Welcome to the Japan History Group Blog, one of three history group blogs which will kick off the new “Frog in a Well” project. On this blog a group of students and scholars will post entries related to the history of Japan or other topics relevant to its study. The blog will be multilingual with postings in both Japanese and English. There is the possibility that other languages will be added later if we can make it possible for readers to easily configure what languages they wish to view. The frequency of postings will not likely be very high, especially while there are only a few people involved in each blog. Because participants are mostly going to be graduate students and professors, they all have limited free time to post their musings. Over time, as more join the project, postings will hopefully become more frequent.
The primary purpose of all the blogs at FrogInAWell.net and the project as a whole is to promote more communication between those studying and researching in places like the United States with those in other places such as Japan. For this purpose, I will try to built a strong group of participants from a number of different schools and countries. I am hoping that blogs like this, multilingual bulletin boards such as the East Asia History Forums, and small research groups organized around specific interests will help promote more international awareness and cooperation in the field of history. I am hoping that the readers of this blog will eventually be as multinational as its authors will be. Even amongst those who work hard to keep “up to date” on scholarship in several languages and countries, it is often hard to know what new and important research is out there or what questions and issues are commanding the most attention.
The “Frog in a Well” project and its blogs are named after an old Chinese proverb (井底之蛙), variations of which can also be found in the Japanese and Korean languages. The story originally appears in the writings of Zhuangzi, one of the founders of the Daoist religion (In the Burton Watson translation of his Basic Writings the story can be found in Section 17 “Autumn Floods” on pages 107-8). A frog tries to convince a turtle to join him in his wonderful well, of which he is a master. After trying to get in and getting stuck, the turtle withdraws and tells the frog instead of how deep and wide the sea is. The frog is left dumfounded. The proverb which grew out of this Daoist fable has come to represent limited vision and even ignorance—of not being able to see outside one’s own immediate environment.
The Japanese equivalent of this in its full version is 「井の中の蛙大海を知らず」 which has an entry in the「日英故事ことわざ辞典」translated as “The frog in a well is ignorant of the (vast) sea.” The dictionary suggests two equivalents to this proverb in English, one of them being the cryptic, “They think a calf a muckle beast that never saw a cow.” The 4th edition of the 広辞苑 gives the following definition, 「考えや知識が狭くて、もっと広い世界があることを知らない。世間知らずのこと、見識の狭いことにいう。」However, in the case of the blogs here at FrogInAWell.net, this old saying is simply meant to indicate that we are all limited in our perspectives, and can all benefit from sharing them.