Following up on my review of Stacy Kamehiro’s The Arts of Kingship, the next of my reviews written in the course of studying for comprehensive exams.

Gananath Obeyesekere, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook (1992; revised ed. 1997)

Marshall Sahlins, How “Natives” Think: About Captain Cook, For Example, 1995

The debate between Obeyesekere and Sahlins over whether the Hawaiians saw Captain Cook as a “god” is described by Borofsky as one of the greatest recent disputes among scholars of the Pacific. At issue is the question of how “natives” think, with each scholar launching virulent attacks on one another for their approaches.

Obeyesekere’s book The Apotheosis of Captain Cook comes as a harsh response and critique of Sahlins’ Islands of History, published several years earlier, and which I have admittedly not yet read. Sahlins then responded to Obeyesekere’s critique in How “Natives” Think.

In a nutshell, Obeyesekere alleges that all humanity is united in its ability for commonsense “practical rationality,” arguing that the Hawaiians could not have been so foolish as to genuinely mistake Captain Cook for being a “god,” that the myth of Cook being taken to be a god was constructed and perpetuated by Europeans (and later adopted by Hawaiians, though it was not originally their idea), and that to suggest otherwise is terribly Eurocentric and does discursive violence of an imperialistic nature. Sahlins responds that treating Western conceptions of rationality as universal and ignoring cultural particularities is a Eurocentric, Orientalist, and anti-anthropological approach. Further, that not all non-whites think alike, or possess the same culture, and so Obeyesekere’s assertions from the position of “authority” as a fellow “native,” a fellow non-white, despite his lack of expertise in Pacific (let alone Hawaiian) history, is a deeply flawed and damaging claim of “authority.”

I have not been to the Big Island, let alone to Kealakekua Bay, so I’m including some of my photos of Oʻahu here. This one, a view from Makapuʻu

Both accuse the other of misinterpreting or misusing the sources – chiefly journals and the like written by members of Cook’s crew, and histories written by Hawaiians beginning in the 1820s (thirty years after the events). Obeyesekere accuses Sahlins of being insufficiently critical of these Hawaiian sources, the most prominent of which were written by students at the Lāhainā missionary school, and present the events of Cook’s coming through a powerfully Christian and anti-pagan lens. Further, he alleges that these writers have adopted the European-created myth of Cook’s apotheosis (deification), and are merely repeating the myth, not recording what “actually” happened (or how those events were actually perceived at the time, in 1779). He also argues that much of the sequence of the ritual protocols of the Makahiki rite were not formalized until the reign of Kamehameha I (r. 1810-1819), and that Sahlins is anachronistically applying these sequences and dating backwards to an earlier time when such things were not yet systematized in such a form. Sahlins counters that, in countless places, Obeyesekere’s account simply does not accord with the documentary sources, or with what is known of Hawaiian beliefs and practices. He writes that Obeyesekere invents much of what he asserts whole cloth, “interpret[ing] the historical events by notions concocted out of commonsense realism and a kind of pop nativism” (Sahlins, 60). Obeyesekere’s narrative has Captain Cook being installed as a high chief, not welcomed as a god, and offers interpretations for the meaning of each step of the ritual within the context of this “installation ritual,” which he claims was invented on the spot in order to deal with this unprecedented event. He also claims that Sahlins is unconvincing in pressing that each episode of Cook’s time at Kealakekua so perfectly aligns with the ritual sequences of the Makahiki. Why should the Hawaiians take the British Cook, who neither speaks their language nor demonstrates knowledge of the proper ritual protocols, to be a Hawaiian god? Obeyesekere asserts that Cook and his men were not (accidentally) performing the sequence of the rituals of the Makahiki, but rather quite to the contrary, they were violating the kapu (taboos) the entire time (Ob. 101).

Sahlins counters that Obeyesekere’s interpretation shows little understanding or appreciation for Hawaiian cosmologies, politics, or customs. To begin, it is typical throughout Polynesia that the “gods” are regarded as foreign, as coming from across the sea (and specifically from the heavenly place / distant island known as Kahiki), and their forms, language, and thoughts as unknown or unknowable. Thus, Cook coming in ships with white banners, like the white banners associated with Lono, circling the islands before landing at Kealakekua as the Lono image does in ritual procession, and saying he is coming from Tahiti (H: Kahiki), matches quite well with Hawaiian conceptions – as do his foreign appearance and language.

The view from the Pali Lookout.

There is a lot more that could be said by way of summarizing or analyzing the various aspects or elements of these two scholars’ arguments, but the most important is what has already been said, above. The debate has resonances and importance far beyond our interpretation of Cook, however, and even beyond Hawaiian or Pacific Studies alone. I think if I ever teach a grad seminar in Historiography, I will assign this debate. Robert Borofsky has a nice summary of it, so that one does not actually have to read entire books; his summary is available on Scribd here, as well as on JSTOR.

The most fundamental of these broader issues is the very fact that this is a debate over the validity of sources, and of interpretations. This makes it particularly difficult as a reader to determine what to believe. All told, I am much more inclined to believe Sahlins, as he is an experienced and prominent expert in the field, intimately familiar not only with these sources in particular, but with Hawaiian cosmologies and cultural practices more broadly. Obeyesekere is, of course, a very experienced and intelligent scholar in his own right, but Hawaiʻi/Polynesia is not his field of expertise. As Sahlins points out in his point-by-point dismantling of Obeyesekere’s book, there are numerous places in which Obeyesekere makes assertions about ritual significances or practices, or about “native” conceptions of divinity, that simply do not mesh with what the scholarly consensus – or with Hawaiian traditional practitioners both today and writing in the past – indicate. Further, Sahlins points out numerous places where Obeyesekere contradicts himself, or where his arguments otherwise fail to hold water.

