I recently happened upon two new books on Ryukyuan painting (well, one new, and one from 2003 that’s news to me), which are exciting discoveries. So far as I’m aware, there are very few books like these, even in Japanese – full-color books devoted exclusively, explicitly, to the subject of the rich, colorful, vibrant tradition of pre-modern / early modern Ryukyuan painting. I’ll admit, I haven’t had the time yet to actually read through these two books. So, I’m “reviewing” them (so to speak) based on first impressions. Pardon me for any misrepresentations.

First, is Ryûkyû kaiga: kôgaku chôsa hôkokusho 琉球絵画-光学調査報告書 (roughly, “Ryukyuan Painting: Announcement of [Results of] Optics Survey”), published by Tokyo Bunkazai Kenkyûsho 東京文化財研究所 in 2017. The first half of the book dedicates about 150 pages to images of eleven artworks. We are given not only overall images of the paintings, but for each painting multiple pages of full-page full-color high-quality details. The texture of the silk still cannot be reproduced in print, of course, and no book will ever be a full and total replacement for seeing a work in person, but this is very much the next best thing – better on this particular point than I think I’ve ever seen in any book before. Seeing such details – including the fine brushstrokes, and the texture of the media – is what many art historians want to see, and it’s so difficult to see even in person, when you’re separated by plexiglass keeping you two or three feet away from the work. If you’ve ever had the privilege of seeing an artwork in person, without any glass, the painting mere inches away from your face, you’ll know it’s a whole different experience. And this book’s design brings that experience to the reader, as much as any book could. To have this is wonderful – to have it for Ryukyuan paintings, all the more so.

Details of the kimono patterns from a painting of a Ryukyuan aristocratic couple. Maybe a little hard to see in this photo of the page, but in the actual book, you can see the texture of the pigments, the shininess of the gold accents, the brushstrokes.

The book ends with essays on Ryukyuan painting and painters, and on the specific pigments employed, ending with a few pages on signatures and seals, and a family tree, as it were, of major Ryukyuan painters, charting out the links of master-student relationships.

Unfortunately, I don’t see the book available for sale anywhere, at least not yet. I expect that when it does become available on Amazon.jp, or elsewhere, it will be stupidly expensive. As all too often happens with art books, even though ink and paper are dirt cheap, and I find it very hard to believe that it costs anywhere near $15 or $20 to print each copy, publishers still continue to get away with charging $50 or $60 or even $100 for these things… and all the more so when it’s a “research results” volume. Cast the exact same book as a museum exhibit catalog, and it might still be expensive, but quite likely not as much so.

A portrait of Tei Junsoku, one of the most famous and celebrated Ryukyuan officials and reformers. The fine, naturalistic details of the description of the face are just incredible. I have seen this painting several times now at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, always behind glass, at a distance of several feet; I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see the original more truly up-close. this reproduction is the next best thing.

The other book I happened upon here in the bowels of the University of Tokyo Historiographical Institute library is entitled Haruka naru ogoe: yomigaeru Ryûkyû kaiga 遙かなる御後絵-甦る琉球絵画 (roughly, “Posthumous Portraits from Faraway: Looking Back at Ryukyuan Painting”). Written by Satô Fumihiko 佐藤文彦, a painter expert in traditional methods, and lecturer at the Okinawa University of the Arts, it was published in 2003. ”Ogoe” 御後絵 were official portraits of the Ryukyuan kings, produced by the Ryukyuan royal court after each king’s death. All are believed to have been lost, destroyed, in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, along with a great many other irreplaceable documents, artifacts, treasures (not to mention thousands upon thousands of lives and livelihoods). Prewar black-&-white photographs of the ”ogoe” survive, however, and are a hell of a lot better than nothing. Satô has conducted extensive research into these works, best as possible with the limited surviving materials, and has produced his own full-color recreations of all ten royal portraits which are known to have been produced.

Satô’s recreation of how the portrait of King Shô Shin might have looked in full-color.

This book opens with full-color plates of all ten of those full-color recreations. The meat of the book is a series of essays (or chapters) by Satô about the ”ogoe” – his research into their history, their style and composition, and his thoughts, struggles, and efforts in recreating them. This is of great value and interest in itself, of course, a beautifully lengthy treatment of such a niche topic (in the broad scheme of things), but a topic of great importance within the field of Okinawan art, especially of Ryukyuan royal art.

What took the book to another level for me, though, is that this discussion of the ”ogoe” is followed by an additional chapter on Jiryô 自了 (aka Gusukuma Seihô 城間清豊), one of the few early modern Ryukyuan painters about whom we know anything much, and one of the few from whom we still have surviving paintings. A book only on ”ogoe” would be valuable enough in itself, but Satô builds upon that with this essay on Jiryô, a reprinting of a 1925 essay on ”ogoe” by Higa Chôken 比嘉朝健, an extensive timeline/chronology of events in the history of Ryukyuan painting, and finally a mini-encyclopedia of topics relevant to Ryukyuan painting. This last thing is a beautiful resource even all by itself; through visits to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, and skimming through museum catalogs like that of that museum’s Ryûkyû kaiga ten 琉球絵画展 from 2009, I have come to gain some sense of the body of works that are out there. But, knowing that so many works were lost in the war, and that few survive, it is hard to know just how few; and are the works I have seen more or less the only ones that survive, or only the most famous, or most-displayed, for whatever various reasons? How much (or how little) is out there? This mini-encyclopedia is, of course, not definitive and complete, but it is certainly an additional help in understanding the extent, and content, of the body of works that are out there.

This book is available on Amazon.jp, but is unfortunately priced at over 5700 yen. I’m going to keep my eyes out for a cheaper used copy.

It’s wonderful to see these books coming out. I eagerly look forward to finding the time to actually read them, and expand my knowledge about Ryukyuan paintings. And I hope that I might someday enjoy the opportunity to bring this to the English-speaking audience – to bring these most-famous of Ryukyu’s paintings to a major US museum, and to publish a catalog about them. Ryukyuan textiles, lacquerwares, and ceramics are all wonderful, and any exhibit, any publication, that expands knowledge about Okinawa in any way is a wonderful thing. But Okinawa is not just a culture of “folk arts,” or “decorative arts.” They had just as lively and vibrant a painting culture as China, Korea, or Japan – they had court painters, literati painters, just like these other cultures, and people should learn that, see these beautiful paintings, and learn about this other side of Okinawa’s art history.


An Okinawan Dream

Eisa performance at Ryûdai Campus Festival (daigakusai).

I’ve been in Tokyo for just over two months now, and I’ve suddenly this week found myself thinking about my life in Okinawa. While I was there, it felt (of course) so totally immediate and real, but now that I’m gone, only two months later, and even after being there for nearly a full six months, the whole thing feels like a dream, or like another life. This happens every time I go from one place to another, so I should be used to it by now, but I’m still not. Who am I? Am I the person I was in Okinawa? Am I the person I am now, here in Tokyo? I *love* my life here in Tokyo, though I sort of dreaded it and knew that in a lot of ways I didn’t want to let go of my life in Okinawa. And I look forward eagerly to spending time in Okinawa again, sometime, but still it feels like a dream, like another life. Getting the Prefectural Museum newsletter in the mail made it feel more real, and also more distant, at the same time. Every new exhibit, every new event, in Okinawa, that I wish I were there on-island for…

Tôdai’s famous Yasuda Auditorium.

