Ueda Akinari translation

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:09 am

PMJS has published William Clarke and Wendy Cobcroft’s annotated translation of Ueda Akinari’s Tandai Shoshinroku, available as a free PDF and also as a book-on-demand from Lulu (and eventually Amazon). I leave the commentary on the value of scholarly networks, non-profit online publishing, and the finally-growing body Early Modern translations as an exercise for our readers, who don’t need me to tell them what they already know.


Productive Procrastination

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:59 pm

The Journal of the Historical Society has put five recent articles up for free, including a four-year old essay by Herman Ooms on the state of Tokugawa intellectual history. Aside from the gallop through the history of state-of-the-field essays, it includes a quick, very positive, look at European scholarship in French and German. I’m not sure how long these articles (the rest of them look interesting, too, but not Asian studies) will be up, but I’ll be going back there for fun in between stacks of grading this week and weekend.

And, as a bonus, some 1920s British Jiujitsu demonstration films which really need someone who knows more about martial arts history to put into proper context.



Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:53 pm

One of my general exam advisor/examiners has passed away: Donald Fleming who was Harvard’s preeminent intellectual historian for many years. I studied European intellectual history for the exam, which entailed sitting through his two-semester sequence on 19th and 20th century European thought and working through carefully selected (by him) portions of his absurdly long bibliography on the subject. I’m sure I’ve told the story before about how my heart stopped, briefly, when he put not one, but two bound photocopied volumes on the desk — dozens of pages in each — of single-spaced references, sorted by topic. Then came the paring down: His selections depended on your interests, to some extent, and it ended up being about the same 80-100 books that my other fields entailed.

He was a classic “ivy-covered professor,” the kind I didn’t think really existed until I met him. His office was filled with books. I don’t mean that he had full bookshelves: I mean that he had his bookshelves (which covered both of the long walls of the office) double-lined, and that nearly every horizontal surface in that office was also covered with stacks — one foot or more — of books. There was a fairly narrow path from the door to the table (I don’t know if he had a desk in there or not: I don’t remember seeing one, but it could have been hidden!), which then branched into two paths, one to each side. The table itself had a clear space in the middle, running across from one chair to the other. In his defense, I’m fairly sure he knew where everything was: I saw him on at least one occasion pick a book off the shelf without having to search for it.

His lectures were polished over decades: he always ended within seconds of the stroke of the clock-tower next door. He’d come into the classroom, mount the stage, remove the podium, open his briefcase, take out his notes, then create his own podium by setting the briefcase on end, and putting his notes on top of a portfolio on top of his open briefcase. He could barely see over the thing, and his students could barely see him. Took a while to understand him, as well: he had a vocal affectation that took me several lectures to figure out. It wasn’t an accent, though I did waste some time trying to figure out what accent it was, so I could understand him.1 After a week or two, I got used to it. He did not use TAs, because no graduate student could possibly know enough to satisfactorily discuss all the material in the course, but he did use graders. His study guides for exams were as bad as his reading bibliographies: page after page of possible essay questions, dozens for each one that would be on the test, covering nearly every topic in every lecture and every reading for the semester.2 There was no textbook: just his lectures and a stack of primary readings.

When I started at Harvard, I thought I was going to study intellectual transmission: how ideas came from the West into Japan. Al Craig advised me to pick general exam fields that supported my dissertation goals, so I took Fleming to get a foundation in the ideas that were coming into Japan (and Iriye, for diplomatic history). It was a good choice: I had no background in European or intellectual history outside of some introductory philosophy, and since Harvard had no required historiography course (and nobody suggested that I take it anyway), I had to get some theory somehow! So I got a pretty good dose of conservativism, liberalism, Marxism, linguistic theory (very different from the phonology/morphology we studied as undergrads!), social science, modernism and my first taste of post-structuralism. Since a lot of historical theory has to do with applying these theories in historical contexts, I think I made a good choice. (From a teaching perspective, it was a godsend: I never would have made it through Western Civ without it, though a general field in European history might have been more useful. Or a field in Chinese history; that would have been good, too!) From Fleming’s point of view, I was starting from near-total ignorance, and I know I barely made it through Generals (A friend saw me during the brief break in the middle of the two-hour session and said I looked “green.” Felt it, too.). As a friend pointed out, there wasn’t a lot of feminism in the mix, nor women at all; I’d started getting familiar with that as an undergrad, and my social science friends made sure I got more. Fleming was one of the early scholars to write on environmentalism, but that didn’t really show up in the surveys much, either.