However, Sahlins’ own account is disappointingly standard, and to my mind insufficiently nuanced, and insufficiently critical of itself. I had hoped to see Sahlins more explicitly reject the standard interpretation of Cook as Lono, Cook as god, replacing it with a more nuanced or more culturally specific account. I would have much preferred to see Sahlins declaring boldly that the standard story of Cook’s apotheosis is a myth, deriving from a misunderstanding, a misinterpretation, of traditional Hawaiian modes of historical understandings, and then presenting us instead with a new and different interpretation. Something along the lines of saying that of course the Hawaiians did not think that Cook was Lono, but perhaps thought that his coming was somehow blessed by Lono, that Cook’s coming was seen as occurring in concert with the Makahiki “coming of Lono,” rather than being the coming of Lono. I don’t know nearly enough about Hawaiian mythology and traditional beliefs to know what explanation precisely would or would not fit in to those beliefs – I’m basically just spitballing, as Obeyesekere was. But, still, I would have liked to see Sahlins give a more nuanced and revisionist interpretation, rather than simply reiterating exactly the myth that we all learned in elementary school (or wherever), the same myth that Obeyesekere is so critical of, asserting so straightforwardly that Cook was seen as the god Lono, and that just about everything Cook did coincided with the ritual schedule of the Makahiki.

Plaque in honor of Capt. Cook, at Westminster Abbey.

We are left believing Sahlins’ account based solely on one of two possible bases, both of which are potentially quite problematic. We can believe Sahlins on the basis of his experience and prominence in the field, taking his assertions more or less at face value because of his presumed expertise, which is essentially an argument from authority, one of the classic logical fallacies. Or, we can believe (or disbelieve) Sahlins based on whether we find ourselves convinced, by whatever combination of logic (reason) and intuition. Yet, this judgment based on Western rationality and on intuition based on Western cultural assumptions, is very much what Sahlins lambasts Obeyesekere for doing; he points out that Obeyesekere’s argument relies heavily on what “seems strange” or “hard to believe,” versus what seems “more natural to suppose,” inserting Western rationality for an understanding of Hawaiian beliefs (Sahlins 9). As a result, I am left with no idea what to believe.

Returning to the question, or the issue, of practical rationality versus culturally particular understandings, I think Greg Dening, in his article “Possessing Tahiti,” does a far better job of balancing and nuancing the two, than either Obeyesekere or Sahlins. Where Sahlins simply takes the standard narrative, reifying it wholesale and explaining out how this works according to certain frameworks or structures of traditional beliefs, Dening explores the interaction between “literal” (rational, practical) and “metaphoric” (cultural, cosmological) understandings, asserting that they can be overlapping or concurrent, and not contradictory. He notes that Europeans perform “rituals,” too, and understand actions as having metaphorical or symbolic efficacy, pointing to the example of the planting of a flag as a means of claiming possession of a land. Further, Dening speaks of the ways in which the Tahitians could view the coming of the HMS Dolphin as a sacred event simply because of its momentousness, its unprecedented nature, without thinking the captain, crew, or ship to be, explicitly, “a god,” and without thinking the events, at that time, to have been prophesied or to fit into expectations. Rather, by contrast, he suggests that the mythic associations surrounding the coming of the Dolphin were created in consequence of the event, with that approach to the marae (temple/treasure house) coming to be considered a particularly sacred path – or merely of historic significance – because the Dolphin entered via that path, and not the other way around.

Right: A statue of Capt. James Cook at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich (England).

Certainly, I am no expert in Hawaiian cosmologies, and for all I know, Sahlins may be perfectly correct. We may never know. However, given the scarcity and unreliability of the sources available on this subject, the fact that Sahlins does not wrestle with multiple possible interpretations, nor entertain the possibility of alternative notions, not even in order to refute them, seems suspect. Perhaps rather than Cook being Lono, he was merely accompanied by Lono in an abstract, incorporeal form, the momentousness, the historic nature of the event in and of itself making it “sacred.” Or perhaps there is some more concrete way to explain more precisely what kind of manifestation or instantiation of Lono Cook was believed to be, and how exactly that particular manifestation relates to “the” Lono. Obeyesekere’s attitude and approach are deeply problematic in a number of ways, and I find Sahlins’ dismantling of Obeyesekere’s narrative quite convincing. Yet, neither am I convinced that Sahlins’ narrative is definitively, and flawlessly, “accurate” or “true.” Even if for nothing else, Obeyesekere’s efforts to cast doubt on Sahlins’ interpretation, and to call for the possibility of “plausible alternatives,” is therefore quite valuable.


Abe and Obama shake hands; another friendly agreement reached between two governments, regardless of what the people want. Photo from Zee News India.

Eric Wada-shinshii of the Ukwanshin Kabudan, one of the leading advocates for Okinawan cultural revival in Hawaii, sent out the following message to his email list. With his permission, I am re-sharing it here. Please consider signing the petition, and if it moves you to do so, there are many other petitions, FB groups, protests large and small, to get involved with.

For more information on what I think is a very important issue, check out What’s Going On in Okinawa?, and one of my own recent blog posts on the subject. There are numerous other websites and news articles about what’s going on in Henoko, as well. In short, one of the aspects I personally find most aggravating, most offensive, is the fact that Tokyo and Washington continue to go forward with these plans without consideration for Okinawan voices. The Okinawan people have made their wishes clear, through protest, through publication, and through overwhelming majorities in local, prefectural, and national elections. For Tokyo, and for Washington, to claim to be paragons of liberal democracy while steamrolling the wishes of the Okinawan people is, frankly, despicable.

Here is Wada-shinshii’s message, from Jun 3:

Aloha Everyone,

I am sending this personal message to you because I think it is important and affects my Okinawa culture, traditions, and ancestral islands.