I dunno. It’s weird. As I’m writing this, more and more comes back to my memory, and in a certain way it feels real again, in a very normal sort of way – not necessarily like an adventure, an incredible experience of some other world, but like, yes, a place that I lived. The café, the university library, the dorm room. Real and yet unreal. I dunno.

At the Okinawa Prefectural Art Museum.

Part of me feels like I should be able to just hop on a bus and go there again, to the bookstore, to the museum, to Kokusai-dôri, just like I did for months. But then I have to remind myself that not only is that a whole plane flight away, but that I most likely will not be going back at all for at least a year, maybe two or three.

And now my life here in Tokyo feels so real. And I don’t want it to end. I’ve been so fortunate in my life to come here so many times, and also to stay here for so long this time. And I know I’ll be back, and it’ll be wonderful all over again. But it’ll never be the same as it was this time. And that’s an odd feeling, too, because what do I really have here in Tokyo, other than the general greatness of this city (which I’ll have the next time and the next time)? I have affiliation with the Shiryôhensanjo, which is fucking amazing – getting to take out books from about half the places on Tôdai campus, and getting to walk the stacks at the Hensanjo and take books out and bring them back to my office where I can scan them or whatever rather than having to pay for expensive copies. And I have this really nice apartment. I mean, it’s not the most lavish amazing wonderful place ever, and I feel weird actually to like any apartment so much (plus, I learned that it’s actually not all that inexpensive for the area) – but, really, it’s just such a nice place. Everything is basically brand new (or at least extremely well-maintained), from the hardwood floors to the totally not moldy or creepy at all shower/toilet room, to the desk and the A/C-slash-heater. It’s not a super big place, but it’s more than big enough for my needs, and close enough to campus, and all of those good things… and I’m going to be sad to have to say goodbye to it. And, since it’s a visiting researcher dorm, I don’t know whether to say that makes it easier, or harder, to think about getting to live here again, in the future… What do I really have that makes this time so special, so desirable to hold onto, to continue or to repeat? The Hensanjo, and the apartment, yes, but the city will be here next time, too, and whichever neighborhood I end up living in, will be a new and pleasant experience in its own way.

I wrote up all of the above in the spur of the moment, as I was thinking about it, and left it kind of incomplete. Coming back to it now to add links and pictures and just a little bit of editing, I find I’m really not sure what more to say, or how to conclude. But, I guess it’s just something that’s going to continue to be on my mind, in different variations, as I continue my time here in Tokyo, and after it comes to an end in August. It’s such a privilege and such a pleasure to get to spend so much time in these two cities. Like everywhere I’ve been, I know that each different stay has a very different feel, a different energy to it. It’ll never be the same again, and there’s something very sad about that. And, as I said at the beginning of this post, no matter how real, firm, and concrete, life in Okinawa (or Tokyo or Hawaiʻi or anywhere) might feel at the time, it always inevitably turns to a mirage, a dream, a vague memory. Photos are great, and I’ll keep taking far more of them than I know what to do with; but looking at photos will never be the same as actually being there. I look at photos, and often I remember what else I did that day, or what brought me there, or other associated/affiliated thoughts, but rarely do I remember how I felt that day, or what it really felt like to be there in that place. But, what are you going to do? Shôgannai, as they say in Japanese. We have to just enjoy ourselves while we can, and keep moving forward, and just make peace with the fact that life goes on. It’ll never be everything you might dream it will be, and it’ll never be the same as it was before, but it’ll be good, in whatever new and different ways it will be. Just have to take it as it comes.

Another beautiful, sunny day in Naha, looking out over the city from the monorail station.

All photos my own.

Daimyo Clock Museum

The Daimyo Clock Museum, or 大名時計博物館, is one of the more prominent sites on any tourist map of the Yanaka neighborhood of Tokyo. While it’s hardly among the top ten must-sees in all of Tokyo – to be honest, hardly on the radar at all – it came up for me on my very first day living in the neighborhood, as I took a walk to just wander and explore, and ended up seeing it pop up on Google Maps as I walked past. It was already too late in the day at that time to try to visit, but I figured I would make it back eventually. Weeks passed, and on another such explorational wandering, I passed by again, this time noticing the architecture of the place – large tile-roofed wooden buildings behind a high wall which caught my eye and inspired me to take a photo before I even got around to looking to see what building that even was that I had stumbled across (oh, the Daimyo Clock Museum! Ah, I knew it was in this area somewhere!).

Stele marking the former site of the Katsuyama domain’s lower mansion (shimo yashiki).

Today, I finally decided to stop in and give it a look. The museum is located on the former grounds of the Edo mansion of the lord of Mimasaka-Katsuyama domain, which kind of makes sense given the size of the space, the high walls, and the attractive, traditional-looking (but most likely 20th century) architecture. Interestingly, though, once you enter through the gate, you quickly find that most of what’s inside those walls seems to be (near as I can tell) private homes. The museum itself is just one small room, and the large two-story buildings peering up over the walls remain a mystery.

I stopped to take off my shoes and change into the slippers provided, and then struggled with the door. Were they closed? It’s 1pm on a Friday. Surely they’re open, right? A young man comes up, apologizing, and unlocks the door. Ah, I see. The place is so sparsely visited that they don’t even bother staffing it (or leaving the door unlocked) throughout the day. Well, either that or he just stepped out for lunch. I dunno.

In any case, I had somehow had in my mind an image of a very sleek, nicely maintained, very modern-looking museum. Like the Tokyo Bike Rentals places I’ve seen elsewhere in Yanaka, retrofitted into old machiya storefronts, and looking very new, sleek, chic, very 21st century hipster/gentrification style. Instead – and I don’t mean this in a critical or negative way, but only to say that for no reason at all I had somehow imagined it differently – we find an older display room, looking a bit run-down but that’s just fine, with thin carpeting, hand-drawn signage, and catalogs just a slight step up from being printed out in the back room and stapled by hand. A more cozy, local, sort of feel, helping us to appreciate that this is just some guy’s personal collection, that he so wanted to share with the neighborhood.

Hard to tell from photos, but between these two images, hopefully maybe you can get a sense of the size of the small, one-room, museum. Click through for more photos of the exhibit, from Takachi’s Japanese-language blog on LIG Inc.

