Posts Tagged ‘japanese castles’

The main tower keep of Fukuyama castle.

Finally, we decided to say goodbye to Tomo, and so long as we were in the area, maybe try to visit the Hiroshima Prefecture History Museum, in Fukuyama City. Sadly, we didn’t get there before they closed for the day; another thing to add to my list to see next time. But, we did get to see Fukuyama Castle, which was quite special. Admittedly, not really all that different from other castles I’ve visited – in fact, the exhibits inside the main tower keep (tenshu) reminded me very much of my visit to Hiroshima castle some 14 years ago. If we were allowed to take photos, or if I had the time and energy to take notes, one could perhaps learn a lot about the Abe clan lords of Fukuyama. But, for me, the key thing about visiting the castle was just simply that it’s another Japanese castle I might never have thought I’d ever visit. I still have never been to Kumamoto, Himeiji, Matsumoto, or some of the other really famous castles, but I have been to castles in a number of major cities that I’ve visited: Edo castle (Tokyo), Nijô and Fushimi castles (Kyoto), Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Odawara… To add Fukuyama is just really unexpected, and neat. Plus, they had a statue of Abe Masahiro, who I needed a picture of for the Samurai Archives Wiki.

Finally, on my final day in Hiroshima, we again remained in Kure City proper, and paid a visit to the City Central Library. I was surprised and disappointed to find there was no research section – no open stacks of books about Kure or the broader local region. Sure, they had books in the basement, which I could request, and actually the librarians were quite helpful, in bringing up large piles of books on closely related topics, that they hoped or supposed might be useful. But, still, it would have been nice to just have shelves I could browse. Granted, I suppose this is a city library and not a prefectural library, but, every prefectural library I’ve been to has had a more general public area, and then a researchers’ area, with browseable open stacks. In any case, I did manage to get scans of a few publications I might not have been able to find elsewhere – but nothing too special, actually. What would have been particularly nice would have been if I could have gotten access to modern-typeset transcriptions of the Mitarai monjo (“Documents of Mitarai [Port Town]”). But, since I didn’t have an appointment or anything, I guess I shouldn’t have expected too much. Well, maybe next time I head out to Hiroshima, I’ll make a better effort to contact people ahead of time, and make appointments to look at documents.

And… wow. Well, that’s about it. Thus, my Hiroshima adventures came to an end.

Mmm Okonomiyaki.

Read Full Post »

The surviving moat & outer stone walls of the Edo castle complex.

While in Tokyo a few weeks ago, I finally visited & explored the former site of Edo Castle, the seat of power of the Tokugawa shogunate, today occupied by the Imperial Palace, and in particular the Eastern Imperial Gardens. Somehow I had had it in my mind that the Imperial Household had taken over portions of the castle, keeping them still-standing, or had at least built the Palace right over the former site of the shogun’s castle. I guess I should have realized the first wasn’t true, since I just read in Takashi Fujitani’s Splendid Monarchy about how Edo Castle burned down in 1873, and the Imperial family relocated to the Akasaka Temporary Palace (today the Meiji Kinenkan, it would seem) until 1888, when the new Imperial Palace was completed. So, yeah, the palace that stands today is entirely a Meiji (or later) creation, not simply occupying the old shogunal castle. Not only that, but the Palace is not even built over the former site of the castle’s central areas, but is instead off to one side, with the former site of the castle’s honmaru (chief bailey) now converted into the Imperial Palace East Gardens, and easily accessible to the public. Though there is nearly nothing at all left to see today of the castle buildings, mostly just empty space, in a way, it’s arguably preferable that the Palace was not built atop the same castle site, since at least this way it’s publicly accessible (the in-use Palace buildings, of course, are not).

I found the tenshu dai – the surviving foundations of where the castle’s tower keep stood until 1657 – to be surprisingly small. Sure, it may look fairly sizable in this photo, but notice that it tapers – once you get to the top, and look at how far you can walk in any direction before you fall off, you realize the actual building that once stood here must have been pretty small. I realize that this was a multi-storeyed tower, and essentially chiefly just a visually impressive symbol and guardhouse – though the tenshu is the most iconic aspect of Japanese castles, in fact it did not house any residential or administrative functions; it was not, really at all, the chief structure of the castle’s operations. But, even so, it is surprising to me to see just how small it is, smaller than the front yard at my childhood home.