Governor Onaga and the people of Okinawa have been petitioning help in saving Okinawa’s prestine coral reefs, endangered indigenous sea life, and cultural and sacred sites in Henoko, from the building of a mega US base which will fill in Oura Bay in northern Okinawa’s Nago district.

Governor Onaga was recently here in Hawai`i last week and urgently petitioned the Hawaii politicians as well as addressing the Hawaii Okinawan community. There has been misinformation going around about Okinawa being dependent on the US bases, and also that Onaga is a communist collaborating with China. This is all wrong information as the income produced by the bases, currently constitutes about 4%, as disclosed by the Okinawa councilwomen on their visit to Hawaii in April, and by Governor Onaga and mayor Inamine of Nago. Governor Onaga is also not in collaboration with China, but has made direct relations for trade, as he begins to reconnect with all of Asia and Southeast Asia in making Okinawa a hub for Asian Pacific trade, as was done during the Ryukyu Kingdom. Now some may laugh and say “you can’t go back to kingdom”, and this is not what they are trying to do. The fact is that Okinawa is dependent on Japan which has caused the Japanese government to force actions against Okinawa and punish them for expressing their democracy as they work for peace that they have been hoping for since the end of the war 70 years ago. The media pushes the danger of China and North Korea, however, if we look at it, the strength in China really lies in the investments of the western countries, and a big part being the U.S.. China would not want to lose western interest, and if so, then it is the western countries who should pull out if they thought China was so dangerous.

We need to educate ourselves and our community and make our decisions. Some may not agree or do any action, and some of you may. Either is fine. For me, I have visited Henoko numerous times to understand and educate myself on the area and listen to the elders, who’s lands, cultural and sacred sites have been taken away. The locals depend on the ocean there to harvest their livelihood and sustain themselves and their families. Without this they will be forced to go into town and buy what they have been able to grow and live on. Many will not be able to afford this. The other reason that I have seen is that Okinawa is being sacrificed again and no regard is given to how much our Okinawa relatives, friends and ancestors have already suffered when they were, and still are, sacrificed, where 1/3 of the population was wiped out by the attack or by forced suicide during the bloody battle and cultural genocide of Okinawa. The lands which the bases are on are also stolen lands as in the 1950’s American Occupation, US military went and forced Okinawans off their lands in the middle of they night with bulldozers and bayonets. Our kupuna fought against this and some were killed. Due to the fresh memories of the war, the Okinawa people gave up because they didn’t want anymore to be added to the war death toll.. Now, almost 85% of the population are against the base. The Okinawa people have overwhelmingly voiced their decision by voting in Onaga for governor, Inamine, for Nago major, and Diet representatives who are against the building of the new base. They have followed the legal and democratic actions, but have been ignored and punished by Prime minister Abe. Governor Onaga has called a state of emergency. He is the first governor to have asked for an audience with the Hawaii community, and thought of Hawaii so highly that he made sure to stop here before his visit to Washington DC.
I urge you all to take time and educate your selves to at least know what is going in in our ancestral islands.

For those who would like to do some kind of silent action to support Okinawa, please go to the link below and sign the petition by change.org. If you think it is important enough, please share it.

“Uya nu Yushi Gutu ya, Chimuni Sumiri”, “We shall stain our hearts with the things of our ancestors”. It is our “Fichi Ukiin” , Kuleana, Responsibility.

Yutasarugutu Unigeesabira!

Eric Wada, Artistic Director of Ukwanshin Kabudan, and certified kyôshi (instructor) of Okinawan dance.

The Arts of Kingship

Studying for exams was a great opportunity to finally read dozens of books I’d been wanting/meaning to read, and many I had not known of, and was glad to be introduced to. As I made my way through them, I produced 2-3 page reviews, or summaries, for each. I was a bit too overwhelmed with the studying process (and all my other responsibilities) to share any of those, but I was certainly excited to get around to doing so. After all, that’s what we do here, on academic & history/culture blogs, isn’t it? We share about different aspects of history that we’ve just read about, share about interesting books, interpretations, and arguments. A friend shared many of his summaries on Facebook, and I found it quite interesting and useful, actually, since this allowed me to get the basic gist of a whole bunch of different books, in a short, condensed version. Expand my knowledge of the field, and of the content, without having to go read the entire books. So, inspired by his example, I thought I’d do the same. Over the course of the summer, then, I’ll be sharing my reviews of books and articles on Pacific and Hawaiian history, Ming and Qing Chinese history, early modern maritime East Asia, and early modern & modern Japan. I hope you find them interesting; and, please don’t take any of these as the final word on these books – for some, I may focus on just one aspect or another; for some, I must admit, I did not manage to make my way through the entire book, but merely attempted to get the gist. For some, too, I may have had a particular impression upon reading it at that time, and I may not take the time/bother to dramatically overhaul what I previously wrote, thus giving just one impression, one interpretation or reaction, to the book, which might stand (for example) as quite different from how the book looks in comparison with something else I read later.

Without further ado, let us turn to one of my favorite recent books,
The Arts of Kingship, by Stacy Kamehiro (Univ. of Hawaii Press, 2009):

‘Iolani Palace. Photo my own.

Looking at the architectural style and interior layout & design of ‘Iolani Palace, the adoption by Hawaiʻian monarchs of Western modes of dress and court ritual, and of Christianity, it would be easy to think that Hawaiʻi had either given in to colonial pressures, or had self-colonized, in a sense, as Meiji Japan did, in an attempt to resist Western domination. Indeed, as The Arts of Kingship reveals, the design of ‘Iolani Palace and of King Kalākaua’s 1883 coronation & other court rituals and practices, and the erection of national monuments such as the Kamehameha Statue and national institutions such as the Hawaiian National Museum, were aimed at proving Hawaiʻi’s modernity, and asserting its sovereignty, seeking respect from the Western powers, that Hawaiʻi should be accepted as a more-or-less equal member of the nations of the world.

