井の中の蛙

5/12/2011

Collecting Local Materials in Okinawa

Filed under: — sayaka @ 9:09 am Print

It seems there is increasing attention to Okinawan history recently. Okinawa is such an obviously interesting place for its own rich cultures, languages, customs, and complicated historical relationships with Yamato Japan and surrounding countries. The complexity should not overwhelm comparative historians, however, because there are a couple of advantages in studying the Okinawan history even only for a short period of time.

First of all, there is a tight community of Okinawan studies scholars who are very approachable, and many materials are available even from Tokyo. The library of Hosei University’s Institute for Okinawan Studies is a great place to find basic materials, and probably to get to know people.

Second of all, Okinawa’s prefectural and municipal governments have been devoting a lot of resources to organizing local sources. Almost everything they collect and publish are available at the Okinawa Prefectural Library in Naha. If you are doing postwar histories, the Okinawa Prefectural Archives is the place to go to. I spent most of my time in the Prefectural Library. Generally speaking, there are not many documents left from the prewar period because of the magnitude of the Battle of Okinawa as well as the occupation by the US forces afterwards. For many issues and years, the only sources are newspapers (琉球新報, 沖縄タイムス, 大阪朝日付録九州沖縄版, 沖縄新報, 沖縄毎日新聞 etc) preserved mainly in Tokyo or Kyushu and the old people who lived through that period. I realize that the Okinawan officials are indeed desperate to collect everything left when I saw this:

沖縄県文化振興会『植物標本より得られた近代沖縄の新聞』 2007
They collected about 300 pages of newspapers that were used as wrappers of botanical samples between the 1910s and 1930s in Kyoto University.

To those who want to know the backgrounds of the major newspapers ( in Okinawa, Ota Masahide (大田昌秀)’s “Okinawa no minshu ishiki” (『沖縄の民衆意識』1995) is a must read although the focus is the Meiji period.

Many municipal governments, like in Miyagi but often even more eagerly, have a city history section which regularly publishes new studies. I contacted Nago city history section. Their city history is one of the most thorough ones, and like other cities in Okinawa, they indexed and re-published newspaper articles and organized all the available statics related to Nago in three volumes. The republished version of newspaper articles is much easier to read than the original bad printing, of course. Nago city also distributed an index list of “newspaper articles related to education in Nago before 1945,” which came in extremely handy for my research. Besides that, I don’t know if this is really doable for other cities, but they publish contacts of senior citizens of the city — in case you are looking for the elderly to interview, I guess…

The staff at the Nago history section is also very helpful in introducing local historians to me from the local Meio University (名桜大学) and in responding to my additional request for a copy of a couple of newspaper articles that I could not find in the Prefectural Library.

You could also visit the national Ryukyu University, whose library is one of the oldest in Okinawa. I found a few issues of 沖縄教育 that were missing from the reprinted version and random village youth periodicals there. But overall their collection is not as thorough as the Prefectural Library, and it is less conveniently located. If you suddenly need to refer to English publications, Ryukyu University is the place to go to.

Shimoina in Nagano Prefecture is probably the most popular site of research because of its rich local sources, but it seems there is an equivalent of Shimoina in Okinawa — Ogimi (大宜味)village in Kunigami (the Northern one third of Okinawa). To be precise, rather than a lot of materials left, there are more historians who write about this village from early on. Besides their very well-written 大宜味村誌, Fukuchi Hiroaki (福地曠昭) has written a number of works based on many oral interviews and his own experiences of growing up in the village in the 1930s and 40s. Ogimi, in a way, is a peculiar case because the youth created a “soviet” in the village in 1931. 山城善光 was one of the leaders in this movement, and he wrote a memoir “Yambaru no hi” (『山原の火』1976)as well. When I visited Ogimi village last summer, they just created a new village history office. Kin (金武)village is also gaining more and more attention because that village produced a large number of immigrants.

I do not need to convince others about the importance of Okinawan studies. Neither do I need to persuade Okinawan people to engage in local histories. I was totally impressed by their continuous efforts, and I hope they will get attention and admiration that they deserve.

4/17/2011

Collecting Local Materials in Miyagi

Filed under: — sayaka @ 11:29 am Print

To express my deep gratitude to those who helped my research in Miyagi this summer, and to encourage more researchers to explore sources in Tohoku when things return to relatively normal, I would like to share some of my experiences in visiting libraries and archives there. I will also give my experience of doing a similar research stay in Okinawa in the next post. Several weeks of research in the local prefectures do not suddenly make me a specialist of the regions of any sort, but my point is that, thanks to the taxes well spent on organizing local histories in Japan, even short stays like mine could lead you to interesting case studies in local contexts.