Right: It’s difficult to tell from the photo the size of the honmaru, but this is it. This space of green grass, plus the next one over there in the background.

The honmaru, too, was surprisingly small. Okay, perhaps it can be easy to let our romanticized idea of the greatness of the shogunate (or of any regime, any state) blow our expectations out of proportion. But, even so, it seems quite small – what today is no more than an empty space of green is not so much larger than my backyard back home. And this relatively small area is supposed to have contained not only the entire Ôoku, but three audience chambers, a kitchen, and numerous connecting corridors. To look at the map given on the plaque displayed on-site, you’d think it was so much larger… It’s difficult, really, to properly imagine these buildings, with them being so absent. And yet, at the same time, at a site like Shuri Castle, which I visited a couple weeks later, and which comes to mind, as one walks through all these reconstructed rooms and buildings, it’s difficult, by contrast, to get a sense of the total amount of space, as you do by looking at this empty green space.

As the next chapter I’m working on takes place right here – it concerns the reception of Ryukyuan ambassadors in shogunal audience – and believing that Edo Castle still in a sense stands, because it’s become the Imperial Palace, it comes as something of a weird, interesting realization, to realize that it really doesn’t. Edo castle is gone, burned down in the 1870s and never rebuilt, and the Imperial Palace, though I know very little about what it actually looks like (there are apparently tours you can book; but surprisingly little scholarship on its architecture or decor), is an entirely separate set of structures, not even on the same site, but located in a different part of the grounds, and surely constructed with a much more Meiji than Edo aesthetic.

I am also surprised at the extent to which this feels like so many other castle sites I’ve been to. This is supposed to be the East Imperial Gardens. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad that they haven’t changed it over too much, that there are still identifiable spaces, empty though they may be, that can be pointed out as being the former site of this and that building, but it’s just that I thought they would have reformatted the grounds somehow, making them more thoroughly into “gardens,” rather than what we have, a lot of empty lawn, surrounded by bits of relatively natural-looking forest.

Two brief CG recreations of what Edo castle might have looked like, by YouTube user secondcoafujie.

It is a weird feeling to be standing here on this empty patch of grass – as empty as if it were Central Park’s Great Lawn – imagining that it was right on this spot that the Ôoku, the audience halls, and certain administrative buildings once stood, and where *so much* went on. The list of prominent figures who had walked this space, right here, right on this spot, at one time or another only 150-300 years ago, includes all sorts of super big-name functionaries, from Arai Hakuseki and Matsudaira Sadanobu to Tanuma Okitsugu and Ii Naosuke, not to mention every shogun, and indeed just about every top-ranking daimyô. Korean, Dutch, and Ryukyuan emissaries were received in these audience halls, and every major Ôoku figure – wives and concubines of the shoguns – from Kasuga no Tsubone to Atsuhime/Tenshôin would have spent a good proportion of their lives within these walls. Yet, still, impactful as that idea is, it’s still very difficult to even feel “imagine who walked these halls,” because the halls, the walls, the very floors, are no longer there at all.

I hope next time I’m in Tokyo to remember to book an Imperial Palace tour. I haven’t even done that in Kyoto, either. I did, however, visit the Sannomaru Shôzôkan, the Imperial Collections Museum. It’s a very small gallery, displaying only one temporary special exhibit at a time, but the Imperial collections are, as might be expected, pretty incredible. This summer, up through Sept 28, they were showing a number of scroll paintings by Tanaka Yûbi, depicting events and accomplishments in the lives of Iwakura Tomomi and Sanjô Shigetomi, two very prominent Meiji figures. Because the works are relatively new (only about 100-120 years old), and because they’ve been in the Imperial Collections, being well-cared for all that time, these scrolls were in stunningly good condition, with just gorgeous, beautiful bold colors. I wish I could have taken photos. There is a catalog, however, and much more easily obtainable than those at the Reimeikan or Shôkoshûseikan – a rest area in the gardens / park, just outside the museum, had quite a few catalogs for sale, and in fact, on sale, at reduced prices, so I picked up quite a few of them, along with historical maps of the castle grounds.

The Higashi Gyôen (East Imperial Gardens) are closed on Mondays and Fridays, but are otherwise open to the public during the days, for free, no reservation or Imperial/Kunaichô registration required. Simply enter via any of several of the castle/palace gates.