However, as Stacy Kamehiro explains, these projects also served an important role in legitimating Kalākaua’s rule in the eyes of his Native Hawaiian subjects. He was elected to the throne by the Hawaiian legislature, over Queen Emma, a more direct relative to the Kamehameha line which had ruled the unified kingdom of Hawaiʻi from the time of its unification by Kamehameha I around 1800, until the time of Lunalilo (r. 1873-1874), whose short reign immediately preceded Kalākaua’s. Not being particularly closely related to the Kamehameha line, Kalākaua had to work to promote discourses of his legitimacy in order to secure the loyalty of his subjects, many of whom rose in revolt immediately following the announcement of his election in 1874. To that end, Kalākaua argued for his legitimacy by way of his genealogy, his mana, and his rightful possession of sacred royal artifacts; Kamehiro describes in detail the ways in which ‘Iolani Palace, the coronation ritual and regalia, the Kamehameha Statue, and the Hawaiian National Museum, served to advance these narratives.

Right: The Kamehameha Statue commissioned by King Kalākaua, now standing outside Ali‘iolani Hale. Photo my own.

In the process of her discussion, a number of important and interesting themes emerge. One is the complexity of identities and associations among the people of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Certain characterizations of the history cast it in stark categories of Native Hawaiians versus haole (white) businessmen and missionaries, a narrative in which the overthrow is a crime committed by all haoles, with all Native Hawaiians as victims. However, in Kamehiro’s account, we see many haoles who are strongly loyal to the kingdom, supportive of the revival or continuation of Hawaiian “traditions,” and of the strength, independence, and sovereignty of the monarchy, as well as many Native Hawaiians opposed to Kalākaua’s rule, and indeed many who viewed many Hawaiian traditions as pagan, heathen, or uncivilized. It becomes clear that we must consider a greater diversity of intentions and identities among the citizenry of Hawaiʻi – while it is likely that even the most loyal of royalist haoles (such as William Murray Gibson) held to some Orientalist or racist perspectives to some extent, we cannot say that they were unanimously responsible for, or in support of, the overthrow; in fact, some were quite staunchly against it. As emerges in Kamehiro’s narrative, haoles such as John Young played key roles in Hawaiian government from the very beginning, as Young played a key role in helping Kamehameha defeat his rivals and unite the islands, as well as in advising the king in various other matters.

One of the most prominent arguments throughout the book is an argument against the false binary of traditional vs. modern, and for a notion of tradition as always evolving, and as being incorporated into an alternate, distinctively Hawaiian, modernity. Both at that time, and today, many look at non-Western arts and traditions as having existed in some purely traditional form, and at any modern(ized) or Western-influenced arts or practices as being less authentic, and less Hawaiian (or less Japanese, as the case may be). That Kamehiro’s 2009 book is one of the first, or at least one of the most major, scholarly attempts to discuss these hybrid, neo-traditional, distinctively Hawaiian-modern forms, can surely be attributed in large part to such attitudes. In Japanese Studies as well, we can clearly see that for the most part, scholars both in Japan and in the West focused far more heavily on “authentically” “traditional” Japanese arts, all but ignoring, for example, Nihonga (neo-traditional painting), yōga (Japanese oil painting), and the like until only the last few decades.

In Kalākaua’s time, too, many Native Hawaiians and haole alike saw Hawaiʻi as losing its traditions, as losing its culture; in some very important respects, this was absolutely true, and it was for that reason that Kalākaua did much to promote hula, traditional or “ancient” (read: precontact) Hawaiian modes of knowledge, and the like. But, as Kamehiro points out, Hawaiian culture was at the same time evolving, developing, into something no less authentically Hawaiian even as it became something decidedly more modern. The Kamehameha Statue, in bronze, designed and cast by a Bostonian sculptor in Florence, depicted a Hawaiian monarch bearing fully traditional symbols of Hawaiian monarchical power and legitimacy, even as it also incorporated the pose and stylistic form of ancient Roman statues of emperors. The Hawaiian National Museum, similarly, displayed objects symbolic of (or manifestations of) Kalākaua’s rightful royal power and lineage, a sort of modern version of the ways these objects might have been displayed in more “traditional” contexts, serving a decidedly Hawaiian discursive purpose even as the national museum itself, as a concept, and in various aspects of its form and activity (collections, display, open to the public for public moral education, etc.), was a Western invention (with the British Museum & Louvre, among others, as the most prominent examples, evolving out of and alongside the exhibitionary complexes of the World’s Fairs, etc.). And, ‘Iolani Palace, though constructed in brick and concrete, wired up for telephone and electric lighting, and furnished throughout in the Western style, as Kamehiro explains, also incorporated numerous elements of distinctively Hawaiian iconographies, including representations around the main entrance referencing “traditional” symbols of kapu.

A guerilla public art piece, on Hotel Street in Honolulu Chinatown, Feb 2010. Photo my own.

The parallels to Meiji Japan are striking, and I think The Arts of Kingship could serve a very useful role in a comparative discussion, or comparative consideration, of non-Western polities seeking to assert their sovereignty and modernity in that historical moment (or other ones). I have yet to read anything too much in depth as to the origins of the National Museums in Japan (in Tokyo, Nara, and Kyoto), their layout, philosophies of display, and architectural styles, but it is easy to imagine parallels between the Hawaiian National Museum and these Japanese museums; between ‘Iolani Palace and the Akasaka Palace (along with various other examples of Meiji period architecture, incl. e.g. railroad stations); between the Kamehameha Statue and various examples of bronze memorial or monumental statuary erected in Meiji Japan; and between Kalākaua’s coronation and the associated regalia on the one hand, and the various Western-influenced costumes, court practices, and modes of display (e.g. photographs) of the Meiji Emperor. How might these compare, too, with Westernizing/modernizing and nationalizing efforts by imperial or royal courts in China, Korea, Siam, Samoa, or Tahiti around this same time? Kamehiro’s work not only fills a glaring lacuna in scholarship on Hawaiian (art) history up until now, but also inspires pursuit of similar projects of investigation and analysis for other cultures/polities.