I am not writing this post only to support the Tohoku region after the earthquake, but mainly because Tohoku is really worth a look for many issues because it offers rich, and often unique, historical contexts. Sendai, the center of the Tohoku dynamics, is a good place to explore for that reason. The three must-visit facilities in Sendai are, Miyagi Prefectural Archives, Miyagi Prefectural Library, and Tohoku University Library. All of them are temporarily closed because of the damage of the earthquake and aftershocks.

Miyagi Prefectural Archives (MPA) have hundreds of thick files, many of which are hand-written, recording administrative conducts of the prefectural and district governments. [My friend just let me know that the archives will be moved to the Prefectural Library around February 2012, and you can download the lists of their holdings here (go to the very bottom of the page)]. You can officially bring in a digital camera to take photos. There is a professional archivist, Kanehira Kenji, who is very helpful in finding out sources and locating the ones even outside the MPA. From what I saw there, their materials on education from Meiji to Showa are impressively thorough. They have lists and resumes of thousands of teachers, for example. Many local researchers often come to the MPA, so it might be a good place to ask about and meet local historians.

Miyagi Prefectural Library is located outside of Sendai City, and it takes about 30-40 minutes on the bus to get there. They have a big local history section, and you find most of the books, including personal memoirs and journals, in open stacks. They keep rare books inside the closed stacks, however. They will let you take digital photos within the limitation of copy rights in the back room. They have the most thorough collection of Kahoku Shimpo and other local newspapers in microfilms as well. Unfortunately the important years (around 1919-1930) of Kahoku Shimpo are completely missing, but some articles related to agricultural business could be found at Kobe University’s digital archive.

Tohoku University’s library is open to the public, but unfortunately most of the books are in the closed stacks. Visitors can make a library card to check out 2 books at a time. Even though this is a little inconvenient, you must check out their online catalogue because some retired scholars have donated tons of rare books to the library. Besides, local academic journals are available in open stacks. They also received and organized the donation of a massive amount of the documents of the Saito Faimily, who used to be the second largest landholder in Japan. I have not tried but you can take a look at the list of Saito documents online by registering.

Many of the city and town offices in Miyagi also compile and revise their local history series regularly. This is partly because many administrative units are going through mergers lately and they try to record a full account of the old city histories. For example, I was doing research on Shida village in Miyagi, which was merged into Furukawa city, which became a part of Osaki city recently. The Osaki city history section have just finished the new Furukawa city history. Because their volume on “sources of modern history” included very relevant materials, I inquired whether I could take a look at other sources they have. They were both very professional and laid-back — they collect as many personally-archived materials from their citizens as possible and digitize everything, and they are willing to share these sources with researchers. They also shared with me an index of Kahoku Shimpo articles written on the region which took three city officials a couple of full months to complete. When I needed to contact individuals in the city, this city history section also helps me by going in-between.

I hope it is clear that Miyagi (I actually imagine that many other prefectures as well) is very historian-friendly, both because they have many interesting materials and because there is personnel who helps you. If you have any possible excuse to include an event, a person, a company, a perspective from Miyagi, I strongly encourage you to devote a few hours searching these catalogues and asking these professionals.

Last Updated: Nov. 10, 2011.

8/7/2009

Adjusting to the new narrative

My China-side colleague, Alan Baumler, noted that China seems to have supplanted Japan as the go-to model for economic development. This has, he says, required him to alter his own attitude towards Chinese history, which never really had much of a triumphal arc before. He says, though

Well, the Japan people seem to have adjusted to going from an Asian Anomaly to a model for humanity and back, so I guess we can.

My response was

Actually, Japan’s gone 180 degrees and has become a negative example for demographic, financial and rights development. Between the “aging Japan”, “Lost Decade” and rising tide of neo-nationalism….. we need a new narrative, too.

The last few times I’ve taught my Japan course that comes up to the present, I’ve used Bumiller’s book, but that one comes just at the beginning of the economic stagnation, and is now approaching 20 years old. I haven’t seen much that I’d like to use to replace it, either literature or ethnography. There’s Japan After Japan, but it seems like the kind of stuff I’d have to spend more time explaining and excusing than making good use of. I’m tempted to shift in the direction of global diaspora or something on the globalization of Japanese culture, but both of those seem a bit like avoiding the question.

What’s the new narrative? Have the economic slowdown, normalization, and globalization affected the way you present the post-war arc, or are the last two decades a distinct period?

4/25/2008

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….”? []

3/23/2008

The race between the Totman and the Hane

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? []

3/2/2007

The course we all have to teach

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:05 am Print

Alan Baumler, my colleague from next door has sent along this “call to arms”

As some of our regular readers may remember, there is a Frog tradition of posting our syllabi for comments. One class I will be teaching in Fall is Japan in the Age of the Samurai. Here is the description.

