Introduction: Craig Colbeck

Greetings. I am the last third of Harvard’s current first-year cohort, which gives me the distinct pleasure of calling Nick and Konrad my close friends. All of my interests are currently in flux, making a coherent self-introduction difficult.
Incoherency, on the other hand, has virtues.
I study twentieth-century Japan and Korea. My undergraduate work described the modernization and Japanization of karate—a thoroughly enjoyable project to which I will someday return. Not doubt my work will be indebted to Dennis when I do. Korea is new to me; I only started studying its history and language in this academic year, meaning that all is still struggle. As of yesterday, I have a new research topic: toilets. I have yet to decide which aspect interests me most: the environmental impacts of modern sewage systems; washiki toire as an invented tradition; bodies, genders, and disciplines (in the space where Panopticism and its cloistered twin meet); sanitation and hygiene; consumerism and technology. No doubt these will be blended in a short time. Who knows where this conduit will lead? There is nothing to do but dive in.


  1. We are all anxiously awaiting Craig’s groundbreaking monograph, Thrones of Empire: Commodious Discourse and Porcelain Power.

  2. Well, if you haven’t read it yet, Hanley’s Everyday Things in Premodern Japan has fantastic sections on toilets and waste management, and probably more footnotes to chase down than you really wanted at this point in the year.

    Has your undergrad work been published or publicized at all? I got lots of students interested in the history of martial arts and I’d love to have something with a little scholarly heft to … well, I was going to say hurl at them, but I think I’ll just stick to… suggest they read. Perhaps you could summarize or anthologize your findings here?

  3. I like the idea of studying toilets, lots of potential. You are
    no doubt aware of this already, but there was a recent international
    conference on toilets– apparently an annual meeting. I read about
    it in the International Herald Tribune, so you could probably do a
    search on their site if you’re at all interested.

  4. A friend of mine spent a term restoring a Victorian toilet. She told me there’s a whole academic toilet culture out there. Have you found any differences between cultures that think standing up toilets are acceptable and those that don’t? Britain is the only European country I know of that doesn’t have hole in the ground loos.

  5. Thanks for the suggestions and comments. Especially the suggestions! I’ll take any that you have.

  6. Craig,

    My name is Ethan Savage and I am a graduate student in Asian Studies
    at the University of Oregon. I am working on a project on karate as an
    invented tradition (sound familiar?). Long story short, I was concerned
    that trends in early Meiji on the mainland were not necessarily the same
    in Okinawa. My advisor, Jeff Hanes, said that he would contact his
    ex-wife Linda Angst and see if she had any insights. Well, obviously
    that is how your name came up. I must admit it was a bit like a
    mawashi geri to the gedan area when I found out that you had done the
    same thing. Then I thought, well maybe I’ll concentrate on this idea of
    dō a bit more to take my own path so to speak. Of course I then
    stumbled on to your blog and was once again feeling a bit redundant.
    At any rate I guess I am writing to find a little more out about your
    project and see if you have any advice/insights that might help to send
    me in a direction of my own.


  7. Ethan,

    It’s great to meet a fellow historian, Oregonian, and martial arts aficionado! Too bad it has to come like this, but hopefully we can find a way to share the topic without butting heads. I wonder: how developed is your project? It would be too bad if we’ve been plugging away at this separately for too long. Unfortunately, yours and my interpretations would have to differ radically for us to cover exactly the same ground, and it’s probably not wise to begin your career by arguing with colleagues.

    As for unique directions, I think you are right to look for different things going on in Okinawa versus the “naichi”. My study mentions this without really going into it; my focus is on the adaptations of Funakoshi and other karate practitioners who relocated to Tokyo. The counter-adoption of Japanized karate by Okinawans could bear fruit, although since most karate publishing has been from Tokyo, it would require more resourcefulness than I have shown. Dennis Frost, also a member of this blog, is working on modern sports in the Meiji and Taisho periods with an emphasis on Okinawa. He is a good resource and a great guy. You might ask him about Okinawan archives. If you are interested in international history, Hawai’ian and other diaspora populations were important in the modernization of karate. Also, while much interesting work has been done on sumo and judo, other arts like kendō, iaidō, aikidō, and Shorinji Kempo have received less attention. Incidentally, these all modernized at different times, and more could be done on the changing meanings and methods of modernization in the different contexts of Meiji, Taisho, and postwar Showa.

    But maybe this is the wrong tack. I can only really think of things that I want to do, of my own take on things. Maybe I should be asking for your insights instead. With that in mind, I’m positing the first few pages of the introduction to a work in progress, which outline the directions I will be pursuing. If you see enough room for your project, or just want to discuss it further, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  8. Craig,

    Thanks for the reply. I would like to correspond with you more but perhaps we should do it directly. If you go on to the Univ. of Oregon homepage and click on directory and enter my name you’ll get my contact info. I tried doing the same on the Harvard site but apparently you guys are more concerned about privacy than us Ducks.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.