A model of the unaa (central plaza) at Shuri castle, showing the officials of the Ryukyuan court scholar-aristocracy lined up, facing east, for their New Year’s audience with the king, who faces west out of the second story of the Seiden (Main Hall). Photo my own.

Reading lots about Ming & Qing court ritual, the construction of kingship & emperorship, the significance of particular directions, and so forth, and I got to thinking… actually, I’ve been thinking for a while, why is Shuri Castle arranged facing west?

Any introductory course of East Asian art & architecture, and indeed most survey courses in History of East Asia, will touch upon the organization of the Chinese Imperial Palace. It is situated according to strict geomantic notions, relating to the significance of the cardinal directions, and in some important respects, as a model or microcosm of the cosmic order itself. In Beijing, as in Chang’an, the whole palace, and particularly the audience hall, is arranged on a north-south axis, with the Emperor sitting in the north, facing south. Officials gather to his south, lining up on the east and west sides of the hall, or of the courtyard, lined up with the highest-ranking officials to the north, closer to the emperor, and the lowest-ranking ones at the southern end of the line, furthest from His Majesty. When they kneel and prostrate, they do so to the north. This is all probably even more complex than I know, but at least one of the notions that may be connected into this is one mentioned in the Analects, attributed to Confucius himself, that the Emperor is like the North Star, sitting at the northernmost point of the cosmos, facing south towards all the other stars, and remaining still while all the other stars move about the North Star as central axis. Thus, both North and Center are the most elite directions in court ritual.

The rooftops of the various buildings in the Forbidden City, Beijing, all aligned to a north-south axis. Image from Translate.com.

This is emulated in the Honmaru Palace of Edo castle, the seat of the Tokugawa shogunate. While the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Tàihédiàn), the main audience hall at Beijing, is organized lengthwise, longer from east to west, the main audience hall at the shogun’s palace, the Ôhiroma, is much longer from north to south. Still, in Edo, in emulation of Chinese norms, the shogun sits at the northern end of the hall, his officials lined up along the eastern and western walls, from highest (north) to lowest (south) in rank (among those in the hall, of course – most of those of middling and low rank can’t even enter the hall), and the figure(s) being received in audience sit towards the south end. When all bowed and prostrated, they do so to the north, towards the shogun.

The main audience hall at Nijô Castle in Kyoto, of similar design to that no longer extant at Edo castle, which would have also been oriented along a north-south axis. Photo from Marked Post.

So, why is Shuri castle, royal palace of a kingdom strongly modeled on the Ming Confucian mode, and with the palace’s architecture and layout in many other respects an emulation of the Forbidden City in miniature, oriented to the west, and not to the south?

It has been suggested(Though I am an idiot and did not note down the citation…) that the palace may have been arranged in this manner so as to face China, and thus to show the kingdom’s deference and admiration for the greatness of Ming civilization. However, within the traditional Chinese architectural schema, the emperor sits at north and looks ”down” upon his people, his realm, to his south. Thus, this arrangement would seem to have the King of Ryûkyû sitting in the east and looking ”down” upon not only his people, but also ”down” towards China, which is clearly not the intention. On the other hand, east is traditionally a more elite direction than west within the Chinese Imperial Palace, so situating the king in the east, facing west, makes some sense. I wonder what can be said for the fact that, by facing west, the king is, yes, looking upon his people insofar as he is facing the courtyard filled with officials, and beyond it, Kumemura and Naha, but, actually most of the people and land of his realm would be behind him, and to the left and right (north, and south). Maybe that’s irrelevant. No symbol can do everything.

The Seiden of Shuri castle, as it looks today, with the photographer (myself) facing south, and the Seiden facing west.

I wonder if perhaps this is connected to the distinctly Ryukyuan notions of the king as Tedako (太陽の子, son of the Sun), in contrast to the Chinese Emperor, who is the Son of Heaven (天子), but not necessarily associated with the Sun. The Japanese Emperor is also fashioned as descended from the Sun Goddess, but while he still sits in the north and faces south in the Chinese manner, that doesn’t mean the Ryukyuan king has to do the same. Yingkit Chan, in his brilliant 2010 MA thesis, in fact emphasizes that while Ryukyu is generally seen as having been heavily Sinicized, in truth, the Ryukyu court showed considerable agency in incorporating its adoption of Chinese elements into a court culture which remained distinctly Ryukyuan in many important ways. This would certainly seem to be one of them. In Ryukyu, unlike in China or Japan, there is also an association of the east with Nirai Kanai, the mythical home of the gods across the sea.

I have by no means “read up” on this issue – just read whatever I happen to have already been reading this week anyway, and sort of writing “stream of thought.” Who knows, maybe I’ll come across something in my further readings which actually explains it. In the meantime, what do you think? Any ideas? Have you maybe come across anything explaining the reasoning behind this?

Both Shuri photos my own, taken 18 Sept 2014.

The 14th century graves of Shimazu Ujihisa (center), his daughter (left), and wife (right), at the Shimazu clan cemetery at Fukushô-ji, in Kagoshima.

Almost done with exams. So close I can smell it.

If you’ve been to Japan (or even if you haven’t), you’ve probably seen stone grave markers like this one. If you’re a nerd like me, you might have wondered something about them. What does the shape symbolize? How long ago did the Japanese start using them? How has the shape, or other aspects of their use, change over time? Despite the ubiquity of these grave markers – you can find them in just about every cemetery in Japan – and their distinctive aesthetic / sculptural form, in my experience, textbooks and classes on Japanese art and architecture typically skip over grave practices entirely. I have never yet been to China or Korea, but I am told that Japanese grave markers and burial practices otherwise are rather distinct from those on the continent… so you would think it would be something worth talking about.