In this class we will examine the development of Japanese society and culture during the age of the samurai, roughly 1100 to 1550. We will look at the development of the class of bushi, their political, economic and military roles. We will also look in depth at the development of a social identity that was flexible enough to include the courtier-warriors of the Heian period and the ronin of Sengoku. This was also an age of considerable social and intellectual change, and we will look at urbanization, international relations and the development of Buddhism as well as changes in rural society and other topics. Readings will include important secondary sources and some primary sources. The course will also involve a research paper.

I was going to call the class “Land tenure and social status in Medeival Japan,” but I was told by pretty much everybody that I needed a better title to attract students. So “Age of the Samurai” it is. Basically we will be covering the late Heian to the end of Sengoku, and it is not a class just about warriors, but they are pretty central to the period. It is a topics class, which means it is mostly for juniors and seniors, and I will be running it more like a colloquium than a lecture class, and all the students will be doing research papers.

So, I need to pick maybe four books to have them all read. I was thinking of using

Helen McCullough trans. Tale of the Heike

Pierre Souyri The World Turned Upside Down

Thomas Conlan States of War: The Violent Order of Fourteenth Century Japan

Mary Berry The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto

Any suggestions? Books to substitue? Things I should be reading as I teach these books? Articles or chunks from other things I should assign? For this type of class I usually make up a reader with a bunch of articles and chapters from other books so any ideas would be most welcome.

I don’t have a lot to add: my own version of this is running currently, and overlaps considerably with Alan’s choices. I am particularly curious myself about the Berry as a course text, since I’ll be getting to it in a month or so. I’m a little surprised not to see any John Whitney Hall or Jeffrey Mass at that level (especially the Mass, for documents). The Cambridge History of Japan for that period might be a good resource, too, though more for the instructor than the students.

So, gentle readers: any other suggestions?

3/22/2006

Denis Twitchett and the Cambridge Histories

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:05 pm Print

Denis Twitchett, author of the groundbreaking Financial Administration Under the T’ang Dynasty and a strong guiding force behind the Cambridge History series for China and Japan, has passed away. [via]

The Cambridge History series has sometimes struck me as an odd duck sort of publication — I think I’m channeling one of Berry’s reviews here — a mix of “state of the art” and “timeless reference” which never quite succeeded at either. But they remain very powerful tools for students, especially graduate students, in getting a baseline on a period or a topic. They remain particularly useful, I think, as syntheses of material and findings that is otherwise only found in monographs, because most of it hasn’t been integrated into most textbooks on Asia.

I’ve never had very good luck assigning the chapters — the Japan histories, anyway — to undergraduate classes, but they have been good for students doing research.

8/11/2005

The Price of Historical Accuracy

Filed under: — tak @ 2:58 am Print

Recently I received an email from a novelist out on the West Coast who is working on a historical novel set in 1946 Japan. She wanted to know how much things cost at that time. Being an anthropologist and not a historian, I really had no idea where to look, other than to say that in 1946 prices must have been really unstable because of inflation, SCAP’s attempt to engineer the market while at the same time implement labor-friendly policies, and the proliferation of the black market. A great description of the social landscape at that time is in John Dower’s superb Embracing Defeat, especially the first section where he takes you right to the streets of postwar Tokyo so that you can smell the cheap kasutori liquor and see the pan-pan girls hanging onto U.S. servicemen. (Another book I have read that deals with this same time period is Chalmers Johnson’s gripping Conspiracy at Matsukawa).

But I asked around to see if there are easier ways of finding out other than combing through long passages, and sure enough our ever resourceful Jonathan Dresner recommended two reference books: Estimates of Long Term Economic Statistics of Japan since 1868 (bilingual) and the Historical Statistics of Japan.

He also had a brilliant suggestion of looking at microfilms of newspapers at that time and picking off prices of products through ads. I would never have thought of that!

(For those wishing to have questions answered, a more helpful place to ask might be over at H-Japan, a resourceful user group that focuses on Japanese history. They cast a much wider net of scholars there, so you might get more in-depth responses.)

I have to say, its nice to see fiction writers taking the time to do some historical research for their writing. When films like The Last Samurai mutilate history, it really is a travesty because a little veracity would have made the film truly powerful (my opinion). Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is also that much more convincing to the reader. So perhaps it’s worth paying the price of meticulous research to push for historical accuracy.

But then, I also think that if you’re writing a novel like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Pale View of Hills, then accuracy doesn’t really matter because it is all about how memories from one moment of your life become all confused with things that happened in other moments. (This is not to say that Ishiguro’s novel contained historical inaccuracies.)

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