End of Semester Bits-n-pieces

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:12 am

You grade sixty tests, and what do you get?
Three months older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter don’t you call me, cause I can’t go!
I owe book orders to the campus bookstore….


Books that still need to be written about Meiji Japan1 :

  • A good comprehensive history of the Meiji era2
  • A good social history of the post-abolition samurai class. Aside from the Hirschmeier-Yamamura economic debate, there’s hardly anything.
  • a full-length biography of Kido Takayoshi (aka Kido Kōin). We’ve got Ito, and Yamagata, and Okubo and Meiji (now we need an abridged one) and Katsura Taro and Shibusawa Eiichi, and Saionji Kimmochi.
  • a history of the modernization of martial arts


Adamu at MutantfrogTravelogue did a nice survey of the Yasukuni Shrine’s Yushukan museum which ignited a 60-response comment thread. One of the subtler distortions in the Shrine is their history of Korea-Japan relations. Adamu writes

The arguments made did not seem particularly pernicious or dishonest, though certain claims (such as “Japan had repeatedly proposed national independence for Korea, but the West rejected the idea” prior to formal annexation in 1905) seemed kind of disingenuous.

My contribution to the comments was to clarify:

On the Korean issue, they are being blatantly disingenuous: the various calls for Korean independence were targetted at blunting the influence of other regional powers over the Korean court, on the grounds that—according to Japanese strategic calculations—the only natural and legitimate influence in Korea should be Japanese. They called for Korean independence from China before the Sino-Japanese war (after which China explicitly recognized Japanese interests in Korea), then independence from Russia before the Russo-Japanese war (after which Russia and the US explicitly recognized Japanese innterests in Korea). It’s still not a settled question as to when Korean annexation became Japanese policy, but there never was any question (after about 1876 or so) that control of Korea was critical to Japan’s strategic situation.

  1. inspired by the difficulties my Meiji class students had with their topics []
  2. this is the only one of this list which I would consider taking on myself []


Japan Calendar Converter Dashboard Widget

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:50 am

After creating an OS X dashboard widget to converting Korean 檀紀 years into to western years, it was only a matter of time before another moment of distraction got me to playing with the idea of creating widgets for converting Japanese and Chinese calendars. After a long day of reading about US rice control policies in Korea 1945-1948, I treated myself to some more tinkering and managed to slap together a new widget for some Japanese dates:

Japan Calendar Converter Dashboard Widget v1.0


It unfortunately appears that the widget will not work on OS X versions earlier than 10.4.3.

When you install the widget, just select the period you want (or leave it on whatever period you used last), type the number of the year you want, and press return. It will convert the date into western years. It currently supports conversion from 明治, 大正, 昭和, and 平成 years. If there are a lot of comments here expressing interest, I can add earlier periods easily enough, but I won’t bother unless there is some demand for it.

UPDATE: While looking around for an online version of a chart detailing the conversion of pre-Meiji Japanese dates, I found that there is no reason for me to upgrade this little widget to cover the premodern. There is already a great widget out there with full support for these older periods. Anyone studying pre-modern Japanese history who uses a Mac should definitely check out the fantastic NegoCalc application, which includes a dashboard widget! Read more and download the application here:

NengoCalc Download Page

Archival Incidents, or What is it with Pictures?

Sean Malloy has withdrawn the pictures once touted as “newly discovered” photographs of Hiroshima in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing. Over the last few days, after the pictures were reported by HNN, the Huffington Post, and Wired, among others, members of the Japanese studies community took a closer look and began to doubt. I saw it unfold at H-Japan: questions about the clothing worn by the people standing in the photos, injuries that didn’t match the atomic bombing, topography issues. Most of all, there were similarities to other known pictures from the Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the anti-Korean/anti-leftist massacres which followed: the injuries, topography and clothing are more consistent with that disaster/atrocity. How the pictures acquired the Hiroshima story is still a mystery though, as one commenter pointed out, there’s a three day gap between the bombing and the first known pictures which we’d dearly love to fill.

By a curious coincidence, I (and a lot of other innocent scholars of Asia, I warrant) got an email from an ironically named Japanese group1 whose sole purpose is to deny the realities of Japanese WWII atrocities, and one of their highlight publications is an attempt to debunk as many Nanjing Massacre photographs as possible. Daqing Yang, one of the premier scholars on the Nanjing Massacre has written

Even photographic evidence, as many of them have come to realize, can be fraught with danger if its origins cannot be ascertained. When a conservative Japanese daily newspaper made a news story out of a wartime photograph used with the wrong caption in Kasahara’s book, he offered a swift public apology for his negligence and replaced the photograph.94 One of Kasahara’s historian colleagues has included a cautionary note about the use of photographic evidence in a college textbook on historical sources, using the Rape of Nanjing as an example.95

A few days back, peacay wrote me to get clarification on a satirical map found in the ‘Block Prints of the Chinese Revolution’ collection at Princeton. The problem with it, what was confusing peacay, is that the map seemed to be too broad and didn’t say much about the 1911 Revolution. The archival commentary wasn’t helpful, being a general statement about the whole collection. So, I got a good look at it and reported back that it was actually a Japanese-drawn (that much peacay already knew, which is why I got the call) WWI satire, dated late 1914, and the sum total of Chinese commentary was to depict China as a Mandarin pig, anxiously looking at a rain gauge. (peacay has a nice detail shot of it) The rest of the collection seems to actually be from Shanghai and relate to the 1911 revolution (at least, I assume Alan would have said something!). I don’t know that Princeton is going to withdraw the out-of-place image — they’ve already got a disclaimer on the collection saying that they don’t endorse any of the sentiments contained therein — but I expect that their in-house cataloging is more detailed and accurate. I hope so, but that’s no protection for researchers who aren’t in New Jersey.

This is going to come up more and more: as archives and collections become more public, the likelihood of discovering errors (or worse, propogating them in our research) is going to increase. As others have noted, I’m sure, historians are rarely trained specifically in the critical use of visual evidence, photographic or artistic. I’ve seen some grossly overinterpreted and casually thoughtless uses of visual materials.2 Nor are many archivists, though we rely heavily on their record-keeping and expertise. But it’s getting harder and harder to excuse this kind of carelessness, while our training is not at all keeping up with the materials we’re expected to use.

  1. I’ll tell you if you really want, but I don’t want to give them any more publicity than they deserve []
  2. I used a world history textbook once which both: a. presented a photograph of modern African folk dancers in a chapter on pre-1500 African history, the only instance in which a modern photo was used as evidence in a pre-modern context; b. and claimed that the solemn expressions on native Americans in a mid-19c picture were evidence of their social and cultural plight instead of the long exposures of contemporary technology []


Big Book Sale at Columbia University Press

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:41 am

Some great bargains at the Columbia University Press White Sale with lots of offerings in Asian history and literature.


Otakon: Desperately Seeking Academics

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 11:15 am

I hear through the grapevine that the organizers of Otakon, the huge anime/manga/pop culture convention held every in August in Baltimore, are looking for academic papers and panels on East Asian art, history, and culture to round out their offerings. Interested parties should contact Omar Jenkins, Head of Programming.

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