Book Announcement: The Last Female Emperor of Nara Japan, 749-770

The Last Female Emperor of Nara Japan, 749-770
by Ross Bender

The last female emperor of Nara Japan was Kōken/Shōtoku Tennō, who ruled from 749 to 770, with an interregnum from 758 to 764. She was the last in a series of six ancient empresses regnant in Japan, who ruled, interspersed with male royals, from 592 to 770. These female sovereigns were designated as ‘Tennō‘ in the chronicles, a term normally translated as ‘Emperor.’ She was a powerful ruler, an adroit politician who overcame three challenges to her rule by male members of the nobility. After her death, female emperors took the throne only twice more, many years later in the 17th and 18th century when the imperial house was completely dominated by the military rulers, the Tokugawa shoguns. This study is a narrative of the period of her reign. It is a companion to my five volumes of translation from the Shoku Nihongi, published from 2015-2016. The book has minimal bibliographic notes and is intended as an introduction for Western readers; scholars may consult my translations for a more detailed account. It is dedicated to Kimoto Yoshinobu, the expert on the Fujiwara in the 8th century.

Table of Contents

Female Rule in Ancient Japan
Kōken’s Reign, 749-757
The Junnin Interregnum and the Nakamaro Supremacy, 758-783
The Fall of Nakamaro and the Rise of Dōkyō, 764-766
The Dōkyō Supremacy and the Death of the Empress, 767-770
Appendix 1: Shoku Nihongi
Appendix 2: Imperial Edicts – Senmyō, Choku, and Shō
Selected Bibliography

For more information: The Last Female Emperor of Nara Japan 749-770

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Fun (?) Link Friday: Meguro Parasitological Museum

Photo by Guilhem Vellut

When was the last time you thought about… parasites? Maybe watching a horror movie or taking your pet to the vet. But if you’re interested in exploring scientific knowledge about these creepy wigglies for fun, Japan has a museum for you!

An Open Culture article recently highlighted The Meguro Parasitological Museum, which has been around since 1953 giving people the heebie-jeebies. Inside you’ll find over 60,000 species of parasite, with hundreds on rotating display. It might not be for everyone, but it’s certainly fascinating to see parasites longer than my living room is wide.

If you’re in Tokyo looking for something unique to do, it could be a fun way to fuel new nightmares! And if you aren’t in Japan, you can still catch a glimpse of some of their offerings on their website or through their Flickr gallery. Enjoy (?) clicking!

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Call for Applications: Online Summer Programme in Japanese Cultural Studies 2021

On behalf of the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures and the Centre for Japanese Studies at the University of East Anglia, I am pleased to announce that applications are now open for our Online Summer Programme in Japanese Cultural Studies 2021, a free online course that will be running from Monday 12th July to Friday 23rd July 2021. This programme is open to anyone with an interest in Japan and Japanese culture, with no expectation of prior study or knowledge of Japanese culture or Japanese language required. Please share this with anyone you think will be interested.

Online Summer Programme in Japanese Cultural Studies 2021

Science, Sport, and Sustainability: Towards an Interdisciplinary Future in Japanese Studies

Programme dates: 12 – 23 July 2021

The programme will be organised around three core themes: science, sport, and sustainability. In particular, the programme will approach these from an interdisciplinary arts and humanities perspective and explore the interrelationships between science and humanities. These themes are particularly appropriate in 2021, where we find ourselves in the midst of a global crisis, the coronavirus pandemic. It is also an Olympic year, with Tokyo hosting the postponed 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. In these difficult times, it is vital that we build resilience, promote wellbeing, and look towards a sustainable and responsible future, in line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The course will be directed by Professor Simon Kaner, Executive Director of the Sainsbury Institute and Director of the Centre for Japanese Studies at UEA, Dr Christopher J. Hayes, and Dr Matsuba Ryoko. The programme will offer the chance for digital encounters with academics from both organisations. There will also be opportunities to engage online with participants from around the world and to join a growing network of programme alumni.

The Online Summer Programme in Japanese Cultural Studies will include a guided and interactive exploration of digital resources available for the field, including materials from the Sainsbury Institute’s world-renowned collections. While much of the content can be accessed at a time most convenient to the participant, there will be daily live sessions through Zoom, held at 13:00 BST. Participants who engage with all aspects of the programme will receive a Certificate of Attendance.