Sadly, they don’t allow photos – I would have loved to have captured and kept some sense of the experience myself; there really is something about having your own photos, and not just finding photos online… But, in any case, it is one room, with a few tens (maybe as many as one or two hundred? I’m terrible at estimating these sorts of things) of clocks, most of them from the Edo period, some of them quite large and impressive. Some bear the crest of the Tokugawa family on them. Some are still running, their mechanisms opened up making it clearly visible for the visitor how they work. Labels on the walls explain how time-keeping was considered in the Edo period, not on a system of twelve or twenty-four evenly spaced hours like today, but rather (as I’ve discussed in a previous blog post) a system of six hours of daylight and six hours of night, which lengthened and shortened with the seasons. Mechanical clocks were first imported from Europe, their mechanisms copied and reproduced, and adapted to serve this Japanese mode of telling time.

It’s interesting – we don’t tend to think of the Edo period as a time of machines. And, granted, the vast majority of people – even relatively well-to-do townspeople – had no such possessions. But, daimyo certainly seem to have had clocks, and not just a single official clock for the mansion’s business, but actually relatively small ones to keep by one’s bedside as well. European fashions enjoyed a major boom in popularity among the top echelons of the samurai for about 80 years or so, from c. 1550 to c. 1630, and then disappeared almost entirely, but some things, a few things, such as these clocks, remained.

As for the museum itself, as much as I adore sleek, shiny, beautiful small museums – as much as I might have loved to find a Daimyo Clock Museum that’s… I don’t really have the words, but, a place closer in aesthetic to the Nezu Museum, or the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, totally up-to-date, 21st century, but retrofitted into this old, historical, traditional space, a jewel of the postmodern, giving me the feeling that I was taking part in something very new, very cutting-edge 2017-Tokyo, at the same time, though it gave me a sort of record-scratch feeling internally in my mind, in a very different way, it’s also kind of wonderful to feel I found, and experienced, something very small, and old, and local. A corner of Tokyo very few tourists (or even locals) have ever bothered to go see. A piece of the decades-old past that’s still running, just quietly, over in this obscure corner of things. Kind of like the clocks themselves, I guess.

All exterior photos my own. Interior photos by Takachi, from LIG Inc. blog.

Nihon Mingeikan

The exterior of the Mingeikan, in the Komaba neighborhood of Meguro. A short walk from the University of Tokyo, Komaba campus, and two train stops from Shibuya. Photo my own.

April 25, 2017

The Nihon Mingeikan (Japan Folk Crafts Museum) is an interesting place. It’s a terrible shame they don’t allow you to take photos, because the atmosphere is just wonderful. It’s a 1930s house, all in dark wood and just a very “rustic” Mingei appropriate sort of feel. Indigo-dyed textiles hang on the walls, and rough ceramic jugs sit in the corners here and there. Very little about the museum looks post-modern – the display cases are in dark wood, like handmade artifacts of cabinetry in themselves. The gallery labels are all handwritten. Few of the objects are really all that compelling by themselves, at least to me, but in contrast to many museums, where the idea is to contemplate or appreciate each individual object in a void, here the value is found in the total experience – seeing these objects all arranged together, as part of the total Mingei aesthetic of the overall space, along with the building itself.

I was sad to not see any Okinawa objects on display right now, but they do have rooms set aside for African pieces, and for Korea. The rest is all Japanese. There’s also something wonderful about how nearly all of the objects they have on display are worn, damaged. I don’t think you have to come into it with a particular eye for that aesthetic to be taken in by it, to quickly come to think about these objects as aesthetic, as beautiful, as capable of being appreciated, despite not being gorgeous, stunning, shining like-new works. Even though they are old, and worn, and damaged, still, (or perhaps all the more so) we can appreciate their aesthetic. Their colors, their textures. How they were made.

And while the museum is mostly ceramics, lacquerwares, textiles, I was pleasantly surprised to see some very neat artifacts – like an Edo period clock – and some paintings and woodblock books.

From the Mingeikan’s official website. If they won’t let me take my own photos, I’ll just have to use theirs.

I don’t want to get into a whole discussion of the pros and cons of Mingei thought here, but let’s suffice it to say that I think it’s a really interesting building, and an interesting art/aesthetic movement. Yes, Mingei is (was) closely tied in with a colonialist and patronizing rhetoric of “modern” Japan as more modern, more advanced, better, than the “twee” “quaint” Ryukyu, Korea, Ainu, and Taiwan. That Mingei appreciates these arts is intimately tied into a sort of patronizing “we’ll protect you, and protect your art and culture for you, because we appreciate it [better] and because we can protect it better than you can.” Not to mention the vast complexes of Oriental Orientalism, the ways in which Ryukyu and Korea were not actually appreciated on their own, but rather appreciated as signs of how Japan used to be, and as elements of what now was included within the Japanese Empire. The quaint, rustic, aesthetic and culture that modern Japan had lost.

But, you know, for all of that, while we certainly can’t ignore it, can’t forget about it or put it aside, at the same time, is there not value in appreciation of the rustic in and of itself? Yanagi and friends went against the currents of their time, and of our time, to say that these things, worn, old, damaged, many of them made quite roughly or crudely to begin with (as judged by certain metrics or value systems), were worthy of appreciation too. That “art” should not be limited to the more explicitly “beautiful,” and that we should be wary and careful of what we lose in the rush to modernity. Is that not worthy of praise, or appreciation, in itself?

There’s also an interesting question to ponder as to whether we should see the Mingeikan, as a whole, as an artifact of a past age, or whether we should see it as very much a part of what Japan remains today. I’m not sure I have an answer for that. Certainly, on the surface, it feels like it still very much fits in. Doesn’t look all that out of place amidst this suburban neighborhood… To me, the house doesn’t feel like stepping back into the 1930s, like many historic houses might be intended to do; rather, it feels like stepping into another side of, another part of, what Japan still very much is, today.

Reminds me of a talk I went to recently with the artist Yamamoto Tarô. Many of his paintings juxtapose traditional/historical motifs, styles, elements – sometimes entire historical compositions – with elements of the contemporary. Such as a copy of Ogata Kôrin’s “Red and White Plum Blossoms,” but with a Coca-Cola can pouring into the river, creating that same swirling aesthetic as Kôrin painted centuries ago. Or a Tagasode (“Whose Sleeves?”) painting of kimono hanging on a rack, but with the kimono replaced by an Aloha shirt and Hawaiian-style quilt. He told us he had the idea while sitting within the grounds of a centuries-old Buddhist temple, eating a Big Mac. I had always thought of his paintings as whimsical parodies. And I think he does intend some degree of humor. But, listening to Yamamoto talk, I realized his deeper point – that while the Big Mac does feel weird, does feel like a juxtaposition against the grounds of that medieval temple, in another way it’s actually really quite normal. The temple is a part of contemporary Japan, a part of contemporary life in that neighborhood, just as much as anything else. Contemporary life in Japan is not made up solely of the things invented or created or designed in the last century; tradition and history are very much here, and real, and really a part of it.