Read Full Post »

One of the most interesting presentations of the conference, I thought, was one by Mark Erdmann, on “The Chinese Roots of the Azuchi Castle Donjon.” Now, I am by no means an expert on castles, let alone on Azuchi, and so I’m sure that a lot of what I found really new and exciting in this presentation might be old hat for some of my friends at the Samurai-Archives, who are more well-read, and more focused, on such topics. But, precisely because I know relatively little about Azuchi, and as it relates to artistic display, and performance of legitimacy (performativity), and intertextuality – on top of the basic fact that castles are cool – I found it a really fresh, exciting presentation.

Before we get into it, though, I just have to take a moment to say how much I hate the word “donjon.” Okay, maybe hate is too strong a word. But, I really don’t understand why we should ever be using a French word – which is hard to be sure you’re pronouncing it correctly, which sounds too much like “dungeon”1, and which is just a tad too obscure to be sure that your readers/listeners know what you’re talking about – when we have the perfectly good English word “keep,” and the even more precise Japanese term tenshu.

The modern, post-war reconstruction of Azuchi Castle. I’m not sure which interpretation / version this was based on. But, the gold structure at top, and red mingtang-like structure below it, are clearly visible.

Anyway, that brief aside aside, Erdmann’s talk focused chiefly on two points: (1) the origin of the term tenshu, and (2) a new theory as to the symbolism of an octagonal section near the top of Azuchi’s tenshu tower, which he suggests played an important role in conveying discursive symbolism of Nobunaga’s legitimacy.

Perhaps we should start at the beginning. Azuchi Castle was built over the course of 1576-1579, by Oda Nobunaga, who had just secured his control over most of central Japan. As such, it was built not only as a residence and base of operations, but also as a monument to Nobunaga’s wealth and power, and was covered inside and out in elaborate architectural elements and ornate decorations. Its main tower keep, or tenshu, was decidedly unique and bizarre, and various major elements of its design were not emulated by any later structure; however, the very fact that it had this multi-story tower keep, built atop a considerable stone foundation, and decorated up with various sorts of gables and other architectural elaborations, set a groundbreaking precedent for what would soon afterwards become the standard form for Japanese castles – luxurious aristocratic residences posing as (or doubling as) military headquarters & fortifications.2 Perhaps indicative of how innovative a concept it was, Azuchi was not even called “Azuchi Castle” (安土城, Azuchi-jô) at the time, but rather, the “castle” and the town associated with it, were known as Azuchi-yama (安土山, lit. “Mt. Azuchi” or “Azuchi Mountain”).

The castle was destroyed in 1582 by Akechi Mitsuhide, the traitorous retainer who engineered Nobunaga’s demise at Honnôji. More or less all that survives, as I understand it, is what has been recovered through archaeological excavation – in other words, chiefly, the foundation stones. Based on this and various forms of textual and visual evidence, Naitô Akira, in the 1970s, proposed a certain understanding of the style and form of the castle; more recently, Miyakami Shigetaka has revised Naitô’s version, arguing that Naitô did not consider or corroborate enough different sources, and that his own (Miyakami’s) new version is more accurate to what the castle likely actually looked like. From what I gather, these two are the most prominent voices in this debate, and the most prominent competing conceptions of the structure.

What makes Azuchi so bizarre? Well, rather than having a tower of purely rectangular levels (stories), in a consistent, coherent architectural style & aesthetic, built atop a rectangular base, Azuchi included a couple of extra layers that, from the graphics Erdmann showed, look very much like two additional buildings simply stacked atop three stories of much more typical-looking tenshu architecture. The topmost story was three by three bays square, and covered in gold; Erdmann describes it as resembling quite closely the famous Kinkakuji, or Golden Pavilion, of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and in fact argues that it was directly, intentionally, based upon Kinkakuji, in order to draw a symbolic connection between Nobunaga and the Ashikaga shoguns, and to therefore bolster his legitimacy. The layer below that, octagonally shaped, and painted a bright red or vermillion, Erdmann argues, was meant to evoke the Chinese concept of the Mingtang.

Right: Diagram of a mingtang, showing the squares-within-circles arrangement Azuchi attempts to emulate.

