井の中の蛙

2/1/2010

History Carnival #84: After the Tweeting is Done

The History CarnivalI’m very pleased to be hosting my 6th History Carnival, and I thought it would be fun to extend the carnival into a new medium this time: I’ve spent the whole day Tweeting the carnival at my twitter feed. Sharon Howard created a dynamic archive of the carnival, which can also be found by using the hashtag #HC84. I still haven’t entirely fallen in love with Twitter — 140 characters is very, very short — but I’m enjoying the flow of information it facilitates, and the way microblogging’s supplemented my regular history blog reading and writing. It exists in a very productive gray space between professional and informal communication.
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6/7/2009

Before the miniseries, there was….

Shogun Game cover I’m not sure when my family got this game, but I remember playing with it in the late 70s. Though Shogun is described as a “digital” game, there’s no electronics involved: magnets in the board turn the dial in each piece until a number shows in the window; that number is how far the piece can move next time. The pseudo-random element takes some of the strategy out of the game1 and so it moves pretty quickly. Below you can see a rare early checkmate — most games involve a lot of piece exchanges before checkmate is on the table — that my 7 year-old managed to pull of in his third game. The numbers swinging around in the pieces is quite enchanting, especially for kids.

Shogun Game Max MateThe game seems to have been invented by a Japanese, but I’m not sure it was ever marketed in Japan. Clavell’s Shogun came out a year or so before this game did, so it’s likely that the title would have been attached to anything with a hint of Japaneseness about it.

The association of ‘Japan’ with ‘digital’ is interesting; the use of ‘digital’ itself is an interesting cultural moment, the transition from ‘transistor’ to ‘digital.’ It’s got to be early in the analog v. digital wars, and the term is clearly being misused, as this is a patently analog game. Like “Shogun,” “digital” is a marketing device intended to invoke emotional responses rather than being descriptive.

  1. especially if you play a cutthroat version which doesn’t allow players to test moves before making them []

6/1/2009

Tomb Near Artifacts that Date to Himiko’s Purported Reign Dates Identified

Am I the only person who had a bad reaction to the Tomb of legendary Japanese Queen Himiko found headlines I’ve been seeing?

The article says

Archaeologists had previously claimed that the tomb, built in the traditional keyhole-shape design, was built in the fourth century and therefore too modern for Queen Himiko.

But a team led by Professor Hideki Harunari has discovered new clay artefacts close to the site, which radiocarbon dating indicates were made between 240AD and 260AD. According to records from the Chinese court, with which the Yamatai kingdom had links, Queen Himiko died around 250 AD.

The evidence seems quite circumstantial to me, from the oddly specific radio-carbon dating to the fact that they haven’t studied the tomb itself, to the treatment of Himiko and Yamatai as unequivocally Nara-centered.

I was just commenting on Jonathan Jarrett’s article about rehdroxylation rate dating that it would be nice to have better dating technology, as a safeguard against wishful thinking and distortions of the archaeological record.

11/9/2008

New Media and Japanese Studies

WARNING: those of you interested in Japanese studies but not in internet technologies, new media, and the whole question of how digital learning does or doesn’t effect academia should go no further. Here there be dragons.

I had the chance to attend a very unusual conference this past week. Well, “attend” is perhaps not the best word. This particular conference was held in Second Life, an unusual and large online community–technically a virtual world–in which you manipulate an “avatar” (kind of like a personalized character) to navigate an incredibly diverse landscape of “sims” (simulations, which translate into islands). People build buildings, art, natural environments, they buy and design and rent out sims, they sell virtual products and services, they collaborate or compete in games or educational endeavors, they socialize at dances and raves, and they do everything else that you can (or possibly can’t) imagine. I had never entered Second Life until the head of academic technology at my college informed me that we had some complementary tickets to a virtual conference on new media in the academy. I was skeptical about the whole Second Life thing but thought it might be interesting.

The conference schedule is now available online at the website of the New Media Consortium, the host organization and owner of the sim in which the conference took place. The program now includes links to “videos” of the presentations in Second Life, which look a bit like small movies of someone playing a really boring video game. If you listen to the presentations, though, the presenters turn out to be real teachers and academic technologists talking about a range of new media tools, including familiar ones like blogs and Facebook but also a slew of new technologies, and how they can be applied in the classroom. I was most impressed by the ways in which the conference was interactive. It is hard to get a sense of this from the video, but when your avatar was actually sitting there in the amphitheater listening to the presentations (which were made by people wearing headsets and presumably sitting at their own computers in various offices around the world), you could participate in an open, text-only chat (some of the sessions listed on the program include chat transcripts) that ran concurrently with the presentation. I didn’t have a mic and headset, like many other participants, so if I wanted to ask a question I just typed it into the chat window and someone not in the middle of presenting might answer it immediately, or, alternatively, one of the presenters would eventually get around to answering it. This was a form of multitasking that I had not previously experienced but that, surprisingly, really worked. I’m sure those of you who play linked online video games have experienced this mixture of virtual action and global conversation. You’re watching the screen (which frequently included multimedia presentations in the strange box above the presenters’ heads), listening to the spoken presentation, and also participating in a text-only chat discussion all at the same time. And at certain moments it was very informative and interesting.