So, that brings us back to the Mingeikan. Many historical houses intentionally preserve the appearance of the past, in order to transport you there. There’s certainly a lot to be said about that, too, and how these historical houses are nevertheless inevitably also a part of real, contemporary life, contemporary cityscapes. There can never be a more complete separation – either it exists within the contemporary, or it simply doesn’t exist at all. But, still, to the extent that many historic houses, castles, and so forth very much explicitly intend to be a pocket of the past, separated from the present, I’m not sure the Mingeikan is trying to do that, which is quite interesting to me. Both in Yanagi’s own time, and today, I think Mingei is trying to say, appreciate tradition, appreciate the rustic, keep it in your modern life, don’t rush to become too totally modern too quickly.

At a former samurai home in Sakura, Chiba. (Photo my own.)

Ise Ondo at Kabuki-za

April 24, 2017

Hm. I really feel like I ought to write something – this was my first time back at Kabuki in years, and my first time seeing Ise Ondo on stage; and, since it’s an ephemeral experience, it’ll be really good to have a blog post I can look back to, to remember what I thought and how I was feeling.

I’m super glad I went. Let’s just start there. Huge big thanks to Nick Ish for giving me the heads up that Ise Ondo was showing. I was *super* into Kabuki for a time, some years ago, but I guess my interests had just sort of wandered, and I just didn’t even think to keep an eye out for what was showing in the Kabuki world, now that I’m in Tokyo. And, quite frankly, looking through the listings, there was a time when there were a dozen or so shows I would have been excited to see, but now, while I no doubt would enjoy it, I think Ise Ondo might be one of a very few that I’d actually really be sure to go out of my way to make sure I saw.

Ise Ondo was the show that I was fortunate to play a very small part in, at the University of Hawaii, back in 2011. And so, it’s a play that I have come to know quite well, and a play with a special place in my heart – thinking back to all our practices and training and rehearsals; to actually sitting on that very set (or, well, one built to very closely resemble it); to which of my friends played which parts and how they played them; and to all the various hijinks and little backstage shenanigans we had. Not to mention late-night post-rehearsal dinners at Like Like Drive-Inn and Sanoya Ramen… Probably the only Kabuki play where I know the lines before they are said.

It was just so much fun seeing this show, done professionally – not that our version was amateur hour by any means; I remain in awe of my friends and castmates, and of the resources UH had or pulled together to do the wigs, costumes, props, sets, music, as accurately as they did. But, to see the “real” version, come to life, after so many years of waiting and hoping for the opportunity to get to see it, was just really cool. The next step is to find my way to Ise, so I can actually visit some of the sites where it takes place – though, as excited and determined as I am about that, I realize it’ll probably take no more than a few minutes. Snap a photo of the stone marker where the Aburaya Teahouse once was, and that’s about it.

Funny enough, even after so many read-throughs and rehearsals and everything, I think I actually sort of understood the plot better watching it today. Maybe that’s because of how broken up it was actually being in the cast – we always rehearsed only one scene or one act at a time, and constantly went back over particular lines or actions until we got it right; and even when we did do a full run-through rehearsal or performance, it’s not as if we were steadfastly watching and paying attention to all the scenes we were not ourselves in. … I wonder if maybe this is a common or even standard, typical, experience for actors. This is the only show I’ve ever been in, so I wouldn’t know. How about you? Experiences you’d care to share? Even in terms of the scenes I was actually in, I was paying far more attention to cues, and to making sure I did my (very small) part right, and was actually consciously trying to not pay attention as an audience member would, for fear of it reflecting on my face or in my posture. When on stage in the actual productions, I really mainly just focused on sitting still, and staring out into the audience in as neutral a manner as I could muster.

For me, this was my first time really watching the whole show, straight through, as an audience member. And suddenly, the characterizations and plot twists made so much more sense. Oshika thinks Mitsugi has been sending her love letters (because Manno has engineered it), and when he denies it, of course she’s jilted and upset and feels horribly lied to – not just because he’s denying it, but because she thinks he’s denying it solely because Okon is there. But then, Okon also thinks he’s denying it just for her benefit, and thinks he’s been cheating on her. And all of this takes Mitsugi by surprise. And then, on top of it all, he’s getting made fun of by the visitors from Awa. … I dunno. I guess I knew all of that. But, somehow, it just made more sense today. Maybe in part, too, because we had a nice fancy subtitles device in front of us, so we were not only experiencing the Japanese play in full (as an audience member, and not as a cast member alternatively in scenes, and hanging out backstage w/o paying attention to the scene, when not in it), but actually seeing the English – not stylized chanted from the actors’ mouths, but just spelled out on a screen.

And the costumes and the sets and everything were very nearly just how we had them in our version. Though there were some parts that were done quite differently, in terms of choreography, in terms of just doing an abbreviated or unabbreviated or simply different, alternative, version of the scene entirely – but all the rest was nearly exactly the same choreography, and so it was like reliving it again in a sense. Just, really so great. So much fun.

And, because I wasn’t watching it for the first time, to be shocked or surprised by the plot itself, but rather was quite familiar with the plot already, I was enjoying it in a different way, or on a different level. A mix of nostalgia, and enjoyment at seeing how it’s done differently by each actor… how these actors play the roles differently from how we did them. Manjirô in particular stood out to me, as in our version he seemed to me a young, wagoto romantic lead sort of character, whereas here he seemed to be played as older. And Mitsugi, too, seemed perhaps somewhat less the hero, less the heroic lead, perhaps even less sympathetic overall, but just as a protagonist, a guy, in a still positive but somewhat more neutral sort of way. Manno, too, seemed older, more plain in this version, whereas in ours I thought I felt there was something more of a sexy villain sort of thing about the character – Gong Li’s Hatsumomo in Memoirs of a Geisha comes to mind, maybe, though I haven’t seen that film in ages and I’m not sure it’s an appropriate comparison.

Anyway, this was also my first time going to Kabuki-za for just hitomaku (lit. “one curtain”). Instead of paying upwards of 6000 or 8000 yen (roughly $60-80) for the entire afternoon or evening program, which is what I think I’ve always seen before, this time we got, essentially, “rush tickets,” showing up by 10:30 to wait in line to buy tickets that started to be sold only beginning at 11:15, to watch just the 12pm to 2pm portion of the program. Fifteen hundred yen (roughly $15) for a two-hour show is plenty for me. And all the more so when those two hours cover the entire story – all of Ise Ondo – so it’s not like you’re seeing only one portion of the story. (The rest of the afternoon program was filled out by two other, unrelated, pieces) I don’t know why I haven’t been doing this all along – and instead seeing Kabuki as an expensive “splurge” “treat yourself” sort of thing. Yes, for hitomaku, I will be sure to go back again more times before I leave Tokyo.

All photos my own. From the exterior of Kabuki-za, and from the Kabuki-za Gallery, where you can try out some of the costumes, props, and musical instruments.

Six Months in Okinawa

Sunset over Senbaru Pond, on the Ryûdai campus.

I have been very fortunate to be a Japan Foundation Fellow this year, generously granted an 11-month fellowship to come to Japan to continue my dissertation research. While most people spend such fellowship years in a single place, I decided to split my time between Okinawa and Tokyo. The first half is now coming to an end.

