Upcoming Asian History Carnival

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:42 am

Jeremiah Jenne over at Jottings from the Granite Studio1 will be hosting an Asian history carnival sometime during the week of May 5th. If you have postings you would like to nominate for the carnival, please send them directly to Jeremiah. You can reach him at jgjenne at ucdavis.edu. Another way to submit nominations is to tag it on del.icio.us with the tags ahcarnival for regular blog postings or ahresources for Asian history related online resources.

  1. The site is currently down, but Jeremiah will work to get it back up for next week []


Wonders of Modern Life

I’m pleased to announce the publication by Shinsensha of the translated version of Japanese Diasporas, ジャパニーズデイアスポラ, 足立伸子 (編著), including my article “一八八五~九四年の移住者への訓示.” 1 I learned, in the process of writing this post, that my article (in the English language edition) is actually cited and used correctly on the Wikipedia Japanese Diaspora page: “The Japanese Government was keen on keeping Japanese emigrants well-mannered while abroad in order to show the West that Japan was a dignified society, worthy of respect.” I may have to revise my opinion of wikipedia, after all.

Japanese Diasporas in Japanese

In other news, Manan Ahmed sent me this Japanese Robot video, and while watching it I was struck by the realization that the early modern Japanese robots are based on a much older Japanese technology: Bunraku puppets. In this video, for example, you can see a demonstration of how the facial features are manipulated.

  1. Professional Question: Is the translation listed as a separate publication on the c.v.? If so, do you note that it is a translation of an earlier publication? If not, do you just list it under the original publication: “published in translation as….”? []


How do you say “Fast of the First Born” in Japanese?

I was thinking about whether to even attempt a contribution to the latest symposium on the role of historical animosities — and their appeasement — in present political tensions when a holiday happened: Passover, the Jewish celebration of the Exodus from Egypt. On the first evening, we celebrate the Seder — literally “order” — a process of remembrance and celebration. But there are elements of sadness: in the midst of telling the story, we spill wine from our cups in honor of the plague-suffering of the Egyptians. Before the Seder even begins, first-born Jews refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise, in remembrance of the first-born Egyptians slain in the final plague. It’s an odd practice, historically, nearly unprecedented: a deliberate rehumanization of “the enemy” enshrined at the heart of what is, arguably, the most centrally Jewish celebration of the ritual year.

I’m not entirely sure that it helps, since there never was an historical reconiciliation between the ancient Israelites and the Pharonic Egyptians.1 But I think it is an important “Zeroth” condition to add to Valérie Rosoux’s Four Conditions:

  1. Then there’s the question of the historicity of the biblical narrative…. []


Remembering Meiji: Translations

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:26 am

Keene includes several extended reminiscences of Meiji published immediately after his death. Unfortunately, some are included in the original French (pp. 707 and 709). Many thanks to Nathanael Robinson, who generously and meticulously translated these from the 19c formal French. I’ve appended these to the chapter guide for future reference.

Ito Hirobumi:

Whatever might be the causes which helped Japan in its progress, and whatever part we might have had in its success over the years, all that is insignificant when compared with what the country needs from his majesty, the emperor. The imperial will has always been the light that guides the nation. Whatever could be the contributions of those, like myself, who are trying to help his enlightened government, it would have been impossible to obtain such remarkable results had it not been for his great, wise and progressive support that is always behind every new reform.

Suematsu Kencho:

His Majesty provides the steadiest attention to each area of the affairs of the state. Every day, from the early morning till the late hours, he works with his cabinet on public affairs. He knows what matters concern each department, above all that which affects the army and navy. . . . Sometimes he astonishes [us] with his knowledge of events among his people. He takes a keen interest in everything that happens in the major countries of the world, his only desire being to learn from other nations.

The comment of the French editorialist was astute:

The emperor was able, at certain times, to influence the policy of his ministers, because his ability to act and his intelligence were not in doubt. But his main work, which he achieved with remarkable wisdom, was to be the head of state, the living symbol of national life and the public interest . . . . The great kings are not those who, like Philip II, want to manage the affairs of state by themselves, but those who, having placed their trust in great ministers, support them with all the prestige of the monarchy.

Reporter for The Journal (G. de Banzemont)

Mutsu-hito was not only one of the most celebrated emperors of Japan, but also one of the greatest monarchs of the modern world. One need only recall the anguish that gripped the Japanese nation at the first news of the sovereign’s illness. Over several days, the tearful crowd marched, without concern for the torrid heat, under the windows of the imperial palace. On their knees, their foreheads covered in dust, in a common voice, they pleaded with the gods. And as soon as a dull lamp, illuminating the room of the deceased, announced that the monarch passed away in agony, there came the most violent explosion of sorrow that can be imagined.

Ito’s comment seems somewhat noncommittal — “support” and “guides” aren’t specific — but emphasizes the “progressive” modernizing elements of the regime.1 Suematsu, on the other hand, who served as an ambassador and Home minister, is effusive and clear. The “astute” French editorialist presents what could well be a summary of Keene’s own views.2 de Banzemont’s narrative is echoed, but not quite confirmed, by Japanese sources Keene cites, and seems a bit excessive.3

  1. Keene, in footnotes, says that the date of this statement “is not clear” but doesn’t explicitly remind the reader that Ito’s been dead for three years. []
  2. That’s what “astute” means: agrees with me []
  3. At some point, when I have more time, I want to go back to Japanese newspapers of the time. []


Studying Keene’s Emperor Meiji

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:42 am

Much of my Meiji Japan course is taken up with Donald Keene’s Emperor of Japan: Meiji and his World, 1852-1912. It’s been a pretty good experience, but I probably won’t do it again. I’ve enjoyed reading it1 and my students do seem to be getting a great deal out of it, but it is too long and really fails to answer some of its own critical questions. My students are in the process of writing about it now, and I thought it was time to share some of my own reactions.

As part of the reading process, I created a page of short chapter highlights: one of Keene’s quirks is that the book’s sixty-three chapters are neither titled nor listed in a table of contents. The book is arranged almost entirely chronologically, so it’s not too hard to find what you’re looking for if you know when it is, and it has an index (with definitions of Japanese language terms, so it doubles as a glossary), but it still seems deliberately perverse — or perhaps novelistic — to have such fine-grained divisions without explanation.2


  1. I read through it last year along with my directed study students, but I was doing the directed study on top of a four-course, four-prep semester, so it was a perfunctory read. []
  2. Another moment of perverse traditionalism comes from the pages of untranslated French on p. 707 recording thoughts on Meiji’s reign by the late Itō Hirobumi, Suematsu Kenchō and an “astute” French journalist and p. 709 recording “the sorrow of the Japanese people.” I will add translations of those to the summary page when I have them. []


A New Theory of Japanese History: Robots

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:21 pm

At No Fear of the Future, Jess Nevins has a new theory of modern Japanese history [via]:

It’s clear, isn’t it? When Japan makes a new robot, a white person steals it, and bad things happen to Japan. Japan, beware the white man! He will steal your best stuff and ruin your country!

Implausible? Well, examine the evidence:

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