The race between the Totman and the Hane

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:15 am

Like most teachers, I have a tense relationship with textbooks: too much of one thing, not enough of another; too old, or updated annually; too hard to read, or too simplistic; boring or sensationalistic or, worse, trying to be student-friendly and failing; etc. Still, they are pedagogically useful, as long as they’re not actually harmful. In most of my classes, I use a survey text: ideally, it provides a foundation of basic information, frees me from having to explain everything in lecture. Basic stuff.

But in my Japanese history classes, I’ve been getting away from them. When I offered my Early Japan to 1600 course in 2003, I used Hane’s Premodern Japan. I didn’t like it, though: I’ve always thought Hane’s coverage of issues was quirky, and his politics a bit obvious. When I offered it again in 2004, I dispensed with Hane and used the Encyclopedia Britannica Online for basic narrative background. Maybe it was too early: students just didn’t spend enough time online, or something, and very few of them kept up with it or could make connections between that and the readings. In 2007, I gave up on that, too, and went textbook-free, though I was using Lu’s Japan: A Documentary History which had a lot of good background in it. Mostly, though, I focused on the sources, using the questions raised by the readings to direct my lectures. I thought it was a neat bit of modern pedagogy, almost constructivist: students hated it.1

So I’m reconsidering the Early Japan course now. First of all, I’m shifting the chronology a bit: going up to 1700.2 I still like Lu’s documents, supplemented with literature, for the main event readings.3 But I think a good textbook might be worthwhile. That’s the problem: a good textbook.

  • Hane: see above on coverage and tone.
  • Conrad Totman’s Japan Before Perry: just reissued. Not updated, mind you, and it was assigned to me when I was an undergrad (and I don’t remember it making much of an impression). Anyone used it recently and want to comment on how creaky it is?
  • John Whitney Hall’s Government and Local Power is out of print, for sure, or I’d use it in a heartbeat.
  • I could use a text which covers all of Japanese history, and keep using it for the second half of the course. I used Varley’s Japanese Culture many years ago, and it was updated in 2000. There’s also Walthall’s Japan: A Cultural, Social And Political History, the replacement for the venerable Reischauer/Craig. Varley has the advantage of better context for the literary readings, but Walthall’s likely to be better on the political and economic stuff. Not having seen it, though, I’m a bit nervous.

At the moment, I think I’m actually leaning towards the last option — Varley or Walthall — but I’m curious to know if anyone out there has any thoughts.

  1. The same method actually worked quite well in my Japanese Women’s History course. More than once. Go figure. []
  2. I’m actually giving up on the three-course sequence. I like it, and it makes great historiographical sense. But students never seemed to figure out what was going on in the middle course (Qing or Tokugawa-Meiji) and I think you really need a much larger student body than I’m ever going to have to work with for these courses to actually draw enough audience. I’m not going to the 19c contact=modernity model, though. I don’t think I could stomach it at this point. []
  3. McCullough’s Genji/Heike again, probably, but I need some later literature. Something on drama, with both Noh and Kabuki? []


Images of Late Medieval Disease Critters and Meiji Toys

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 8:47 pm

Japanese historical visual materials are becoming available online in increasing quantities and variety, as seen in two posts from the last week from Pink Tentacle and BiblioOdyssey. The former posted an entry titled “Mythical 16th-century disease critters” which introduces a text owned and published online by the Kyushu National Museum:

Harikikigaki, a book of medical knowledge written in 1568 by a now-unknown resident of Osaka, introduces 63 of these creepy-crawlies and describes how to fight them with acupuncture and herbal remedies. The Kyushu National Museum, which owns the original copy of Harikikgaki, claims the book played an important role in spreading traditional Chinese medicine in Japan.      

BiblioOdyssey’s post introduces a database of late 19th-century, early 20th-century water color depictions of toys. These seem to be by Koizumi Kawasaki (1877-1942): “Japanese Toy Design.” 

Add these to other resources like the Nagasaki University Library’s Metadata Database of Japanese Old Photographs, Database of Nationally Designated Cultural Properties and the Tohoku University Library’s Kano Collection – Image database.


Conference at the Huntington Library

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 8:37 pm

I’ve been wanting to write about a wonderful local resource, the Huntington, for a long time, but couldn’t figure out how to work it into a post. It is located in the wealthy town of San Marino, an interesting community just south of Pasadena. The Huntington (or, to use its full name, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens), has one of the best archives in the country for British and American history and literature, 15th century European books, history of science, maritime history, and Renaissance exploration and cartography. The place has the manuscript collection of Jack London, for cripes sake. They also have an excellent research library that has a surprisingly large number of Japan-related items. In fact, the last time I searched under “Japan” I got more than 1800 hits – we’re not talking about Japanese-language materials, but still, some interesting things can be found. Their art collection, which focuses on British and French art of the 18th and 19th centuries, probably has some ripe examples of Japonisme, though I haven’t investigated.

Most fun, perhaps, is the Japanese garden, which Kendall Brown wrote about in his book Japanese-Style Gardens of the Pacific West Coast. The garden is a wonderful example of American Japonisme and Orientalism that embodies, in a physical landscape, certain ideas about “the East” from the early 20th century. It was, after all, “collected” by the railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington (1850-1927). Like many Japanese-style gardens in the region, it’s questionable authenticity has not prevented it from becoming both a major tourist destination and an important community resource for Japanese Americans. It also happens to be incredibly beautiful, like the sprawling cactus garden, the extensive Australian garden, the British herb and rose gardens, and the newly installed Chinese “Garden of Flowing Fragrance.”

A lot of people, particularly scholars who work in American history, spend time researching and writing, and enjoying the grounds, at the Huntington during the week. It’s not a bad life, from what I can tell. The research program includes conferences, fellowships, and other interesting opportunities.

So, finally, I wanted to mention that the Huntington is hosting a conference, April 4-5, 2008, titled “Pacific Passages: Connecting East, West, and Center in the Pacific Basin.”

Histories of the Pacific, histories in the Pacific, histories around the Pacific—the proliferation and increasing prominence of Pacific history offers various ways to conceptualize its geographies and understand its peoples. This conference examines different approaches to Pacific histories and cultural encounters throughout the Basin and also considers oceanic frameworks as a historical methodology.

The schedule includes two papers that are obviously related to Japan, and others may also be related: David Howell, “Homeland Security: Preparing for Foreign Invasion in Late Tokugawa Japan” and Andrea Geiger, “Cross-Pacific Debates about the Contours of Race and Class: Meiji-Era Japanese Immigrant Challenges to North American Categories of Exclusion.”

To register, email skrasnoo@huntington.org or call 626-405-3432.


Macroeconomics never gives you more than an overview

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:58 pm

Stephen Roach, Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia has an op-ed in the New York Times (UPDATE: reprinted in Japan Focus) arguing that Japan’s post-bubble recession and fifteen year stagnation may well be what the US economy is facing now. I think he’s right about some of the dangers, but I think he’s leaving out some critical components. Macroeconomics never gives you more than an overview, and I think the situation in the US is much worse.

Roach writes:

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