One of the few things I did hear about these five-stage gorintô structures previously was that they are meant to represent the five elements. But, I’d always been confused as to which set of elements these were supposed to represent; if the five Chinese elements are wood, metal, fire, earth, and water, then how/why would this Japanese form feature such associations with earth, water, fire, wind, and void? Turns out the latter are the Indian five elements, adopted more directly into Japan from Sanskritic/Buddhist origins than the natively Chinese (Confucian? Taoist?) wǔ xíng. The form is also used as a tool for meditation, the five stages representing five portions of the human body, or of Dainichi (the Universal Buddha), associated with the elements. The folded legs are earth; the hara (abdomen/stomach) is water; the chest fire; the head air; and above that, void.

Fortunately, Prof. Hank Glassman of Haverford College gave a fascinating talk on the subject recently. As he explained, as recently as the Heian period, visiting graves was not a widespread custom, and graves generally were not even marked. Eiga monogatari, from the early 12th century, is among the earliest literary works describing a visit to a grave, yet here it is still limited to the top echelons of the elites, and the grave remains unmarked. A member of the Fujiwara clan seeks to visit his father’s grave, to tell of his promotions in title/post to his father, but worries he won’t be able to find the unmarked grave, which is also overgrown with weeds, since the custom of maintaining or cleaning graves was also not widespread yet; Glassman suggests the practice of maintaining, marking, and visiting graves may have become more standard in Japan along with the introduction of the Neo-Confucian teachings of Zhu Xi, which would have emphasized filial piety – obligations to one’s parents, and ancestors.

Sotoba at Negishi Cemetery in Yokohama.

The first stone gorintô grave markers are believed to have been based on wooden ones, a few of which survive, albeit only from later centuries. Even before that, however, the first gorintô were far smaller. They were reliquaries, as is the original essential idea of the stupa form. Some of the earliest such gorintô reliquaries date to the 1190s, and have been found in rock crystal or bronze, placed inside Buddhist statuary, as receptacles for holding relics of the Buddha, arhats, or other significant Buddhist figures. This form was then adopted onto carved flat wooden planks, carved only into the topmost sections of the plank; this evolved by the 12th century into the fully three-dimensional wooden form, and then the stone one, but still survives too in the wooden planks (sotoba) seen all the time at Japanese cemeteries today. These, we learned, are typically replaced at a given grave every day for the first week after burial, and then annually after that; Glassman spoke of the beauty and impressiveness of the monks’ skills at inscribing calligraphy, in both Chinese and Siddham, on these planks by brush.

A small gorintô atop the grave of Murasaki Shikibu in Kyoto (presumably a later addition, though I don’t know how much later).

It was only in the late 12th century that the custom of stone grave markers is thought to have been first imported from the continent, though adapted to a distinctly Japanese form (shape) of marker, already in use in wood. Even then, the practice was initially rather limited to the aristocracy, and to the most prominent of religious figures. The first gorintô grave markers are believed to have been carved and erected in Japan by a group of Chinese stonemasons invited from the continent to aid in the rebuilding of Tôdai-ji, which was destroyed in the Genpei War of the 1180s. Once the Tôdai-ji project was completed, for some reason these stonemasons remained in Japan rather than return home to China; this may have been because the journey was too difficult in some way, or too dangerous, though probably not because of expense, given that the Tôdai-ji project itself was extraordinarily expensive, including the shipping of many tons of stone from Suzhou to Nara, so surely the shogunate (or whomever) could afford to fund the return trip.

Let’s step back a moment. The Great Buddha Hall at Tôdai-ji, then and now the largest wooden building in the world1, and housing the largest bronze Buddha in the world at that time, if not today, was destroyed by warriors of the Taira clan in the 1181 Siege of Nara. Even before the end of the war in 1185, efforts to rebuild the great temple were begun. Hônen (1133-1212), founder of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan, was asked to head up the project and apparently turned it down. One of Hônen’s direct disciples, Shunjôbô Chôgen (1121-1206), then took up the project, coordinating both the fundraising and the construction. It was Chôgen, who had previously spent time in China, who organized to have a group of stonemasons come from Ningbo, then known as Mingzhou, to help with the project. Glassman says we do not know just how Chôgen knew, or found, these stonemasons, but he conjectures that they may have been associated with temples Chôgen stayed/studied at in China.

Based on inscriptions on some of these stone markers, and other objects, we know that one of these Chinese stonemasons was named Yī Xíngmò (伊行末, I Gyômatsu or I Yukisue in Japanese), and that his son Yī Xíngjí (伊行吉, J: I Gyôkichi, or I Yukiyoshi) was active in Japan in the late 12th or early 13th century as well. Yī Xíngmò would have been fairly young at that time, and is believed to have been only a junior member of the team, perhaps even an apprentice, when he accompanied some number of master stonemasons to Japan in the 1180s; however, it is his name which comes down to us today, by virtue of inscriptions such as those on certain stone carvings at Hannya-ji in Nara, by his son Yī Xíngjí.

After arriving in Japan, the stonemasons determined that Japanese stone was too soft, and despite the incredible expense, Chôgen apparently managed to afford to have tons of stone imported from China. This comes as a particular surprise given the stories surrounding the fundraising efforts for the rebuilding of the temple. Monks traveled the provinces collecting donations, and in fact, a very famous and popular kabuki play, based on an earlier Noh play, features Minamoto no Yoshitsune and his companion Benkei pretending to be just such donations-collecting monks, traveling the provinces, as part of Yoshitsune’s efforts to escape from his brother’s men. Still, in any case, the stone was boated in, and two stone lions believed to have been made at that time by those Chinese stonemasons still survive today at Tôdai-ji. A group of four stone statues of the Deva Kings they are said to have produced at the same time do not survive, however. The stone lions are quite ornately decorated, with carved-on wreaths and sashes; in China, ornamentation on stone lions was restricted to Imperial tombs, but in Japan, such attitudes and policies were not in place, and further this was one of the greatest – and originally strongly Imperial-associated – Buddhist temples in the realm.