The Mingtang (明堂, J: meidô), Erdmann explains, is a concept going back to the Duke of Zhou, an ancient Chinese figure who will come up again when we discuss the origins of the term tenshu. The Mingtang was a powerfully symbolic structure, roughly circular in shape, essentially just the circular space within a ring of columns, which would, like so much else in Chinese Imperial architecture, represent a re-creation of the cosmos. As the Emperor walked around the circle within the Mingtang, he would be symbolically passing through the four cardinal directions (plus center), and through the four seasons, as well as through the twelve zodiac signs, representing the hours of the day, the days, and the years. I don’t quite have the language to express it, and one of these days I really do need to learn the best way to express it – and thus also to understand it – but, traditionally, in China, the Emperor was seen as embodying, or reenacting, or simply existing at the center of, the functioning of the cosmos. And so, already, we can begin to understand what it would have meant, symbolically, discursively, for Nobunaga to walk around within a room resembling, recalling, the Mingtang of ancient China.

According to Chinese belief, only a proper rightful Sage King (C/J: ??) can build a Mingtang; therefore, the very ability of Nobunaga to construct one serves as a sign of his legitimacy. Ones built in China over the centuries have varied dramatically, but all follow certain common forms – namely, much like Azuchi Castle, the Mingtang is composed of squares topped with circles, as seen in the diagram above. This octagonal hall at Azuchi further resembles, or recalls, Chinese architecture with its inclusion of red roofing tiles, a relative rarity in Japan compared to the grey tiles seen on the lower levels of Azuchi, and thus very much evocative of China. Furthermore, the Azuchiyama-no-ki (安土山記, “Record of Mt. Azuchi”) explicitly describes Nobunaga as a “Sage King,” and as a genius for his choice of Azuchi as the site for his castle, recognizing that Azuchi-yama was just as great as Taishan (Mount Tai), the famous Chinese mountain where, incidentally, the first Mingtang was erected. Erdmann questions if Nobunaga’s welcoming of Jesuit missionaries at Azuchi was intentionally, consciously, intended to mirror the Duke of Zhou’s welcoming of “people of the Four Quadrants.” Going beyond the mere architectural forms, Nobunaga also installed within these top two stories (the Mingtang-esque level, and the golden pavilion-style level) series or systems of wall paintings, by great Kanô artists, depicting Confucian and Buddhist themes related to discourses of rightful, virtuous kingship.

There are a few problems with this system of symbolism, however, as Erdmann points out. Firstly, what are the proper dimensions for a Mingtang, and does Azuchi match these dimensions, and the arrangement of circles and squares, well enough to properly qualify, and function, as a Mingtang? Second, sometimes the same thing can have very different meanings in different contexts. The structure Nobunaga placed on this fourth story of Azuchi Castle may have been intended to resemble a Mingtang, but this is also the form of the octagonal halls (円堂, J: endô) seen at Japanese Buddhist temples, where they are associated with memorial functions. Erdmann gives the examples of the Yumedono at Hôryû-ji, dedicated to the memory of Shôtoku Taishi, and the Hoku’endô at Kôfuku-ji, dedicated to the memory of Fujiwara no Fuhito. In Japan, this form reminds people of memorial functions, when in order to serve the discursive purpose of the Mingtang, Nobunaga needs it to evoke ideas of his living power and righteousness.

Turning to another side of Erdmann’s talk, there was the issue of the meaning and origin of the term tenshu (天守), which refers to the castle’s tower keep. Erdmann traces the origins of the term to 1579, and identifies it with Nobunaga’s efforts at evoking discourses of legitimacy, by tying himself to complex and ancient discourses related to the Mandate of Heaven (天命). One of the first steps in his discursive schemes was the renaming of Inabayama castle to “Gifu” (岐阜), employing characters connecting him to the Qishan (岐山) of the Kings of Wen & Wu of Zhou, and to Qufu (曲阜), the home of Confucius, and of the Duke of Zhou. It would seem that the origin of the term tenshu is often associated with Gifu, but Erdmann points out that there was no tower keep at Gifu when Nobunaga first renamed it that, and that the term tenshu in fact only came into more widespread usage later.