Fleming was one of the few non-Asianists I dealt with at Harvard, and I think he considered me just as odd as I considered him. I did part of my General Reading year from Berkeley, and when I suggested that we could keep in touch by phone — this was before email was common — he looked shocked, then amused. We never did keep touch by phone: I found a friendly Europeanist at Berkeley who let me sit in on lectures and chat about books. Also Andy Barshay was running grad seminars with a heavy dose of historical theory; that helped, too. At one department party, I think the holiday part of my first year, I was talking to Fleming a bit: he asked me what I studied, and I said “Japan.” He spent a moment thinking out loud what the proper term for me was, then settled on “Japanology,” “like Astrology!” he quipped, very pleased with himself. I got the impression that he hadn’t seen many of us over the years. But it was kind of nice having one classically odd professor.

  1. I thought I was on to something with “Swiss”…. []
  2. Yes, I still use Fleming as an example of how nice I am to my students. Wouldn’t you? []


Diasporic Remnants

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:22 am

I’m always interested in interesting tales and connections regarding the Japanese diaspora. Here’s a couple that I’ve run across: New research on Japanese settlers in Korea; Jorge Luis Borges, the great surrealist, married a Nikkei Argentinian woman late in life; Japanese post-WWII settlers in the Dominican Republic abandoned by both governments. I love being part — a small part, but nonetheless — of the diaspora studies movement. We’re complicating the history of the world, chronicling the wonderful diversity of seemingly simple things. [continued...]



Defining Japaneseness: a miscellany

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:08 pm

This report (with followups here) suggests that Japan is no longer a “classless society” but I wonder to what extent the concept of class simply to mean “income strata” is useful?

This research by Mark J. Hudson and Mami AOYAMA, drawing heavily on the work of fellow WellFrogger Brian McVeigh, shows a fascinating diversity of opinions by young Japanese about their own ethnicity, by looking at their responses to a final exam question about same…. How do you grade that?

Mariko Tamanoi’s War Orphan chapter from Japanese Diasporas (Full Disclosure: I wrote chapter three) focuses on the nexus between nationality and identity, noting, for example, that Japanese repatriation services only work with orphans who wish to take Japanese nationality after repatriation, not those who want to retain Chinese passports.


Our Future, more or less

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:43 am

The head of the Japan Foundation (to whom I, like so many, owe thanks) has made some comments on the state and future of Japan Studies. It’s his job, after all.

Ogoura has divided up the issue into “trends” and “recommendations.” First, the Trends:

  • The transition from “area studies” to interdisciplinarity, and increasing integration of Japan into studies of global phenomena through comparative approaches.
  • The lack of economic or military threat from Japan means that there’s less policy-driven interest. There’s a corresponding shift, which Ogoura calls a separate trend, towards studies of the Middle East and China, both of whom represent significant ongoing policy issues, though the importance of the Japan-US relationship remains a valuable tool in pushing Japan studies.
  • Finally, the ever-popular academic-commoner “gap,” though pop culture studies might fill the role that dignitaries like E.O. Reischauer used to fill, bringing people into interest in Japan and to more substantial Japanese studies courses.

Then come the recommendations, mostly targeting “foundations and grant-issuing institutions” and which assume that the trends listed above are necessarily bad things….

  • Encourage young people to follow their interests into deeper study, instead of just sticking with what interests them.
  • Encourage comparative, international, transnational and other broader scholarship rather than sticking with an orthodox and limited view of Japanese Studies
  • Link university and High School programs, to broaden the minds of manga/anime-infected youth towards “real” Japanese culture and history.
  • Without a hint of irony, he then goes on to recommend “courses that focus on subjects of greater interest to young people, such as sports, fashion and food” preferably with cool show-and-tell cultural events.

As you can imagine, I’m not entirely sure that this analysis hits the mark. What do you think is the future of Japanese Studies, and what would you like to see groups like the JF putting effort into?



皆さん、はじめまして。斉川貴嗣(Saikawa Takashi)と申します。


まずは簡単な自己紹介。現在、早稲田大学大学院政治学研究科の学生(博士課程)です。専門は国際関係論なのですが、理論研究ではなく歴史研究を行なっています。具体的には、両大戦間期に活動を展開した知的協力国際委員会(International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation)を研究対象としています。この委員会は、1922年に国際連盟の一機関として設立され、当時の世界的な知識人が数多く参加しました。教育交流、文化交流など現在で言えば国際交流を実践した機関で、その理念や活動は今のユネスコに継承されています。私としては、この委員会に非西洋諸国の知識人や政府がどのように関わったのかということに興味があり、特に当時の日本と中国の関与を調べています。日本では新渡戸稲造、田中館愛橘、姉崎正治、中国では呉稚暉、林語堂などの知識人が関わっていて、これら人々の思想研究も行なうつもりです。先月から今月にかけて4週間ほど、ジュネーブの国際連盟アーカイブスに研究調査に行ってきました。結構面白い史料が見つかりましたので、早いうちに何らかのかたちで成果を示すことができればと考えています。



Berry on Early Modern Information

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:57 am

I admit that I’m a great admirer of Berry, but this is going to be fun. My own thoughts about Early modern Japan as an intellectual renaissance are going to have to be tested against this scholarship.

