Browse Exhibits (34 total)

Kanno Sugako: The Neglected Memory of a Radical Woman

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For my final project, I will look at the early stages of the women’s rights movement in Japan focusing on Kanno Sugako, one of the pioneers of the feminist cause in the early twentieth century. Although the Meiji Restoration inflamed an extensive ‘Westernization’ of a patriarchal feudal society that was Tokugawa Japan, the new era hardly changed the status of women.[1] In fact, reforms that specifically addressed the political and legal status of women worsened women’s political position in society.[2] “A woman’s vocation was to be that of the nurturer. Her role was to be centered on the home. Women were barred from politics, from inheritance, and from any independent legal standing in civil law.”[3] Yet, in late nineteenth century there was an increasing number of women fighting for women’s rights. Awareness for women’s rights began to spread in 1870s. There were five young women sent on the Iwakura Mission of 1871,[4] of whom the youngest, Tsuda Ume, became a powerful figure who advocated for the expansion of social roles of women and women’s education. Throughout the decade, women such as Kishida Toshiko and Fukuda Hideko played important roles within the Movement for Freedom and Popular Rights.[5] The women’s movement at the time condemned the ideology of “contempt for women and respect for men,”[6] advocated for women’s education and for equality within the household while arguing against concubinage.[7] This was the political atmosphere around the time Kanno Sugako was born. Known as one of the most radical early Japanese feminists, Kanno was the only female political prisoner hanged in 1910 for the Great Treason Incident, the infamous plot against the Emperor.[8]

[1] Mikiso Hane, "Introduction," Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan, ed. Mikiso Hane (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 7.

[2] Ibid., 8

[3] Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 111

[4] Ibid., 87

[5] Ibid., 88

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Sharon L. Sievers, Flowers in Salt: The Beginnings of Feminist Consciousness in Modern Japan, (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1983), 133.

Ballroom Dancing in the Rokumeikan Era

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In my final project, I will be studying ballroom dancing (or as it would have been called then, Western-style dancing) in the Rokumeikan Era.  More specifically, I will explore how various parties from both the East and the West viewed ballroom dancing in Japan and use those findings to probe the intricate relationship between Meiji Japan and rapid Westernization.

I will explore questions of what Japanese officials were trying to achieve diplomatically by building a Western-style dance hall in the heart of Tokyo and how successful the Rokumeikan actually was in achieving those goals.  Along the way, I will be using domestic reactions to ballroom dancing and the Rokumeikan to deduce answers to questions about how Japanese people at the time viewed Japan’s rapid Westernization and modernization in general.  If I have time, I may also use ballroom dancing to examine the changing roles of women in Meiji Japan.

This is a topic with a wide range of broader cultural implications; by studying it, I hope to gain insight about Japan’s relationship with the West in the Meiji era and the rapid cultural changes that characterized the period.

Tokugawa Vs. Meiji Schools


For my final project, I decided to examine the shift in Japanese views toward education that began at the end of the Tokugawa Period and continued through the Meiji Restoration, coming to characterize many changes that were implemented during the Meiji Period. In his work, “Education in Tokugawa Japan, R. P. Dore argues that the goals of any system of education can be roughly put into three categories: personal vocational utility, societal utility and personal enrichment.[1] As we will come to see, Japan’s schools shifted emphasis all around these three categories in its quest for a westernized system of education. While it is clear to us now that Japan’s old system of moral education would not be able to compete in the industrial age that was dawning, people at the time were not so convinced. Thus we will see the two Japans that formed around the divisive issue of education reform during the Meiji Restoration illustrated.


[1] Dore, R. P. Education in Tokugawa Japan. Berkeley, CA : University of California Press, 1965. Print. 34.