So, what are the applications for Japanese studies? Well, first of all, Second Life itself could in theory be a very interesting teaching tool if used judiciously. I did a bit of searching in between sessions and discovered that there are a number of Japan-related sites that are open to visitors, most of them designed by Japanese users. “Bakumatsu Kyoto,” for example, is an educational sim (meaning it does not allow violence or, ahem, mature content) that aims to recreate the imperial capital at the end of the Tokugawa period. It is sort of amazing to walk around the city, or fly above its buildings (did I mention avatars can fly?) and see the odd but compelling attempt to create a digital version of that historical place and moment. I also dropped in (actually I “teleported” but that’s a whole different story) to the city of Edo, but when I saw people sword-fighting I thought, no, maybe not, and returned to the conference. Another day perhaps. Quite a few educational institutions have sims in Second Life. The virtual campus of Princeton University, for example, is particularly impressive.

Other tools that I learned about for the first time through the conference included Voicethread and Cosketch, two websites that I could easily imagine using in a Japanese history class or, if I taught one, a language class. Voicethread allows you to create a slideshow into which viewers can embed written or spoken comments or add their own threads of information, allowing unusual and visually compelling forms of interactive information. Cosketch is like an online whiteboard that allows simultaneous discussion and visual collaboration which would be great for talking to someone in another country, planning an event, preparing for a conference, or learning about a set of images when people are not together in the same room.

The presentations ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, particularly the concluding session which compared  proprietary course management software such as Blackboard to the zombies that increasingly infect popular culture such as movies and video games. The presenters actually arranged for a small army of virtual zombies to attack the conference, which was pretty silly. They argued for the effectiveness of open-content new media tools like Word Press (which powers this blog) and open syndication services as a way of creating “revolutionary” (their word, not mine) ways of learning.

I’m not sure what to make of all this, and when I returned to the classroom on Wednesday and Friday after experiencing these sessions I still had to figure out how to explain 18th-century Japanese intellectual developments, walk students through preparations for a presentation, and help my advisees to register for classes. Connecting the tools and idealistic visions of the presentations with the daily realities of the academy will take an investment of time and energy which will probably be worth it in the long run . . . But I also worry that because these technologies change so quickly these particular tools may be outdated as soon as I manage to figure out how to use them.

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….”? []

4/5/2008

A New Theory of Japanese History: Robots

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:21 pm Print

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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2/11/2006

Wartime Media

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 7:46 am Print

Brett at Airminded notes the Japanese National Archives war poster collection including detailed poison gas attack instructions and anti-fire civil defense. The level of detail in these instructional posters is quite intense, and would be really useful in classroom situations. Brett has a few questions about them, that I’ve tried to answer, but go on over and lend a hand, will you?

7/30/2005

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…

1/14/2005

Japanese Universities in World Context

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:21 am Print

Tomorrow’s Professor just forwarded a list of the top 500 universities in the world. As the introduction says

Attempting to rank universities world-wide is no easy task [which is why very few organizations have tried to do it] and it is easy enough to take exception to the various criteria used. That said, here is a list of the top 500 universities in the world by rank as determined in a study from the Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. A much more detailed description of the criteria used, rankings by geographic area, FAQ’s and the questionnaire itself can be found at: http://ed.sjtu.edu.cn/rank/2004/2004Main.htm

Here are the Japanese institutions which made the list, and their rankings

  • 14, Tokyo Univ
  • 21, Kyoto Univ
  • 54, Osaka Univ
  • 69, Tohoku Univ
  • 97, Nagoya Univ
  • 101-152, Hokkaido Univ, Kyushu Univ, Tokyo Inst Tech, Tsukuba Univ
  • 202-301, Hiroshima Univ, Keio Univ, Kobe Univ, Okayama Univ
  • 302-403, Chiba Univ, Gifu Univ, Gunma Univ, Kanazawa Univ, Nagasaki Univ, Nihon Univ, Niigata Univ, Tokyo Med & Dent Univ, Tokyo Metropolitan Univ, Tokyo Univ Agr & Tech, Univ Tokushima, Waseda Univ, Yamaguchi Univ
  • 404-502, Ehime Univ, Himeji Inst Tech, Jichi Med Sch, Juntendo Univ, Kagoshima Univ, Kumamoto Univ, Nara Inst Sci & Tech, Osaka City Univ, Shinshu Univ, Univ Osaka Prefecture

Keio and Waseda came much further down the list than I expected (the methodology is heavily weighted towards natural science and against social/humanistic studies), though I was gratified to see my research host Yamaguchi U [currently searching for an English instructor] on the list, not to mention Nagoya, my first Japanese hometown.