I feel like I’m leaving Okinawa just as I’ve finally started to get to feel really situated and comfortable here. Which isn’t to say that I’ve only just first started to learn my way around the library, or that I’ve only just first found a good café to work at, or certain various other things. I have been using the library, and working in local cafés, and making use of the cafeteria and school convenience store, and I have been attending seminar. And I already knew my way around the monorail and the basic layout of Naha, and of various museums, shopping centers, and key districts, to a considerable extent from previous trips. But it’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve first started attending a kuzushiji (manuscript documents) reading group that I never knew about until just now, and it’s in these last few weeks that I’ve felt more comfortable than ever with many of the grad students and undergrads in the Ryukyu History circles here on campus. It’s in these last few weeks that (in part because of the impetus inspired by knowing I’m leaving soon) I’ve started making more serious and intensive use of several of the museums, libraries, and archives on the island that I previously had only sort of dabbled in and left for investigating more seriously later.

I’ve finally started to feel I’m recognized, or known, as a semi-regular, or at least a repeat customer, at a handful of local establishments in Naha. I’ve gotten to know my way around the maze-like corridors of the Heiwa-dôri covered market district – and become familiar with a great many of the individual shops – to a far greater extent than ever before, though I imagine I will never completely stop getting lost. I’ve been taken around to more parts of the island, and more specific individual historic sites than I might have ever imagined I’d get to see yet.

As I prepare to leave, I realize I’ve only studied at the Kokusai-dôri Starbucks twice, and never at the one at Naha Main Place, and while I don’t mean to be some cheerleader for multi-national mega-corporation Starbucks, in actual practical truth, I do find it a rather productive environment to work in – perhaps some of my most relaxed, enjoyable, and productive work times these last six months have taken place in a Starbuck’s. And I’ve only just first gotten introduced to this and that restaurant (I’m thinking in particular of a Nago soba diner I was just very recently introduced to), and to the realization that the highway express bus actually isn’t that much more expensive than taking the regular bus to the monorail, though I suppose that works chiefly only if one is going all the way to the airport, and not just into town.

There are, admittedly, a handful of restaurants I’ve now been to enough times – chiefly by way of going there with friends or family when they’ve been visiting from out of town – that I feel I’ve pretty much gotten my experience of them; that I’m satisfied with how often I’ve visited. But, even so, nevertheless, to have gotten to know them so well, and to now not be going back for years, most likely, perhaps ever, is a weird feeling. To have finally learned which places I really like, and would want to introduce others to, over and over again (it’s new to them), and to have finally gotten to be recognized and welcomed back by the owners, is a pretty great feeling – and to not be living here more permanently to take advantage of that new achievement, is a shame.

On Ryûdai campus.

Perhaps most significantly, most importantly, I feel I am leaving just as I’m being told more openly, more freely, about more seminars, classes, events, that I now won’t be able to attend because I’m leaving. And, as I prepare to leave, I realize I’m not sure I ever got nearly as much of a deep or strong sense of the Okinawan perspective – whether scholarly or more personal/general – as I had hoped. Further, I never did develop any sort of regular pattern of working closely with any of the professors at all. I’m quite grateful for all that Tomiyama-sensei, Asô-sensei, Higa Etsuko-sensei and others have done for me, but compared to students who have been here for years (even though, yes, I know it’s an unfair comparison), I really don’t think I could even say word one about Tomiyama-sensei’s perspective, his particular teachings, his particular attitude or guidance or views on any of this. Should not one come out of a research year having gained some stronger sense of the overall field, the various perspectives and disagreements within the field, from the perspective of the particular professor you worked under or the particular research group or department you worked in? … But, I suppose this last one is really primarily my own fault, for not reaching out more, for not more directly, more avidly, seeking such engagement. Besides, while I do regret this and feel bad for it and see it as a real loss, at least, on the positive side, I still have a whole next five months in Tokyo. So, if I never quite got the perspective of Tomiyama’s “Ryukyu shi” research group, at least I can hopefully absorb something of the perspectives of that of Watanabe Miki or other Tokyo-based sensei.

Research, academia, is about people. And there are some great people here. I really regret not getting to know some of them better.

Tomiyama-sensei, when it does come out, when it does come through, seems like a pretty wonderful guy. He says History is not just about sitting in a room looking at documents – it’s an outdoor activity, it’s about walking, seeing, looking, listening, as well as eating and drinking. Experiencing history. I love it. I really wish I had gotten over myself – gotten over being intimidated by the idea of trying to talk to an important and busy sensei; gotten over my worries about doing it the right way, politely, according to proper Japanese modes of etiquette and respect, and just gotten over it and talked to him more. Akamine-sensei, is basically the same situation. I came here explicitly to work with these giants of the field, and they are nice people, not inapproachable I don’t think to their own minds, though I do feel somewhat reassured that several US-based professors have now told me they had similar intimidation experiences, and difficulties, at my age – that it’s normal and not something to worry about, and that I’ll get more out of those relationships later, over the years.

One of his more senior grad students, Maeda-san, has been wonderful to me, inviting me along to lots of seminar-group dinners and parties, and just chatting and talking with me, making me feel included, making me feel like I’ve really made a friend.

Some of the other grads and undergrads, including Higa Yoshiyuki, Uchima Yasurô, I don’t feel I know as well, and Heshikiya, Sakiyama Takuma, and half a dozen others whose names I don’t even know, all seem like pretty cool people. Genuinely, truly, I regret not getting to know them better. And it felt so warm, so great, to have them say they remember me, at all, after meeting them only a handful of times over these six months, and that they’re eager to meet again sometime. I mean, maybe that’s just the polite thing to say, but I think maybe they really meant it. And I genuinely look forward to maybe seeing some of them again someday. I’ll be honest, even if we do run into one another, it may be difficult to realize it – to actually remember one another – especially since I’m not FB friends with any of them, or otherwise in some more ongoing contact; but, here’s hoping.

Watching these profs & grads at work, there’s a wonderful feeling of these people recovering the history of their people, and sharing it both with their own people, and with the world. Makes me feel like my work is noble, in a sense, as I contribute in my own tiny, humble, peripheral way to bringing this people, their history, and their culture, to the attention of the world. To make it known, to make it appreciated. (And just to be clear, I am very conscious of the pitfalls of white savior syndrome, and Orientalist tropes and so forth, and am constantly trying my best to be wary to avoid them. I don’t see myself as doing this for them, or even that I’m doing anything truly original in terms of my research, that would result in me making up my own version of what Okinawa is, or what Okinawa means – that would be the very essence of what Said calls “Orientalism” – rather, I genuinely do see myself as simply working out of what local native Okinawan scholars like Tomiyama and Akamine have said, and bringing their perspectives and understandings of their own history back to my English-language community.)

A plane passing overhead as we watch sabani (traditional sailing canoe) races at Itoman.