The Great Turmoil of Kenjutsu: Cultural Persecution and Sport Revival 1870-1895


The Great Turmoil of Kenjutsu: Cultural Persecution and Sport Revival 1870-1895

            Kenjutsu (“sword technique”, or swordsmanship), in its many forms, has played a crucial role in cultural and military developments throughout the history of Japan. Practiced as early as the legendary period of Japanese history[1], swordsmanship reached its peak of complexity and refinement during the peaceful Tokugawa period of Japan[2], when the samurai class and their supervising daimyo established a military government unifying the many domains across the islands. Though swordsmanship was crucial to both the image and practice of the samurai who comprised the Tokugawa bakufu, the practice of swordsmanship itself helped lead to the downfall of the shogunate — radical fencing schools preaching the ideals of sonno joi (“revere the emperor, expel the barbarians”) played a critical role in shaping the ideals of many of the key players of the Restoration[3]. Following the reinstatement of the Emperor as sovereign power during the Meiji Restoration, swordsmanship was quickly cast aside as a remnant of the past - in the face of increasing military modernization and with a desire to eliminate vestiges of the feudal bakufu system, the Meiji government restricted the public carrying of swords and practice of swordsmanship, and eventually abolished the samurai class[4]. Left to struggle in the dust in the wake of these reforms were the both the former samurai class, now destitute and out of work, and the practice of swordsmanship itself[5]. In this project, I will examine the great turmoil of kenjutsu during the period immediately surrounding the Meiji Restoration, the cultural resurgence of kenjutsu in the form of geki-ken, the emergence of renewed military acknowledgment and public appreciation for kenjutsu during the period around the Satsuma Rebellion, and the revival and transformation of kenjutsu into the formal practice of kendō in 1890-1895, the sport that has carried the long tradition of ancient Japanese swordsmanship into the present.

[1] Kiyota, M. (1995). Kendō: Its Philosophy, History, and Means to Personal Growth. London, Kegan Paul International.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Gordon, A. (2014). A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. Oxford, Oxford University Press.           

[4] Ibid.

[5] Kiyota, M.

Takasugi Shinsaku and Kiheitai: Towards Military Reform

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Takasugi Shinsaku  (高杉晋作, 27 Sepetember 1839 - 17 May 1867) is a samurai activist from Choshu domain during the Bakumatsu period. His life amounted to a short 28 years, yet his prowess, especially military talent, left him as a prominent figure in the early years of Choshu activists' history. The militia he led, the Kiheitai (奇兵隊), took lead in breaking down the status barrier in domain army at the time. It also employed western weapon and method in fighting against the bakufu army.

Takasugi was a person of unique character, often proud, stubborn and audacious, to his friends and enemy alike. Starting from his early year under the instruction of Yoshida Shoin, he remained one of the prominent figure in Choshu rebellious force, until his death to tuberculosis in 1867, on the eve of Meiji restoration. He represented the group of activists who constantly adapted and reformed for their own cause, who greatly pushed the reform of Choshu, and consequently, the establishment of new military order in Meiji Japan. By examining his early experience with Yoshida Shoin and his later experience in Shanghai, we emphasize his commitment to the establishment of Kiheitai as a conscious attempt in military reform, which challenge the existing idea of samurai warfare.

Going to Paradise?: From Japan to Hawaii


For my final project I will be researching the movement of the Japanese across the Pacific Ocean to a set of islands known as Hawaii. In this research process, I will be exploring the cause for this movement and the quality of life in this new home. I am also interested in researching how the annexation of Hawaii as a territory by the United States effected, if at all, Japanese immigration.

During the late 19th century, we begin to see a trickling of Japanese people leaving their native land and moving to Hawaii. King David Kalakaua, elected to rule Hawaii by the Hawaiian legislature in 1874, is known for his revival of Hawaiian culture and traditions.[1] But what I am most interested in is his global visions. How did his goal for expanding international relations foster Japanese- Hawaiian connections? What was the turning point for the large movement of Japanese people to Hawaii?

In addition, I will be researching and further investigating two questions about this new life in Hawaii. Was this new life in Hawaii what they had expected? And was this new life better than the life they would have lived if they had stayed in Japan? With not researching this subject in depth yet, I anticipate finding the quality of life in Hawaii to vary based on their reason for leaving Japan.

[1] “Hawaiian Voyaging Traditions.” Accessed November 22, 2014,

Caleb Shelburne: Promenades Japonaises and French Orientalism

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Émile Guimet (1836-1918) was a prominent art collector, scholar, and author in France in the 1870s and 1880s. His father, a prominent industrialist, had left him an immense fortune which he spent on traveling around the world to record others’ lifestyles and bring back examples of local fine arts to France. He first traveled in the early 1860s, visiting Germany, Eastern Europe, and North Africa, and this was when he started his tradition of publishing works about his experiences: a popular book entitled Sketches of Egypt: The Journal of A Tourist, which sold well in France and provided factual material for later scholarly endeavors. In 1876 he traveled to several East Asian countries, most notably Japan, before returning to France. The French government had offered him a grant if he would write a book on the “religions of the Orient” based on his work in Egypt, and Guimet leapt at the opportunity. In this book, Promenades Japonaises, which not only describes the “religion” of Japan (especially the complex relationship between Shinto and Buddhism), is a remarkable collection of first-person anecdotes, traditional folklore (including the tale of the 47 Rōnin), and factual information on the political and religious customs and history of Japan.