In the 1570s, Nobunaga also began to employ a seal reading Tenka fubu (天下布武), which might be translated many ways, but which Erdmann, quoting another eminent scholar, translates as “overspread the realm with military might.” A rather awkward translation, in my humble opinion, but the important part is the use of the term tenka, meaning “All Under Heaven,” or, simply, the Realm. By invoking “Heaven,” he recalls connections to Tentô (天道, C: tian dao), a concept very closely related to the Mandate of Heaven, and to the Chinese concept of the Emperor as the “Son of Heaven” (天子, C: tian zi). Nobunaga further pushes his association with rightful rule by having the Imperial era name changed in 1573 to Tenshô (天正), meaning “Right with Heaven.”

Sakugen Shûryô (策彦周良, 1501-1579), apparently the last Japanese ambassador to Ming China, is attributed with coining the term tenshu (天主, “Heavenly Master” or “Master of Heaven” – note the different characters), to refer to a Buddhist temple at the foot of a mountain. This term was employed at Sakamoto Castle in 1573. Erdmann argues there is a connection to be drawn between the tenshu (天主) at the bottom of a mountain, and the tenshu (天守) at the top.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a lot more scholarship & debate out there on the origins, and meaning, of the term, but, for me, this was all quite new, and quite interesting.

Mark Erdmann is a PhD student at Harvard and, near as I can tell, has yet to publish anything. A shame, considering how fascinating his presentation was. I eagerly look forward to articles he might publish on these subjects, so as to fill in the gaps, learn more about these fascinating concepts, and have something concrete to cite. Best of luck with your dissertation, sir, and thank you for an excellent presentation.


1) Probably because they’re related etymologically.
2) Someone’s going to tear me a new one if I don’t make a point of being clear that the tenshu, the impressive tower keeps we most associate with Japanese castles, were not the residences; residential buildings were located elsewhere within the castle compound, though, clearly, still nearby somewhere, within the walls.

Read Full Post »

Academic conferences can be really hit or miss sometimes. The titles of talks or panels can be deceptive, and often the talks that prove the most interesting, or impactful, are the ones you were never planning on going to to begin with. Strangely, this year’s AAS proved otherwise, and pretty much every talk at every panel was really great.

The second panel I attended was one on Japanese castles, a great fun topic all around, even if not of direct relevance to one’s research.

Lee Butler began the panel with a presentation on Japanese castles before Azuchi.

Above: The main tower at Fushimi-Momoyama castle, a beautiful example of precisely the type of castle we are not talking about in this post.

Azuchi Castle, built by Oda Nobunaga in 1579, and sadly destroyed in 1582, represents an important turning point in castle construction in Japan. More or less everything we stereotypically associate with Japanese castles – the stone foundations, the elaborate gables and roofing, the impressive or beautiful decorative elements otherwise – all begin with Azuchi, which we shall return to. First, Butler’s presentation, in which he discussed castles prior to that. These were “castles” which were not permanent residences, nor symbols of wealth and power, but were, rather, temporary structures made primarily of wood and earthworks, constructed chiefly for tactical purposes, to be used during battle, and were not structures to live in, or be based/quartered in, on any long-term basis. As a result, we should perhaps use terms such as “fort” or “fortifications,” rather than “castle,” in order to better represent – and better keep in mind – what it is we’re talking about.

Much of Butler’s talk focused on a document known simply as the Chikujôki (築城記, “Record of Castle/Fortification Construction”). The origins of the document are unknown; it is believed to have been recopied in the 1530s or 1550s, and is known to us today through a copy obtained from Asakura Yoshikage by Kawamura Seishin (sp?). The text, a guide to aspects of the construction of fortifications, consists of 44 articles, or items, including elements on how walls and gates should be constructed, etc. The most important considerations in choosing a site for one’s fortifications, according to the text, are geography, and the availability of water. If we were talking about long-term, permanent castles, this would come as no surprise. Availability of potable water is essential for supplying a residence or garrison, and especially essential for holding out against a siege. But, for these short-term fortifications, I do find it kind of surprising. Then again, I’m no expert at medieval military tactics, so what do I know? In any case, the text also makes suggestions such as the use of an earthen bridge over the moat, rather than a wooden one, since the latter can be set on fire; a fortification must also be designed so as to allow warriors to escape out the back – another good indication that we’re talking about a temporary structure here. Other features of the ideal fortification include yumi-kakushi (弓隠し, “bow-obstructions”) – bundles of straw placed atop the walls to serve as merlons – and rows of pikes embedded in the doi (土居, earthen embankment) so as to impale attackers at roughly waist height.