Anyway, I suppose this is inevitable. No matter when you leave, you’re going to think it too soon. I was in Hawaii for three years, and as I left I felt then too that I was only just then starting to really get into a new phase of being more settled, more situated, more comfortable there. A new phase of knowing the city and the campus and the people even better than ever before. And, looking back on these last six months in Okinawa, while I do have my regrets, I am kind of amazed too to realize just how much I’ve accomplished. I’ve scanned or photocopied an incredible amount of documents, and with luck (fingers crossed) by the time I actually leave for Tokyo I will have photographed pretty much all the museum objects (paintings, etc.) currently on my list. (Which isn’t to say of course that this is anywhere nearly all the documents I might ever ever want to look at, but only those I happen to know about as of right now, and happen to have in my sights at the moment. But, it’s more than enough at the moment.)

And, oh my god have I visited so many more historical sites than I ever thought I would – not that that’s essential to the research at all, but I count it as valuable towards experiencing Okinawa, and being able to tell others – friends, students, colleagues, professors – about places I’ve been, things I’ve seen, things I’ve learned, about Okinawa more broadly, beyond my specific research topic; this is essential to my more general growth as the resident Okinawa expert in almost any room I expect I’ll most of the time ever be in. Plus, not just historical sites and such, but streets, markets, shops, restaurants. In some respects, of course, I remain very much a newbie, but in other respects I am so much more knowledgeable about the city (Naha) than I have ever been before.

The Naha skyline as seen from one of the monorail stations.

But, you know, it’s funny. When I first started thinking about drafting this post, many weeks ago, before I ever actually set down a single word on the virtual page, I had all kinds of ideas for this post in terms of how to talk about Okinawa, how I’ve learned to see it differently. How I’m going to miss the particular energy, the particular pattern of life here, when I go to Tokyo. And I didn’t write any of it down because I felt it so strongly at that time and felt I’d surely still remember exactly what I wanted to say. But, of course, as always happens, I don’t remember. … At least not quite as clearly, quite as strongly. But, there are certainly elements.

One, I’m going to miss being in the place where Okinawa is the chief central thing, and not something marginal or just partial. Both in terms of the Okinawan life, culture, everything going on all around (by definition), by virtue of the fact that this is Okinawa, but also in terms of the people around me all being Okinawa specialists. In Tokyo, my Okinawan history may be appreciated and recognized as interesting and as a valid part of Japanese Studies (putting aside the political issue of the ways in which Okinawa is not just a part of Japan, but that’s really a matter for another time) – it won’t be as marginal as it is back home in the US – but even so, I’ll be in the minority again, surrounded by a whole different culture, a whole different energy, both within the research institute and out on the streets of Tokyo more generally. And that sort of connects into my next point, which is closely related to what I’ve been saying in many of the preceding paragraphs – as an Okinawa specialist, anything and everything I do in Okinawa is part of deepening my experience and specialist expertise in Okinawan knowledge/experience. Whereas in Tokyo, you’re deepening your familiarity with something entirely different.

Plus, there’s something to be said for just the feeling of being in that special place. I don’t know how to articulate it, really. It goes beyond the very practical matter of personal professional networking, in terms of getting to know the very people who will be useful to me in the future – it goes beyond that to something else, that I should be at *the* University of the Ryukyus, studying with *the* students of *the* University of the Ryukyus. I can study kuzushiji, for example, almost anywhere, but even truly putting aside completely the matter of what little I might learn of actual historical content by practicing on Ryukyuan records rather than Japanese records from some totally other topic, there’s something really special, something I can’t quite articulate, about doing it in this small, friendly, group of Okinawan students who are just sort of trying their best at it, best as they can (and doing an amazing job!), as compared to being yet another foreign researcher through the revolving door of what’s of course the most standard, central, mainstream, presumably high-quality, kuzushiji groups at the University of Tokyo. There’s something special about being able to walk around Tokyo, or Santa Barbara, or New York, with a “University of the Ryukyus” T-shirt, and to have that experience under my belt of knowing that research group, that class, that room, on that campus, so many hundreds or thousands of miles away from what most other researchers – even within the field of Early Modern Japanese Studies – have seen or known. And not just in a practical way, nor only in a superficial hipstery “I bet you haven’t even heard of Ryûdai” kind of way, but hopefully something deeper than that, even if I can’t quite articulate why or how…

Members of Ryûdai’s Traditional Ryukyuan Arts Club (琉球伝統芸能研究クラブ) rehearsing.

And there truly is something about the culture and the pace of life. I haven’t heard nearly as much Okinawan accents as I’d expected, let alone picked one up myself at all, nor have I learned very much Okinawan language at all, nor have I gotten any better at sanshin. Nor am I going to say anything about over-generalizing broad cultural attributes – which I honestly don’t believe in – about how Okinawans, like Hawaiians, are generally a more laid-back people, or anything like that. I really just don’t like such generalizations. Even when there is a seed of truth to it – of course every place, every people, every culture *is* more X than another, or less Y than another; that’s a key part of the very fact that difference and diversity do exist in our world. Even on a very practical level, taking “essential” “culture” out of it, Naha is a smaller, quieter, less dense city than New York or Tokyo; that’s just a fact. And Los Angeles or Santa Barbara are (for the most part – I suppose it depends on what part of town, and/or what business field you’re in) less formal, less buttoned-up-suit-and-tie than Tokyo or New York. But when I say I’m going to miss the feel of Okinawa, and that Tokyo is indeed going to come as a shock, I mean it mainly in terms of two things:

(1) practicalities, like the actual pace of life, the actual density of people on the street, etc., and

(2) concrete, specific, cultural elements, like having certain foods be the more standard dominant food available,

far more so than (3) any sort of hand-wavey over-generalizing, hard-to-articulate-without-being-essentializing-or-just-grossly-inaccurate notions about what Okinawa as a place or Okinawans as a people are like, overall.

Okinawa soba at Ishigufu in Shintoshin Park.

Kokusai-dôri – Naha’s Main Street, Naha’s Times Square – is, at its busiest, absolutely nowhere near even a normal average day in Shibuya; as someone who absolutely loves New York and Tokyo, I was surprised to feel myself having these thoughts, but it really is quite relaxing to have that kind of space on the sidewalk, and it really is going to be a shock to have to deal with real crowds again. Okinawa soba, and numerous other Okinawan foods that I’ve grown quite fond of, are not going to be nearly as accessible in Tokyo; yes, there are plenty of Okinawan restaurants in Tokyo, just as there are plenty of restaurants of just about every cuisine, but I’m not going to be going out of my way to eat there all the time unless I want to become some kind of weirdo. And, besides, they’re going to serve only some more touristy, standard, version of the menu. Yes, I’ll be able to go to an Okinawan-theme restaurant and get all the standard basics – peanut tofu, tofu champuru, sea grapes, hopefully if I’m lucky shima-rakkyô (shallots) – but no matter what they have, it will never compare to the fuller range available here. I’ve really kind of grown to love in the last few weeks the Okinawan “diner” (shokudô), which I’m going to have to hunt one down in Tokyo; not a fancy “try an exotic regional style of cuisine” sort of restaurant, but just a real basics, cooked by your grandma, sort of version of the food. I’ve grown to love the Taste of Okinawa craft beer hall, where they always have plenty of different Okinawan craft beers on tap or in bottles. I love the shima-yasai (island vegetables) tempura place in the yatai-mura (market of small food stalls), and the kushi-age (deep fried various things on sticks) place in Heiwa-dôri; whether this is Okinawan-style kushi-age I’m not sure, but it is amazingly delicious.

