Woodblocks in Wonderland: The Japanese Fairy Tale Series

From gift-bestowing sparrows and peach-born heroes to goblin spiders and dancing phantom cats — in a series of beautifully illustrated books, the majority printed on an unusual cloth-like crepe paper, the publisher Takejiro Hasegawa introduced Japanese folk tales to the West. Christopher DeCou on how a pioneering cross-cultural endeavour gave rise to a magnificent chapter[…]

Strangers in the Sacred Grove: The Changing Meanings of Okinawan ‘Utaki’

The changing significance of sacred groves (utaki) from medieval to contemporary Okinawa. Abstract This article discusses the changing significance of sacred groves (utaki) in contemporary Okinawa. Until recently, utaki were the domain of female ritual practitioners (kaminchu or noro), and men were not allowed to set foot in them. In many places, such taboos have faded away, if not[…]

The History and Meaning of the Japanese Tea Ceremony

Tea drinking in Japan became nothing less than an art form. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The Japanese Tea Ceremony (chanoyu or chado) is a cultural tradition involving very particular places, procedures, and equipment for drinking green tea. Originating as a habit of Chinese Buddhist monks to aid their meditation, tea-drinking in Japan and other parts of East Asia became such a[…]

Martial Arts in Medieval Japan

Several of the martial arts which became popular in medieval Japan were introduced from China. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction There were 18 martial arts (bugei or bujutsu) in medieval Japan, and these included use of weapons, unarmed self-defence techniques, swimming, and equestrian skills. Initially designed to hone the skills of warriors for greater success on[…]

Feudalism in Medieval Japan

Feudalism (hoken seido) began to be widespread in Japan from the beginning of the Kamakura Period (1185-1333 CE). By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Feudalism in medieval Japan (1185-1603 CE) describes the relationship between lords and vassals where land ownership and its use was exchanged for military service and loyalty. Although present earlier to some degree, the feudal system in Japan was[…]

Woodblock Prints of the Sino-Japanese War, 1894-1895

The Sino-Japanese War provided something very new—a modern and highly mechanized war against a foreign foe. Prints and Propaganda The Sino-Japanese War began in July 1894 and ended in China’s shattering defeat in April 1895. It involved battles on land and sea; began with fighting in Korea that spilled over the Yalu River into Manchuria;[…]

Life in a Japanese Buddhist Monastery

Buddhism was first introduced to Japan from mainland Asia in the 6th century CE, and monasteries were built from the 7th century CE. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Buddhist monasteries have been part of the Japanese cultural landscape ever since the 7th century CE, and they remained both powerful and socially important institutions right through the[…]

The Shōsōin Repository and Its Treasure

Shōsōin repository held nine thousand artifacts from China, Southeast Asia, Iran, and the Middle East—connecting ancient Japan to the cultural trade of the Eurasian continent. Introduction In the Japanese city, Nara, on the northwest rear corner of Tōdai-ji Temple’s Daibutsuden Hall stands a building largely unaltered since the 8th century. Of age-darkened cypress and deceptively plain, its distinctively ribbed[…]

Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Medieval Japanese Unification

His restructuring of the state would establish the social and political norms which endured in Japan until the 19th century CE. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598 CE) was a Japanese military leader who, along with his predecessor Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582 CE) and his successor Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616 CE), is credited with unifying Japan[…]

Medieval Japan, 1185 to 1603 CE

The was a busy period of development and population growth. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The medieval period of Japan is considered by most historians to stretch from 1185 to 1603 CE. Stand out features of the period include the replacement of the aristocracy by the samurai class as the most powerful social group, the establishment of shogun military rulers and their[…]

The Japanese-American Officer Who Helped Take Down and Then Rebuild Japan

Born in Seattle in 1920, Harry Fukuhara was fully bicultural, bilingual, and binational. When I first met Harry Fukuhara, in 1994, he was orchestrating a Tokyo press conference for Japanese Foreign Ministry officials, former Jewish refugees from the Holocaust, and veterans of the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The groups were there to commemorate the[…]

An Immigrant Family that Bridged Japanese and American Worlds in Hawaii

How siblings torn between two sides of the Pacific forged identities in the aftermath of war. I still remember them at the dining table after dinner each night in our Honolulu home. Three elegant sisters, styled out of Vogue magazine, their jet black hair in neat chignons and pixie haircuts, each savoring a cigarette and lingering over[…]

The ‘Good War’: Concentration Camps and Japanese America

Exploring current struggles of memory and history within and beyond the Japanese American community. For many Americans, World War II has become entrenched, solidly and nostalgically, in the national narrative as “The Good War” fought by “The Greatest Generation.” Increasingly, and disturbingly, this formulation appears to have won acceptance even by an American minority group[…]

The Late Medieval Japanese Invasion of Korea, 1592-1598

The conflict would not only have devastating consequences for all concerned but permanently sour relations between Japan and Korea. Introduction The two Japanese invasions of Korea between 1592 and 1598 CE, otherwise known as the ‘Imjin Wars’, saw Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598 CE), the Japanese military leader, put into reality his long-held plan to invade China[…]

Medieval Japan’s Itsukushima Shinto Shrine

Traditionally founded in the 6th century CE, the present layout of buildings dates to the 12th century CE. Introduction Itsukushima Shrine is a Shinto shrine on the island of the same name, also known as Miyajima, located in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. Traditionally founded in the 6th century CE, the present layout of buildings dates[…]

The Architecture of Medieval Japan’s Himeji Castle

The castle is the largest and best-preserved samurai fortification in the country. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Himeji Castle, located in the town of Himeji in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan, was built on a natural hilltop between 1581 and 1609 CE. The complex is composed of a maze-like arrangement of fortified buildings, walls, and gates,[…]

The Tokugawa Shogunate: Autocratic Rule in Early Modern Japan

After the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, central authority fell to Tokugawa Ieyasu, and the Shogunate began. Introduction The Tokugawa Shogunate, also known as the Tokugawa Bakufu (徳川幕府) and the Edo Bakufu (江戸幕府), was the last feudal Japanese military government, which existed between 1603 and 1867.[3] The head of government was the shōgun,[4] and each was a member of the Tokugawa clan.[5] The Tokugawa shogunate ruled from Edo[…]