The graves of Katsu Kaishû and his wife, at Senzoku-ike Park in Tokyo.

Once the Tôdai-ji project was complete, it is believed that some of these stonemasons may have found work at Mt. Kôya, where some of the first gorintô stone grave markers would have been produced. Glassman says Mt. Kôya might represent the largest graveyard in the world; I have never been, but would love to visit. The earliest gorintô marked the graves of eminent monks, and of members of co-fraternities, not only in the Kyoto/Nara region and at Mt. Kôya, but rather broadly across the archipelago; the oldest extant stone gorintô inscribed with dates are located in such disparate regions as Hiraizumi, in the far north, and in Ôita prefecture, in Kyushu; both of these date to 1269.

Yi’s descendants went on to become well-established, with at least two major branches of gravestone-carving styles developing. The main branch of descendants and disciples, still called the “Yi school,” or I-ha (伊派) in Japanese, was based largely in Nara and Kyushu in the early medieval period, while another branch, the Ôkura-ha (大蔵派), became prominent in the Kantô (around Kamakura, and what would later become Edo, and then Tokyo).

All photos my own.
1. Or, at least, the largest wooden building constructed prior to the 1990s or so. According to Wikipedia, a baseball stadium in Akita, built in 1998, is larger. Boo.

Quick Links: Islands

In case I haven’t said so yet, my apologies that posts have gotten especially infrequent. I am studying for PhD comprehensive exams, and have just gotten so busy… but, come June or so, once exams are over, I expect to be able to blog more often again. And, since I’ve been reading tons of books for the exams, I will have tons of book reviews to be able to post. In the meantime, here are a few quick hits, of news items that have come across my dash in recent weeks.

*A UN Tribunal has ruled that the UK government acted illegally in allowing the United States to build military bases in Mauritius. According to a second Guardian article, the crux of the issue is that

In 1965, three years before Mauritius was given its independence, the UK decided to separate the Chagos Islands from the rest of its then Indian Ocean colony. The Mauritian government claims this was in breach of UN general assembly resolution 1514, passed in 1960, which specifically banned the breakup of colonies prior to independence.

Situations are different all around the world, and legal challenges to US use of Hawaiian and Guamanian (Chamorro) land will, presumably, have to take different approaches. The situation seems to be oddly reminiscent of Okinawa, in a way, as the UK and US seem to have conspired between the two of them to use Mauritius (Chago Islander) land in this way without giving the islands any voice in the matter, much as the US and Japan have conspired to use Okinawan land as they see fit without giving a care to what the Okinawans want. Of course, the situation in Okinawa is actually quite different, as all of Okinawa remains Japanese territory, and so the UN resolution forbidding the breakup of colonies prior to independence doesn’t apply.

Still, this is some good news for the Chagos Islanders, it would seem. Time will tell how it plays out, whether the islanders will really get their land back, and so forth.

An aerial photo of Diego Garcia atoll, separated from Mauritius prior to independence, to form the core of the British Indian Ocean Territory, which was then given over to US military use. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

*Meanwhile, on a related note, the government of New Zealand continues to move forward with what a UN report describes as imperfect but nevertheless “one of the most important examples in the world of an effort to address historical and ongoing grievances of indigenous peoples.” The Honolulu Star-Advertiser tells us the New Zealand government has given dozens of Māori iwi (tribes) large swaths of land to manage, and millions of dollars in legal settlements connected to claims against the government for breaches of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.

The Treaty of Waitangi was a treaty signed between the British Crown and over 500 Māori chiefs, and is the founding document of the colony, and later the independent country, of New Zealand. As is so often the case in these sorts of things, the English-language and Māori-language versions of the Treaty do not match up perfectly, leaving plenty of room for debate and dispute. But the NZ government has, from what little I understand, been perhaps the best in the entire region at attempting to address claims and settle them generously, with an eye to righting past wrongs and doing right by the Māori people, who form roughly 15% of the population of the country, and who, as the indigenous inhabitants, not only have certain rights to the land and so forth, but who also play an important part in the fabric of New Zealand culture and society.

Since 1995 or so, the government has settled over 72 claims from Māori iwi, and hopes to settle the last currently on the table by 2017. One of the most recent settlements, the occasion for this Star-Advertiser article, went to the Ngāi Tūhoe tribe, who received NZ$170 million (US$128 million), and rights to manage the national park they claim as their home. Each iwi has managed its settlement money differently, with some being more successful than others in their investments. The Māori certainly seem to have a more positive relationship with their government – or at least moving in that direction – and with the people of New Zealand more broadly, a different place within the culture and society, than do Native Americans & Native Hawaiians in the US, or indigenous peoples in many other colonial countries in the world. It would be wonderful to see similar things happen for the Hawaiians, for the Ainu, and so forth, but, every situation is different, and terribly complex, and only time will tell how these things might be able to evolve.

The Māori marae at Whenua Rangatira, belonging to the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei hapū (sub-tribe). Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

*Finally, today, a blog post by Dr. ‘Umi Perkins on The Ten Most Pervasive Myths About Hawaiian History. I suppose one might need to know at least some basics of the narrative, and the key controversies/issues, in order to understand what Perkins is talking about, but this is an excellent jumping-off point for learning more, beyond that.