I love Tokyo, and there are a great many things about living there that I am extremely excited about. And I like who I am when I’m there (or, who I’ve been when I’ve been there in the past). But, like the version of me who wrote that post about Hawaii five years ago, I rather like who I was then (in Hawaii), and who I am now (in Okinawa), and who I might become were I to be staying in Okinawa longer, and part of me is just a bit sad, and concerned, about the “opportunity cost,” so to speak, of not remaining or becoming that version of me…

Minamoto Kichôan – a very mainstream, big-chain, wagashi (Japanese sweets) shop in San Francisco. Amazingly difficult to find a good picture of their Naha shop online; seems I forgot to take a photo when I was last there.

Another thought that struck me recently: Going to a department store like Palette Kumoji Ryûbo, and seeing alongside (presumably locally owned) Okinawan companies, also branches of places based in Kyoto or Nihonbashi, it’s not for me a feeling of the colonial presence per se, as something dark and violently imposed, but rather just a feeling of the juxtaposition of the metropolitan into the provincial. It’s weird, funny, to see something so utterly mainstream Japanese here in Okinawa. I can’t quite put words to it. If it were anywhere else, any other provincial part of mainland Japan, I don’t think it would feel this way. Having a piece of Tokyo or Kyoto in a city like Nagoya just means you’re urban, cosmopolitan. Connected into national culture. That your city is big enough to have access to the biggest and/or most elite companies or goods from the big cities. Like living anywhere in the US and still having … Oh, I don’t know, what’s a good example? Something you could normally only get in The Big City, otherwise.

But, here in Okinawa, there’s a sort of cultural juxtaposition, that makes it feel amusingly out of place. Like a piece of New York in California, or vice versa. Or anything that makes pretend Honolulu is just another part of mainstream America. … Hm. I dunno. I don’t mean to say it’s 100% definitively /not/ a colonial sort of situation, but rather simply to say that it’s not the point I’m trying to make – that the feel or flavor, the fun’iki 雰囲気 of the situation doesn’t strike me as dark or violent on the surface, in the experience in itself – only, perhaps, on the level of some kind of deep analysis. What I feel, rather, in the moment, as I experience it, is that Okinawa lies in an interesting dual position – being, yes, a region of Japan, and as such, why wouldn’t it have branches of these shops, and aspects all around of standard mainstream Japanese aesthetics and forms, but at the same time not just, not simply, another region of Japan – it is a special case, and should be seen as such. Actually, maybe it reminds me more like having these shops – Minamoto Kichoan, other Nihonbashi based stores – in Hong Kong or Singapore or something. Places where it’s definitely foreign, but still Asian – still close enough that it fits in to a certain extent, more than it would, for example, if we had a Minamoto Kichôan inside the 7th Avenue Macy’s. I think maybe that’s the more relevant comparison. Because in some ways, it really is just as foreign here in Okinawa, and yet not…

Sai On Square, at Makishi Station.

Walking around Kokusai-dori & Heiwa-dori the other day (Saturday, March 11) for what’s likely to be the last time for quite a while, it’s an interesting feeling. Somehow I hadn’t really thought about it. Hadn’t made any big deal of it to myself, that I should feel any need to visit anywhere (or everywhere) one more time. In actually doing so, there’s a quiet sort of happiness at having gotten to know all of these places so well, and of course a tinge of sadness, but actually I know I’m coming back again, sometime, and I know I’ve gotten to see and gotten to know these places so many times, I feel quite comfortable with it all. Yesterday was quite good in a way – even though I didn’t directly see the guest house one more time, or the Yatai-mura, or the calzone place (to name just a few random places that I had frequented on multiple occasions), I did walk almost right past them, at the other end of a street or alleyway that would have led there. And I passed by the one end of Yachimun-dôri. And walked up from Kokusai-dori to Miebashi, a walk I made numerous times on my 2013 visit to Okinawa, but only once I think ever since. So, a sense of nostalgia for that previous time, too, mixed in. I guess, at this point, it’s looking / feeling like I’m probably not going to make it to the Naha City Museum, or the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, or a half dozen other places again before I leave for Tokyo… and I’m alright with that. At least I am for now. We’ll see how I feel when I actually get to Tokyo, and my time in Okinawa is truly over and done with.

All photos my own.

Reading through a journal article by Prof. Asô Shin’ichi (Okinawa Geidai) on samurai gift-giving customs, and how that relates to Ryûkyû’s gifts to the Shimazu and to the shogunate, I found reference to this book edited by Asao Naohiro 朝尾直弘, which just somehow grabbed my attention. Entitled Fudai daimyô Ii ke no girei 譜代大名井伊家の儀礼, or roughly “Ceremonies of the Ii clan of Hikone domain,” it’s one of a series of books put out by the Hikone Castle Museum, using the Ii Family Documents 彦根藩井伊家文書 and other sources to explore a more extensive, detailed, complex understanding of the history of the Ii clan of Hikone domain, and by extension of aspects of early modern (i.e. Tokugawa period) Japanese history more broadly. Though it normally goes for 6000 yen (roughly US$60), I was fortunate to find a copy online for the far more reasonable 2000 yen. Thank you, Amazon.jp.

Even just on the face of it, this style of book, this approach, really appeals to me. I love the idea of using local histories in my own research. The scholars featured in this volume worked with the Hikone Castle Museum to produce something that doesn’t just take the Ii family as some kind of convenient case study, in order to examine something broader, more removed, more theoretical or abstract. Rather, it takes the Ii family, their records, their local domainal history, as something to be explored as a topic worthy of interest in and of itself. And so, while I admittedly am using them as a convenient example, a convenient resource, for my own project, nevertheless I find something really appealing about the idea of employing such research. I will also be reading, and citing, books like Yamamoto Hirofumi’s Sankin kôtai and numerous others which are more typical academic books, drawing upon whatever resources from here and there in order to build up an argument, or simply a description or narrative, of something much broader (in Yamamoto’s case, the “alternate attendance” or sankin kôtai system, as practiced not by any one domain, but by all of them, across the archipelago). But, reading this Hikone volume and drawing upon research that’s focused in on a particular set of documents from a genuine interest in the history of that particular family and their domain, makes me happy.

A section of Hikone castle, home to the lords of the Ii clan. Photo my own.

And, actually delving into the book, I find that at least some of the chapters – those by Okazaki Hironori 岡崎寛徳 – follow a really interesting format. Okazaki’s chapters, like all the others, like most chapters in most academic books, each address a particular aspect or sub-topic, and form an argument, or a narrative, about them, but they do so while quoting heavily from primary source documents – so heavily, in fact, that they serve as a pretty excellent resource for reading (and citing / quoting from) primary sources themselves.

