japanese had been building fortifications for over half a decade. Didn't they have any advance intelligence? Was the cross-strait navigation really that difficult that no other option existed? Did the Koreans not care if the Mongols succeeded, and steer them into the waiting Japanese defenders? (OK, I know that's not terribly likely, as thousands of Koreans were forced into service in the invasions as well.) This has always troubled me. Successive typhoons, the kamikaze, don't bother me because freak natural occurences are beyond our ken or control. Inexplicably dumb human behavior troubles me.


Translation Prize and Gatekeeper Issues

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:13 am Print

A colleague of mine, Prof. Larry Rogers, just won the 2004 Keene Center translation award for his book of translations of modern stories about Tokyo neighborhoods. I haven't read it, so I can't comment substantively (though I want to look at it as a possible text for next year's 20th century Japan course), but colleagues who have read it praised it highly, and it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

I'd almost forgotten such prizes exist, though, and that got me thinking. We live in a world of unprecedented transparency: it's almost as easy to follow Japanese news in English as in Japanese, for example, and rough machine translation of Western languages is now so commonplace that it's a free function of Google. I know language skills are still important -- the realization three years ago that we had a desperate need for Arabic, Persian, Farsi, and other Central Asian and Middle Eastern languages still hangs over us -- and translators (some of my best friends....) still make a pretty good living, apparently.

There are still gatekeepers, and I'm one of them, but it seems like our role is shifting from producing information to interpreting it. I know that it has never been purely one or the other: any really good historical research on Japan is still going to include materials which have never really been addressed in English before (really great historical research includes materials never dealt with in Japanese, either), and the quality of primary source translations is still one of the hallmarks of excellent scholarship. Translation, even paid technical translation, is still a kind of interpretation, and there is always a selective principle involved.

Perhaps what I'm experiencing is the widening of the gate: the gatekeepers still exist -- may always exist -- but there are many more of us. Our individual authority is greatly diminished by the success of our scholarly predecessors and parallel migrations of people, hobbies, money, goods and services. This is a very good thing: one of the reasons I went into this field was to rectify the paucity of understanding of Japanese history (and contemporary issues, though I'm less interested in those as I've become more an historian than a Japan-hand). The job is not done, not by a long, long shot, but the resources available are much richer and denser and higher quality than existed when I started this journey two decades ago.

Think about it: Columbia University has an academic unit named after one of the great translators and interpreters of Japan, a pioneer in the field but someone who is still publishing. The award this year went to a scholar from a fourth-tier school (my own, thank you very much), when thirty years ago fourth-tier schools hardly had Asianists, much less really good Japanese literary scholars. That reminds me of a talk I heard over the summer by AAS President Mary Elizabeth Berry:

Berry's talk was not the traditional AAS President's address, erudite and scholarly. It was a rallying cry for Asian studies scholars to envision an academy in which Asian studies faculty's share of the total resources was roughly proportional to the scale and importance of Asia in the world. She drew stark contrasts with European (particularly French and British) studies, but was careful to point out that we should try to avoid making it a fight over shrinking resources, but a redirection and expansion of the curriculum in more meaningful directions. We have, she argued, gone from nearly nothing to our present state -- kind of marginal, but at least represented -- in three decades or so, and we should consider the next stage -- transition to properly proportional representation -- a multi-decade process. We also need to make Asia more of a mainstream subject: whereas now European studies are considered essential background for any well-rounded scholar, Asian studies are an extra. But it's impossible to do meaningful comparative, or even narrowly analytical work, if your only models are European/American.
We do need high quality translations, and prizes to highlight the work we do. We have come so far, but we are still so far from where we ought to be. We are still gatekeepers, and that is part of the problem: the gate is still there, still relatively narrow.

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