The University of California Press is pleased to announce the publication of:

Japan in Print: Information and Nation in the Early Modern Period

Mary Elizabeth Berry is Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of _The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto_ (California, 1994) and _Hideyoshi_ (1982).

“In _Japan in Print_, Mary Elizabeth Berry crisply condenses a remarkable amount of primary research on difficult and little-known materials, and it interprets those materials in a highly original framework.”-Karen E. Wigen, author of _The Making of a Japanese Periphery, 1750-1920_

A quiet revolution in knowledge separated the early modern period in Japan from all previous time. After 1600, self-appointed investigators used the model of the land and cartographic surveys of the newly unified state to observe and order subjects such as agronomy, medicine, gastronomy, commerce, travel, and entertainment. They subsequently circulated their findings through a variety of commercially printed texts: maps, gazetteers, family encyclopedias, urban directories, travel guides, official personnel rosters, and instruction manuals for everything from farming to lovemaking. In this original and gracefully written book, Mary Elizabeth Berry considers the social processes that drove the information explosion of the 1600s. Inviting readers to examine the contours and
meanings of this transformation, Berry provides a fascinating account of the conversion of the public from an object of state surveillance into a subject of self-knowledge.

Full information about the book, including the table of contents, is available online: http://go.ucpress.edu/Berry

The use of maps and visual materials in Culture of Civil War gives us some hints about the direction she’s likely going here. I love my job.


Takeuchi Yoshimi on E. H. Norman

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:38 pm

It is a fairly rare thing to see Japanese public intellectuals pour praise on the work of historians of Japan who are active outside of Japan. It is heartening, however, to occasionally find examples of this and be reminded that our worlds of writing are not completely separate. Some examples from my recent reading that come to mind are when Kang Sangjun praises and makes use of my advisor, Andrew Gordon‘s conception of “Imperial Democracy” in his essay on “Radical Democracy” or a few articles I have read recently that build on ideas from Carol Gluck’s many essays. Of course, Gordon and Gluck have many of their works translated into Japanese or write actively for Japanese publications.

Even more rare, I think is when such a historian of Japan’s work is referred to as a, “work of art.” Today I found a particularly early example of this kind of attention in Takeuchi Yoshimi’s 1948 essay “What is Modernity” (translated by Richard Calichman, who also has a forthcoming work on Takeuchi that I’m looking forward to entitled Takeuchi Yoshimi: Displacing the West) The context of the quote is a discussion by Takeuchi of Lu Xun’s parable of the wise man, the fool, and the slave, and about what Takeuchi believes to be the unique connection between the claims to the “superiority” of Japanese culture and its “slave mentality.” He finds echoes of this in the Marxist scholarship of E. H. Norman:

The following words are found in Norman’s Soldier and Peasant in Japan. Of the books I’ve read recently, this one made a particularly deep impression, striking me as virtually a work of art. It hits home through the weight of its content. The text possesses a formative logic, with the wealth of its resources rising up like a Rodin sculpture. It is classically beautiful in its abundance of life force. Toward the end of the book, when the militarists become the tool of capital (which lagged behind European capital) and set off for the mainland invasion, the inevitable process of barbarization on the part of the modern army is captured in precise psychological realism: “The common Japanese man, himself an unfree agent enrolled in a conscript army, became an unwitting agent in riveting the shackles of slavery on other peoples.” After this Normand adds, “It is impossible to employ genuinely free men for enslaving others; and conversely, the most brutalized and shameless slaves make the most pitiless and effective despoilers of the liberties of others.” (80)


Speaking of Japanese Korean relations….

I know as well as anyone that the blogosphere is a self-selected and decidedly non-standard sample of any population (except, of course, bloggers). But, apropos our vigorous discussion of Jared Diamond on Japanese origins, comes an analysis suggesting a rising tide of anti-Korean patriotism among Japanese bloggers. [via Kirk Larsen] At the risk of sounding snippy, apparently several decades of research on the common origins of Koreans and Japanese, popularized in the best English-language venues, has made little difference…

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