As might be expected, the Chikujôki makes no mention of stone foundations, or of a multi-story “keep” or tenshu. Where it does mention buildings within a “castle” compound, the Chikujôki generally employs the term ie (家, “house”), and not anything meaning “mansion” or the like. Mark Erdmann would discuss the origins of the keep, and of the term tenshu, in his talk.

I knew the basics of this important shift centering around Azuchi castle (and Hideyoshi’s Fushimi-Momoyama castle, hence the Azuchi-Momoyama period named after the two), but one thing from Butler’s talk that was completely new to me was the mention of a Nijô Palace or Nijô Residence1 built in 1569 for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki, which according to Butler is an equally important element in representing or marking this architectural turning point. Knowing next to nothing about the structure, my best guess is that, just like Azuchi and Fushimi-Momoyama, it combined fortifications (more so than previous palaces or noble residences) with luxury, permanent residence, and overt shows of wealth and power (more so than earlier fortifications). I’d be curious to learn more about this structure. I wonder why we don’t tend to hear more about it to begin with, if it truly is as important as Azuchi and Fushimi-Momoyama.


1. Not to be confused with the Nijô Castle still standing in Kyoto today, which was built a few decades later, by the Tokugawa shoguns.

Read Full Post »

The Asahi Shinbun reports today that some remains, or archaeological traces, have been found of a castle ordered destroyed by Oda Nobunaga in 1580. When Nobunaga took over a territory, he would have some castles kept intact, and either assigned his own men to take over these command posts, or secured an oath of loyalty from the defeated lord already in command of that site; other castles were ordered destroyed.

Tsutsui castle, located in Yamato-kôriyama, in Nara prefecture, was one such castle. It’s apparently quite rare to find any ruins or remains of these castles, but excavations in the inner moat have recently revealed traces or signs of the destroyed castle.

As one scholar commented, this is an important discovery as it helps us understand that castles destroyed at these times, under these circumstances, were destroyed down to even the moats, not just the buildings themselves.


As the Asahi doesn’t like to archive their news articles and keep them available, I’ll archive the full text for them (for you):

鳴かぬなら壊してしまえ筒井城 内堀埋めた破城跡発見





Read Full Post »

My hits spiked when I wrote about politics, but even then I still didn’t get any comments, despite the potential of my words to be quite offensive… But then the point of writing a blog isn’t to write what will get hits or what will get comments, but simply to write what I am interested in sharing. Now, if only companies thought the same way, allowing creators to make marketing decisions instead of marketers – if companies produced and marketed and sold things they wanted to share with the public, rather than things their marketing research shows will sell… If the ultimate goal were to produce a worthwhile, meaningful, creative product and not simply to make the most profits…

Anyway, this weekend I noticed a bookstore in Harvard Square, Raven Used Books, that I never noticed before. I wonder how long they’ve been there. My goal of course was not to buy but simply to browse while killing time, but of course, in the end, I ended up buying several books. Hey, when you happen upon things for relatively cheap (under $15) that you never expected to find outside of the SOAS library, you have to jump for it.

Studies in the Institutional History of Early Modern Japan

Studies in the Institutional History of Early Modern Japan

Studies in the Institutional History of Early Modern Japan (John W Hall, Marius Jansen eds.)

A rather dry title, to be sure, but this is an academic book after all. A collection of essays on various aspects of the economic, political, and social structures of Edo period Japan, this book contains quite a number of articles that, I get the impression, are fairly foundational, and certainly ones of great relevance to topics I enjoy and intend to pursue research on.

Includes articles on feudalism, urbanization, economic structures, and Tokugawa law, as well as several articles focusing upon Tosa and Satsuma, though these are used not as interesting topics unto themselves but merely as examples exploited for the purpose of advancing abstract theories about historical interpretations of political/economic/social structures, an approach that I harbor a distaste for. Still, it’s great to have all these articles collected up in one book rather than having to rely on photocopies made from individual academic journals, etc, which would have been quite time and money consuming.

