Kyushu and Okinawa Studies Online Symposium

I just got an email from Steve from announcing their first online symposium complete with academic contributors. Here is more from the announcement:

Two myths dominate the story of Japan’s relationship with the outside world. The first and most common is that Japan was an isolated country, opened by the arrival of Commodore Perry. The second compares Japan to an oyster, because the foreign influence that it accepted was no bigger than a grain of sand.

In recent years, those myths have come under attack from researchers studying medieval communication between Kyushu and the Asian continent. We are delighted to announce the participation of two authors whose work details a far richer and more complex environment. Professors Batten and Wang describe a time in which pirates, diplomats, traders, monks and soldiers sailed to and from Japan.

Much of this scholarship is new. For example, Professor Batten examines the Kôrokan, the official guest-house for foreign visitors, which was located in Hakata, now located inside the modern-day city of Fukuoka. A thousand years ago, most visitors to Japan would have arrived by ship at Hakata Bay, the one and only authorized gateway to Japan. For years the site was buried underneath the city’s baseball stadium and only in recent years, after the demolition of the stadium, has the evidence been unearthed. Professor Wang also utilizes recent archaeological findings and little-known archival material to come to new conclusions about relations between Japan and the outside world.

Professor Batten approaches the topic by covering the history of Hakata from 500 C.E. into the medieval period. He has chapters focusing on war, diplomacy, piracy, and trade. Professor Batten has spent his professional career focusing on Kyushu and has had access to the latest archaeological discoveries in the area. Chapter 4 of this book, “Gateway to Japan”, available to visitors of this symposium, focuses on a single case study. By focusing on the particularly well-documented case of a Chinese junk that arrived in Hakata in 945, Professor Batten showcases many of his findings, including those on immigration, trade and official attitudes toward the outside world.

Professor Wang’s focus is on diplomatic relations and a series of important embassies sent from the Japanese islands to Sui and Tang China. Wang explains in detail the rigorous criteria of the Chinese and Japanese courts in the selection of diplomats and how the two prepared for missions abroad. He journeys with a party of Japanese diplomats from their tearful farewell party to hardship on the high seas to their arrival amidst the splendors of Yangzhou and Changan and the Sui-Tang court. One of his central ideas, outlined in the introduction is that the traditional view of China’s tributary system is oversimplistic. He argues that it was not a unilateral tool of hegemony but a more complex situation in which multiple partners were able to modify the rules depending on the times and circumstances.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for calling attention to this symposium. It looks fascinating. If Batten’s Gateway to Japan had come out before I left, I would have brought it along to read while in Japan. I can’t wait to get hold of a copy when I get back.

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