In order to best capture Japan in his book, Guimet brought Felix Regamey (1844-1907), a painter, along with him for illustrations. Regamey, a well-established artist who had been previously been published mostly in newspapers and magazines, used the trip as an opportunity to study Japanese art, particularly the use of watercolors. Because the trip was officially sponsored, the artwork was also expected to be factually accurate, so Regamey’s drawings can be considered far less fanciful than much of the Western art depicting Japanese subjects from the time. However, as an artist who had begun his career in caricature and who came from a developed Western nation, elements of euro-centrism, racism, and orientalism can be identified in his work.



Guimet, Émile, Promenades Japonaises (Paris: 1880).

Librizzi, Jane, “Felix Regamey Goes To Japan,” The Blue Lantern, May 24, 2009,

Macouin, Francis. “Émile Guimet, fondateur du musée,” Musée national des arts asiatiques - Guimet,

The Portuguese Connection - Japan's Contact to Europe through language and religion

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In my final project, I will be exploring the development of relations between Portugal and Japan in the earliest days of contact and possibly how this point of contact informed future interactions (or avoidance of interactions) between the two. 

Tokugawa Yoshimune: The Kyoho Reforms


Over the course of the Edo period, fifteen men cycled through the most influential position in Japan’s ruling class. Each of these shogun left their own indelible impact on the socioeconomic and political landscape of Tokugawa Japan. Yet, while their policies had profound short term impacts on the internal growth of Japan, the Edo period is still often dismissed by historians as a period of stagnation[1].

Japan remained behind Western powers for a vast majority of the time as a result off its “underdeveloped social and economic systems”[2]. Still, it would be remiss to suggest that these policies were purely detrimental within this period of diminished growth. Tokugawa Yoshimune, for example, brought to Japan a series of reforms that attempted to correct Japan’s unreliable economy. From 1716 to 1745 Yoshimune presided over a series of economic and social reforms, better known as the Kyoho reforms (Gordon 42)[3]. While these reforms were short lived, the interplay between Japan’s shift to import substitution and impending globalization poised Japan for inevitable economic hardships.

For my paper, I will explore the Kyoho Era, or the time period of 1716 to 1745. Tokugawa Yoshimune implemented an interesting set of reforms in Japan throughout this period. I want to better understand the impact of these reforms on Tokugawa Japan. I also want to briefly analyze the role of globalization in this time period and see how these reforms caused such stagnated growth in the wake of the beginning of global trade. 

[1] Toshiaki Tamaki, "Japanese Economic Growth during the Edo Period". Kyoto Sangyo University of Economic Review No.1 (March 2014), 255.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present Oxford University Press (New York, 2014), 42.


The American Model of Education in Meiji Japan


The Meiji government claimed to shape Japan into a more democratic and meritocratic state offering equality among its entire people. To see the success of such a lofty goal, I aim to explore how Western education—specifically, the American model system—affected the social order of the Meiji state. My final project will survey the conflicted responses to compulsory education and how it aligned, or misaligned, with the merit ideal. In addition, I will also assess how the objectives of a Meiji education parallel with its curricula from its nascent development in 1872 to a more state-centered institution after 1890. These questions will be analyzed by firsthand accounts from Japanese and Western educators, attendance statistics, images of Tokugawa and Meiji era schools, maps to determine concentration of education, and official Meiji documents such as the Fundamental Code of 1872 and the Imperial Rescript of 1890.

Although the consequences were not immediately realized, the Meiji Restoration of 1868 undisputedly brought momentous changes in the islands of Japan, altering the political, economic, social and cultural landscapes.[1] The imperial government issued reforms to establish Japan as a respected nation in the global arena. Thus, in response to the former Tokugawa bakufu and Western imposition, the Meiji government eliminated the status system, replaced daimyō domains with prefectures, proposed a conscript army, maneuvered the emperor to the center of the political order, and instituted a compulsory education system.[2]     

[1] Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 64-68.

[2] Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 103-106.