I recently returned from a week in Sydney, Australia, and am happy to report that it has incredible Southeast Asian food and fresh seafood, amazing parks, and the most beautiful coastline I have seen. Visit or emigrate to Sydney if you ever have the chance, seriously.
I had one day free before the conference began, and spent it exploring the Circular Quay area, the Botanical Gardens, and the Domain park area, as well as taking a tour ferry around the harbor. The flora reminded me of the range of plants you would find in southern California, while the fauna are unique: unusual squawking birds, flying squirrels nesting in trees, and terribly fit joggers everywhere.
The University of Sydney, or “Sydney Uni” in local parlance, hosted the workshop. The architecture of the campus, located in the hip and bohemian area of Newtown, is quite beautiful, reminiscent of British universities.
The workshop brought together senior historians of Japan and their graduate students from around Australia for three days, each of which began with a long lecture followed by a panel of papers. The scholarship on display was extremely impressive. As is true in the U.S., much of the work was in twentieth century history. Charles Schencking, for example, did his Ph.D. at Cambridge and is now, after the publication of his book Making Waves: Politics, Propaganda, and the Emergence of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1868-1922, settled at the University of Melbourne and training a number of graduate students. He and they are now working on various aspects of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Elise Tipton of the University of Sydney, one of the organizers of the workshop, is researching department stores of the 1930s. She has already published a study of the police in interwar Japan, (The Japanese Police State), the edited anthology Society and the State in Interwar Japan, and the textbook Modern Japan: A Social and Political History. Sandra Wilson of Murdoch University, who has previously published The Manchurian Crisis and Japanese Society, 1931-33 and Nation and Nationalism in Japan is working on a monumental study of Japanese nationalism and presented a fascinating paper on Japan as represented and performed at the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 and Expo ’70 in Osaka. She appears to train many, many graduate students, several of whom gave papers at the workshop. Judith Snodgrass of the University of Western Sydney also continues her work on nationalism and religion in modern Japan, as first seen in her book Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West: Orientalism, Occidentalism, and the Columbian Exposition. Tessa Morris-Suzuku of Australian National University (perhaps the most widely known Australian historian of Japan) presented a paper on colonial Karafuto, one of many topics she is currently researching.
Premodern history was on display and clearly thriving as well, seen in papers by Olivier Ansart (Ogyu Sorai) and Matthew Stavros (medieval Kyoto), the primary organizer, both of the University of Sydney; Rebecca Corbett (early modern women and tea), one of their graduate students; Takeshi Moriyama (late-Tokugawa rural learning), a graduate student from Murdoch University; and Timothy Amos (the status of Danzaemon in Edo), of the National University of Singapore.
Although the purpose of the workshop was to bring Australian historians of Japan into contact with each other and with foreign historians, it was clear to me that their work is among the best in the field of English-language studies of Japanese history. Their undergraduate programs are clearly thriving as well, with enrollment in Japanese, Chinese, and other Asian languages easily outpacing all European languages. As an American college professor always working to recruit students into Japanese studies, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is this a vision of the future, or simply a reflection of Australia’s relative proximity to Asia and growing economic and cultural ties with the region?