To put it another way, Okazaki’s chapters read not quite like a normal essay, but more like something in between a normal essay, and a set of introductions or explanations for primary sources. Roughly half the text in each of his chapters is just direct transcriptions of excerpts from the Ii Family Documents, and while there certainly is some narrative argument being made, at the same time he’s also just showing the reader a number of different aspects of the topic, as represented in primary sources. Here’s a letter from the domain to the shogunate asking for confirmation on which kinds of gifts they’re expected to give on which occasions (and in what numbers/volumes), and here’s the shogunate’s response (including permission to reduce the amount of gifts, in these financially difficult times [the 1720s]). And here’s Okazaki’s introduction to what the document is that he’s quoting from, and what this excerpt is going to show us; and then, here’s Okazaki’s summary of the key points of what the excerpt said. All in all, I just find he strikes an excellent balance – providing enough of the primary sources, on enough different aspects around the same topic or theme, and enough information surrounding them, to allow you to use them for your own research, your own interests, beyond just the narrow focus of his argument (that is, in contrast to more typical essays, which only quote just enough to make their argument, and only very strictly those sections which are relevant to their argument, leaving everything else out); and, at the same time, he’s doing so within a narrative or argumentative framework, thus providing so much more framing context, and explanation, than a lot of works I’ve seen that are more explicitly dedicated to only sharing transcriptions of the sources (with minimal framing material), leaving it totally up to the reader to make of it what one will, depending on the reader’s interests.

A bridge near the entrance to the Hikone castle complex. Photo my own.

Let me see if I can give a more solid example. I think it’s easy to imagine a chapter or article from whatever book or journal that focuses solely on New Year’s audiences, for example, explaining out that one event, with maybe some minimal quoting here and there from primary sources, just enough to explain things out. And they of course would cite which sources they’re getting it from, and maybe they would explain a little bit what that document is, how it’s organized, why it contains the kinds of information that it does in the way that it does. I think it’s also easy to imagine a publication which just transcribes the entire primary source document, or significant sections of it, saying, essentially, “here it is. Use it as you will, for whatever aspects, whatever themes you may be researching,” without telling you much at all about the document itself – where it comes from; who wrote it, when, and why; which sections are about what; what new revelations might be learned from this document that aren’t found elsewhere; what to look for or to notice while reading; just the text itself, that’s it. Those are the two ends of the spectrum. Okazaki lies in between them. He spends a good paragraph or so introducing the Kôrei rinji gyôji tomechô 恒例臨時行事留帳, a 1736 document contained within the broader collection of Ii Family Documents – who wrote it, when, why, and what sort of stuff it contains. And then, while providing sizable excerpts from that text, sometimes a full paragraph, or even a full page or more at a time, he uses those excerpts to help show a full sampling of many of the different regular and irregular audiences & court rituals (at the shogun’s court, in Edo castle) in which the Ii participated. Here’s an excerpt explaining how for New Year’s, the Ii lord went up to the castle at X hour, sat in his designated waiting room (the Tamari-no-ma) in accordance with his rank, then moved to the Shiroshoin (one of several audience halls in the castle), and sat at such-and-such a spot, bowed X number of times, said such-and-such formal words, was told such-and-such by the rôjû (Elders) or by the Shogun himself, presented such-and-such gifts, bowed X number of times, then withdrew. And now here’s an excerpt showing how it was a bit different for the regular monthly audiences, for the “in-between” audiences (間之登城), for Girls’ Day and Boys’ Day and Chrysanthemum Festival. And here’s how it was for banquets following the shogun’s successful hunting expedition. And here’s how it was when the shogun decided to go horseback riding and to request (command, really) the various lords to come and attend just to watch him. Good-sized chunks of primary sources, presented not in-line just as quotes, just enough to make a single point within the course of an argument, but rather as good-sized chunks that are allowed to speak for themselves, surrounded by enough introduction, and summary, and explanation, to make them understandable and useful, and to present a broader narrative or argumentative description of a topic.

Other chapters in this book, outside of those by Okazaki, seem at first glance to follow a more standard format. But, after eleven chapters addressing various aspects of the topic of “the Ii family and rituals,” the book ends with over 200 pages of more straightforwardly, more fully transcribed primary sources, along with maps and diagrams of several relevant buildings / rooms, and at the very end, charts of the family tree of the Ii family, a lengthy chart of where each Ii lord was on given dates (as they moved between Hikone, Edo, and other cities, on official and personal business), and a timeline of incidents and events relevant to the history of the family & of the domain.

The sankin kôtai procession of the lord of Iyo-Matsuyama, as seen in one section of an 18th c. handscroll painting at the National Museum of Japanese History. Photo my own.

One thing I do find frustrating, and a little disappointing, though, about this book is that like much other scholarship, it skips over explaining out the basic, general, foundational situation, and focuses overmuch on changes, exceptions, and complexities. As wonderful as it is to learn, for example, about how the type and amount of gifts changed through negotiations in the 1720s at a time when both the shogunate and many domains were experiencing significant financial difficulties, I would love to first have a more general explanation of what types and amounts of gifts were typical, to begin with. And while it’s really interesting to learn about these various different hunting-related banquets and occasion of watching horseriding or Noh, I still don’t think I’ve ever yet come across a basic, step-by-step, description of just what normally, typically, happened when a lord arrived in Edo on sankin kôtai. This sort of thing is even more a problem in many of the other books and articles I have been reading, works which overwhelmingly employ extraordinary examples, rather than anything that might be representative of “standard” “typical” practices – for example, the journeys of either Tokugawa Iemitsu (in 1634) or of Tokugawa Iemochi (in 1863) to Kyoto, despite the fact that no shogun ever traveled to Kyoto for the 220+ intervening years; or the 1862 wedding of Imperial princess Kazu-no-miya into the shogunal family despite the fact that (a) this was probably one of only a very few Imperial-Tokugawa marriages, and (b) presumably by 1862 it’s late enough that practices would be quite different from whatever was typical in the 1600s or 1700s or even up into the 1830s or 1840s; or the shogunal succession ceremonies of Tokugawa Yoshimune, one of a handful of shoguns who were not direct relatives of their predecessors – why not use as your representative example records of the succession ceremony for a “normal” succession from father to son?

Still, returning to what I was saying about Okazaki’s balanced approach to sharing primary sources & scholarly commentary, and about the character of the book as a whole, it makes me wonder what other books might be out there of a similar type, put out by local museums, foundations, History Associations, local Boards of Education, or by more mainstream or academic publishers, but that might contain a similar approach, a similar balance of scholarly explanation and extensive provision of primary sources. Books which might not quite come up on the radar, normally, because they are less mainstream and might get filed away under “local history,” but which might prove surprisingly interesting, informative, and/or useful, either in general, or for one’s specific research project…