Side note: why don’t most Japanese universities have official university logo apparel? I know, sweats and T-shirts aren’t all that popular in Japan, and the major ones do (I always loved Keio’s crossed fountain pen nibs). But we had to take a photocopy of the Yamaguchi university logo to a print-shop so we would have T-shirts to trade with our family and friends. The only way to get logo stuff, it seemed, was to belong to one of the clubs, each of which had its own official seal and signs.

On a per capita basis, this is a very good showing; on a GDP basis, it’s just about right, or a bit underperforming (You can see the breakdown by country here). Though not all higher education is created equal, and there are significant pathologies present in Japanese higher-ed, it still bodes well, I think, as a rough measure of the likelihood that Japan will continue to be a strongly productive and innovative economy. The particularly strong showing of technical schools certainly suggests that to me.

One historical note: most of the universities on this list were the product of the US Occupation education reforms, particularly the insistence on public universities in every prefecture. Who would have guessed that in sixty years Japan would fill 1/15th of the world’s best list?

11/10/2004

Farewell, Soseki

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:57 pm Print

I’m going to miss Natsume Soseki. I know, he’s been dead for a long time (are there any plans in the works for centennial editions or celebrations, because the hundredth anniversary of his greatest works, as well as his death, are coming up), and I’m not going to stop referencing or using his writings in my modern history classes. But one of the things I could always tell my students, if they doubted the importance of this particular novelist, is that he was featured on the ¥1000 note. No longer.

He’s being replaced by Noguchi Hideyo, discoverer of the syphilis bacterium. This is a good choice, I suppose: promotion of science and all that. Looking for images for currency, I stumbled across this article on photocatalytic substances and their use in evironmental rejuvenation and eco-friendly construction, and this article on natto-based water-absorbing resins. I spent two summers translating and cataloging Japanese technical writing, so I’m used to a certain overstatement in these kinds of articles, but there’s something very, very intriguing about the work being done here. It’s something of a truism among environmental activists that environmentally-friendly technology is its own economic reward, reducing costs and stimulating demand, but it can be hard to find really good examples when everyone points at the solar cells and says “why aren’t they cheaper yet”? I think Japan’s long-term economic importance in the world will be sustained by such technological creativity — melding scientific and economic and social innovation — and that’s worth noting. It’s also worth noting that he did the work that made him famous in the United States

Inazo, the educator and writer who worked so hard to introduce Japanese culture to the world in the early 20th century, is losing his place on the ¥5000, as well. I have more mixed feelings about that: though Nitobe is described in Hunter’s Concise Dictionary as “a strong opponent of militarism and nationalism.. an internationalist, Christian and liberal,” my strongest association with him is the cultural essentialism which he promoted through books like Bushidō: the Soul of Japan. That is a strain of Japanese culture commentary which provided great support to the militarists and nationalists over the course of the 20th century, and which still plagues us today in a variety of forms (including overwrought undergraduate essays on the samurai, which I’m plowing through now).

Nitobe is being replaced by Higuchi Ichiyo, about whom I know almost nothing. I’ll admit it: the woman being described as one of the first and most important feminist novelists in Meiji Japan I know nothing about. I know some of the work of Enchi Fumiko and Ariyoshi Sawako and Tawara Machi…. but not Higuchi. I guess I’ve got some reading to do. Still, she is the first modern woman to appear on Japan’s currency, and it’s nice to see a novelist still holding a place, though the ¥5000 is something of a ghetto in terms of daily use.

The reverse of the bills is changing as well: you can see them here. Mt. Fuji is moving from the ¥5000 to the ¥1000, and picking up some cherry blossoms. The cranes (I liked the cranes) are not moving the other way, though: the ¥5000 now features “Kakitsubata, or rabbit-ear irises, drawn by Korin Ogata.”

The ¥10000 bill will retain Fukuzawa Yukichi, which makes me very happy, though it will also be modified slightly to include the anti-forgery features of the other new bills.

And in a sign of how long I’ve been out of Japan, I hadn’t realized that they introduced a ¥2000 bill in 2000, featuring the Tale of Genji and its author “Murasaki Shikibu.” I do remember the phase-out of the ¥500 bill, and I still think that the transition to a coin for that denomination is a model of what the US government should do with its $1 and $5 paper denominations. Even I’ve mostly given up on the Sacajawea dollar, but that’s partly because I’m on an island where it’s harder to get them, but the cost savings in shifting to coinage would be considerable.

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