Quick Links: Japan

(1) The fourth anniversary of the 3/11 Triple Disaster has now come and gone. Ima, Futari no Michi (roughly, “Today, Two People’s Roads”) is an anime short, just over five minutes, released a month or so ago, in conjunction with the anniversary. It employs Tôhoku voice actors, and tells the story of two young people who have come back home to Tôhoku to try to help with the recovery. It is available streaming for free via NicoNico only until mid-April; you can find it at Anime News Network. The link provides an explanation of the plot/content in English, but I’m afraid the video itself is not subtitled.

Meanwhile, in other Japanese history:

(2) The Japan Times reports on new research which shows that the first Japanese Buddhist mission in the West was in London, not California. While the standard story has it that the first Japanese Buddhist mission in the West was established in 1899 in California, work by Brian Bocking of the University of Cork, working with two other historians of Japan, has revealed the story of Charles Pfoundes, who educated thousands of people in Japanese Buddhism in his London home, beginning in 1889, a full decade before the California mission was established.

The main gate at the Yushima Seidô, center of Confucian learning in Tokugawa era Japan.

(3) Dissertation Reviews has a nice, thorough review of a dissertation on the Rise of Neo-Confucianism in Tokugawa Japan, by Doyoung Park. Park completed this dissertation at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) under Ronald Toby; I was particularly interested to come across this review having read an article by Park recently describing the attitudes of Korean envoys to Tokugawa Japan, regarding the Japanese scholars they met with, and the quality of Confucian scholarship in Tokugawa Japan.

Korean-Japanese relations today, and impressions of one another, are heavily colored by the brutal events of the first half of the 20th century, and understandably so. Yet, it should come as no surprise that relations were quite different prior to that. While Toby and others have written on Tokugawa efforts to make the Korean missions to Edo convey an impression of Tokugawa power and legitimacy, by representing the Koreans as having come to pay tribute to the Tokugawa shoguns, according to Park, the Korean envoys saw these missions as opportunities to show off their superior culture to the backwards Japanese. Even meeting with Hayashi Razan, one of the most famous and celebrated of all Japanese (Neo-)Confucian scholars today, Korean envoys wrote that “Razan seemed to have some trivial knowledge of Chinese history and culture, but his writing was crude and he did not seem to understand the real meaning of the scholarship,” and further, that “the writing ability of the sons of Razan is quite terrible. I do not understand how these poor scholars are able to work for the government” (Park, 12). I find this rather fascinating, and valuable, given that all I had read up until them about the Korean missions was from the Japanese Studies point of view; we in Japanese Studies, of course, think of figures like Razan as truly great scholars – genius-level talents, even, perhaps – so it’s great to get an alternative perspective, and to get a better sense of how Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Ryukyuan elites understood their position within the region, and perceived one another, at that time. The full article, “A New Perspective on the Korean Embassy (Chosen Tsushinshi): The View from the Intellectuals in Tokugawa Japan,” is freely available here.

As for the dissertation review, intellectual history has never been one of my strong points, but as my research begins to take me further into consideration of the classical Sinocentric world view, especially as understood and appropriated by the Japanese, and scholars’ understandings and usage of political ritual in that time, I have found myself of necessity reading more conceptual & intellectual history material – specifically on Neo-Confucianism – and actually finding some of it quite interesting. Park’s analysis of the rise of Neo-Confucianism in Japan, particularly surrounding Fujiwara Seika in the very last years of the 16th century, and the very first years of the 17th (at the beginning of the Tokugawa period), brings in some interesting ideas about Japanese, at least initially, not seeing themselves, or presenting themselves, as “Neo-Confucian scholars,” but rather as simply scholars advocating or considering Neo-Confucian ideas. The interaction between Neo-Confucianism and Zen, and the role of Seika’s interactions with Korean envoys in spurring the introduction and spread of Neo-Confucianism into Japan, are also quite interesting. If you’re interested in further detail, I invite you to check out the review; I will certainly be keeping my eyes out for Park’s republication of the dissertation as a monograph.

(4) Finally today, we have a blog post from Rekishi Nihon about Jokanji, the “Throw-Away” Temple of the Yoshiwara Prostitutes.

I explored the Yoshiwara area a little a few years ago. There’s very little to see there today – unless you know what you’re looking for, and I didn’t. The former site of the Yoshiwara’s Great Gate (Ômon) survives as the name of an intersection. A “backwards-looking willow” (mikaeri yanagi), a famous sight associated with the trip to the Yoshiwara, has been replanted and maintained there, but that’s about it. There are some traditional-style buildings off to one side, but I have no idea if they bear any historical connection to the Yoshiwara… The embankment (Nihon-no-tsutsumi 日本堤) which led to the gate similarly survives as a place-name, but throughout the area, at least of what I saw of it, there is absolutely nothing to be seen that’s recognizable about the geography/topography, and few if any historical buildings other than Buddhist temples. You can see this at the end of the Jokanji article, as the author shows a street from Hiroshige’s prints, as it looks today – a perfectly ordinary, undistinctive-looking Japanese street.

But, now that I’ve read about Jokanji, it’s one more place to take a look at the next time I’m in Tokyo. Some 25,000 women from the Yoshiwara were unceremoniously dumped after their deaths at the gates of the Jokanji, also known as “Nage Komi Dera,” (投込寺,) the “Throw-in Temple,” where they are thus now interred. While the Yoshiwara is celebrated as a vibrant center of the flourishing of popular culture – fashion, art, literature, dance, music – it very much had a darker side, as a center, by its very nature, of sex slavery, something that very much needs to be acknowledged as well. While the Yoshiwara looks glorious in ukiyo-e woodblock prints and literature, it was surely an extremely sad, difficult, and lowly life of exploitation for the women who lived and worked there. Amy Stanley’s Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan (2012) does a great job of bringing out these issues… I look forward to reading more along those lines, in order to get a deeper, more nuanced understanding of what went on there, beneath the flash and glitz; and I look forward to visiting Tokyo again, and checking out some of these sites.

All photos my own.