Syllabus Query: 18th Century Japan

I’m teaching my Japan Since 1700 course next semester for the first time. I’ve taught Japan since 1800 and 1868; I’ve taught Japan 1600-1900 and 20c Japan. I have two issues which are bugging me as I put in my (late, I know) book orders: Textbook and the 18th century:

Both the Gordon and McClain Modern History textbooks start in 1800 (and that only so they can get some context in before the bakumatsu), so they’re not ideal, but I may have to pick one.1 I have the Totman tome at home, and I’ll look at it later, but I remember it being immense and probably more frightening than helpful for undergraduates. Any thoughts?

18th Century
I’ve got a solid collection of readings for the 19th and 20th centuries — mostly stuff I’ve used before, including Fukuzawa, Shiba Goro, Reflections on the Way to the Gallows, Cook & Cook, Haruko’s World, that sort of thing — but I’ve not assigned anything specifically for the 18th century before. When I last did the Tokugawa-Meiji course, I used Shirane’s Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900, but I really wasn’t terribly happy with it and it’s quite inappropriate for this course.

There’s the old standby — Chushingura — which is still serviceable. There’s Hanley’s Everyday Things in Premodern Japan: The Hidden Legacy of Material Culture but that’s got more focus on the 19th century than I’d like for this. But I’m still looking for something — either primary or secondary — which gives them a good look at the texture of life in the 18th century (early or middle, preferably). T.C. Smith’s The Agrarian Origins of Modern Japan seems a bit dense, but it might be OK. Again, any nominations or voices of experience would be most welcome!

  1. There’s also the shorter Duus text, and I like the writing and conciseness of it, but I also want something that takes better advantage of the work that’s been done in the last fifteen years. Also, it’s more expensive than either the Gordon or McClain, despite being shorter and older.  


  1. Everything by Timon Screech focuses on the 18th century, and his writing, though erudite, is accessible to engaged undergrads. They also love his interest in art, sex, science. I’m obviously biased toward culture, but I also like Rath on Noh in the 18th century (_The Ethos of Noh_), Berry on books in this period (_Japan in Print_), and me on the iemoto system (_Handmade Culture_). But maybe the best reading is Ooms’s _Tokugawa Village Practice_. Several of the episodes that he narrates–through his own summaries and also through translation of some of the sources–come from the 18th century, and surely are a better representation of 18th-century daily life in Japan than almost anything else available in English. I have used all of these (usually in excerpted form and with significant intervention on my part) with undergraduates, with some success. I look forward to seeing other suggestions.

  2. Rarely. I know it’s somewhat limiting, but it serves several purposes: first and foremost, I want students to see a whole argument being made (or large portions of it, anyway; I will skip a few chapters, if there’s too much theoretical baggage, jargon or it goes outside of the general confines of the course), so they get more than just a scattering of historiographical points. I will argue with the works I assign in class — pointing out their weak points, their strengths, how their work challenges or is challenged by other scholars — but I want students to have the experience of the accumulation of evidence and presentation in a full-bore piece of scholarship.

    This is, by the way, one of the reasons why I support your calls for scholarship that is readable by non-specialists, even on very specific topics. I have more trouble doing this with Japanese history than I do with Chinese history, by the way; for whatever reason, I’ve found some exceptionally good monographs which I can use as teaching texts on China that don’t have counterparts in the Japan field.

    I do make use of collection volumes, though (Recreating Japanese Women, for example), as well as literary anthologies (e.g. Reflections on the way to the Gallows) and I will assign journal articles that are accessible in electronic form (JSTOR, EBSCO) sometimes.

    At some point over the last decade, I decided that course reserves and course packs just don’t work for me. This semester, actually, I relented and put some readings on reserve, but then I made the mistake of including those readings in a writing assignment; sure enough, one of the major readings disappeared a week before the essay was due, and remained out until at least a week later (it’s back, now), meaning that I had to permit multiple extensions, make multiple copies of the readings available (good thing I had a copy myself!) for short-term reserve (through the department, since you can’t put multiple copies on reserve at a library anymore). It seems to me that it happens too often, and a smaller number of larger sources is how I’ve dealt with it.

  3. Well the Ooms book might not work, then. It is ferociously philosophical and full of Bourdieuan theory. Each chapter is a small part in a very complex argument that certainly cannot be ascertained from reading just one section. Still, I find some of the materials that he translates and some of the stories he narrates to be very compelling even for students not interested in _The Logic of Practice_.

  4. Though obviously biased since I am one of Herman Ooms’ deshi, I second Morgan’s suggestion of assigning a chapter out of _Tokugawa Village Practice_ to help students make sense of the eighteenth century. The first chapter, which provides a concrete case centered on a murder mystery, is perhaps the least theoretically-inclined section, can be read largely independent of other chapters, and should appeal to undergraduates. I have used it in classes and found that students come away with a better understanding of the both eighteenth century in general and the structure of village society in particular.

    Another other option, of course, would be to have students read the work of various eighteenth-century scholars like Ogyu Sorai, his disciples, or his critics in the Kaitokudo as discussed in Tetsuo Najita’s _Visions of Virtue in Tokugawa Japan_.

  5. Good luck with the textbook quest! But if I may offer a couple readings for 17th century, though they are not of monograph length. Gary Luepp’s “The five men of Nanawa: Gang Violence and Popular Culture in Genroku Japan” in “Osaka: Merchant’s Capital” may work. I think it holds many small bits of info and images about a number of subjects, allowing students of all types to engage the piece. Hayashi Reiko’s “Provisioning Edo in the Early Eighteenth Century” in “Edo and Paris” may also work. I think this chapter can offer something to many in the way of students and discussion. For me personally, Herman Oom’s “Village Practice” was one of the most memorable works I have read that featured the “daily life” of 17th century Japan.

  6. Life of an Amorous Woman? A bit too early maybe, but it worked well the one time I used it. I think Totman might actually work as a text.

    Also, does your library do e-reserve? Mine does, so I just send them articles and chapters, they PDF them and post them to the library website. Much easier for students.

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