Some articles of particular interest:
*”Foundations of the Modern Japanese Daimyo” – John Whitney Hall
*”The Consolidation of Power in Satsuma han” – Robert Sakai
*”The Castle Town and Japan’s Modern Urbanization” – John W Hall
*”Bakufu versus Kabuki” – Donald Shively

Southeast Asia in the Early Modern Era: Trade, Power, and Belief (Anthony Reid, ed.)

Another collection of academic essays, another book providing good foundational sources. I’m far less knowledgeable, experienced in the field of Southeast Asian studies than in Japanese, but from what I gather, many of the scholars featured here, particularly the book’s editor, Anthony Reid, are big names in the field, and not only reliable, but would also serve me well as core reading.

As I may have mentioned in a previous post, I wrote my MA thesis on Japan’s commercial and diplomatic relations with Southeast Asia in the 17th century, focusing particularly on relations with Ayutthaya (Siam/Thailand) and southern Vietnam under the Nguyen lords. Japanese history tends to be fairly inward-looking (just look at the previous book, Studies in Institutional History), focusing on culture within Edo, politics within a domain (han), trade routes and economic systems within the country. It is also the study of a country which thinks itself quite homogeneous. And so, to talk about maritime history, overseas trade, the colorful multi-ethnic, multi-cultural ports of Southeast Asia was an exciting change of pace for me. It is easy to fantasize and romanticize about adventurers on the high seas, interesting characters who fled Japan or were exiled and sought fortunes overseas. Samurai fighting on elephantback alongside Thai forces against Burmese invasion; Japanese silk traders in Viet Nam dominating the market despite their inferiority of numbers against the Chinese, driving prices up and driving the Dutch crazy. Japanese from well-to-do Osaka merchant families marrying into the Nguyen noble family which ruled southern Vietnam. … And to just imagine the ports themselves, what a vibrant and exciting place they must have been, seeing the kind of intercultural exchange one rarely sees in early modern Japan, with its strictly controlled international interactions.

Some articles of particular interest to me:
*”Nguyen Hoang and the Beginning of Vietnam’s Southward Expansion” – Keith W Taylor
*”Restraints on the Development of Merchant Capitalism in Southeast Asia before c. 1800″ – J. Kathirithamby-Wells
*”The Vanishing Jong: Insular Southeast Asian Fleets in Trade and War” – Pierre-Yves Manguin

Japanese Castles AD 250-1540 by Stephen Turnbull

A far less scholarly book than the previous two, Turnbull’s writing tends to be marketed towards the young enthusiast who thinks samurai and ninja are kewl and want to learn more about the real thing. Which isn’t really something I can fault anyone for; after all, that’s how I got into it, that’s how a lot of people got into it, his books are cheaper, far easier to find, and far easier to read than the proper scholarly books.

His books tend to be short, covering the topic in a rather cursory manner, going into way too much detail on some points and leaving massive gaps in the big picture. But he does focus on a topic for its inherent interest, and is not simply using this as an avenue to discuss historiographical theories. I also get the impression from those who do take military history a bit more seriously that Turnbull misinterprets his sources and often takes them too literally, uses some sources excessively and others not at all, and just plain fails as a reputable scholar (and thus a reliable source) in general. A good read, and mostly accurate in its content, but perhaps not quite enough so to quote from, cite from, in a formal dissertation or essay. Outside of the fact that he has no inline citations or footnotes whatsoever, listing his sources only in a works cited in the back, giving the reader therefore no indication of which assertions are derived from which sources, I have only one real quibble with his writing that I myself have noticed. He very rarely mentions controversies or uncertainties as a proper scholar should, making assertions (for example, in this book,) about the relationship between the Yayoi and Jomon people, the Korean origins of the Yamato people, the colonial status/identity of Mimana (the Gaya Confederacy, which he misspells as Minama) as if they are fully accepted truths without even hinting at the fact that these are things that are in fact hotly debated in the academic community.

Nevertheless, all of that aside, it is a book which focuses well on its topic, covering “Japanese Castles AD 250-1540” in greater detail, more straightforward language, and with more pictures and illustrations than any historian whose focus is on historiographic analysis of social trends in political structures of the economic impact of whether or not feudalism is a valid word to apply to Japan ever would.

For some reason I cannot fathom, the professional proper academic community looks down upon, or outright ignores, military history. … So, for what it is, Turnbull’s works can be quite interesting and valuable.

Read Full Post »