Applications are now open through the website below. The deadline for applications is Friday 28th May

For more information and to apply, visit: Info: 

If you have any questions, please contact Dr Christopher Hayes through the email address below.

Contact Email:


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Book Announcement: Craft Culture in Early Modern Japan: Materials, Makers, and Mastery

Craft Culture in Early Modern Japan:
Materials, Makers, and Mastery
Christine M. E. Guth

Crafts were central to daily life in early modern Japan. They were powerful carriers of knowledge, sociality, and identity, and how and from what materials they were made were matters of serious concern among all classes of society. In Craft Culture in Early Modern Japan, Christine M. E. Guth examines the network of forces—both material and immaterial—that supported Japan’s rich, diverse, and aesthetically sophisticated artifactual culture between the late sixteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. Exploring the institutions, modes of thought, and reciprocal relationships among people, materials, and tools, she draws particular attention to the role of women in crafts, embodied knowledge, and the special place of lacquer as a medium. By examining the ways and values of making that transcend specific media and practices, Guth illuminates the “craft culture” of early modern Japan.

For more information:

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Call for applications: Reischauer Policy Research Fellows Program



Inaugurated in May 2013, the Reischauer Policy Research Fellows Program is a critical element of the Reischauer Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC. It is designed to support the Center’s various research initiatives, while also providing recent undergraduate or graduate students with broad practical experience regarding the public and private sector analysis process. Fellowships are paid and tenable for one academic year beginning in August 2021 with the potential for renewal for an additional year.


Research Fellows personally assist Dr. Kent Calder, Director of the Reischauer Center, with projects related to the Center’s mission of supporting the study of transpacific and intra-Asian relations. Recent topics include, but are not limited to: policy best practices in U.S.-Japan relations such as infrastructure, public diplomacy, and public health; the role of cities in global governance; the functioning of Washington’s “idea industry” and government-business relations; global energy policy; and comparative Eurasian political economy. This year will primarily focus on the theme “The US, Japan, and the Post-Covid World.”

Fellows also provide logistical support for seminars, luncheons, and conferences offered by the Reischauer Center. They are able to interact with senior researchers affiliated with the Center as part of our Visiting Scholars Program, who typically join us for one academic year from various government agencies in Japan. Furthermore, Fellows are welcome to participate in events in the larger Johns Hopkins SAIS community and are frequently able to attend courses relating to Japan Studies and Asian political economy.

For more information: Fellows Program – The Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies

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Fun Link Friday: Viewing Cherry Blossoms in Art

Incense box by Kageyama Dōgyoku, late 18th cen (Freer Gallery)

This week has been conference recovery, so here’s a quick Fun Link Friday for you all. If you’re missing out on cherry blossom viewing this year (either because you can’t travel or it’s best not to gather at crowded sites) you can still admire them virtually across time and space!

The Smithsonian Mag recently featured their own sort of virtual hanami, picking out pieces of artwork that admire the blossoms as much as we do. So if you want to see how much people of the past loved to look at the flowering signs of spring, head over to their article and enjoy!

Happy Friday! 🌸

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Funding: NEH Fellowships for Advanced Social Science Research on Japan

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is accepting applications for the Fellowships for Advanced Social Science Research on Japan program. The program aims to promote Japan studies in the United States, to encourage U.S.-Japanese scholarly exchange, and to support the next generation of Japan scholars in the United States. Awards support research on modern Japanese society and political economy, Japan’s international relations, and U.S.-Japan relations. The program encourages innovative research that puts these subjects in wider regional and global contexts and is comparative and contemporary in nature. Research should contribute to scholarly knowledge or to the general public’s understanding of issues of concern to Japan and the United States. Appropriate disciplines for the research include anthropology, economics, geography, history, international relations, linguistics, political science, psychology, and sociology. Awards usually result in articles, monographs, books, e-books, digital materials, translations, editions, or other scholarly resources. The program is a joint activity of the Japan-United States Friendship Commission (JUSFC) and the NEH.

Special Encouragement for Junior Scholars

In keeping with the JUSFC’s commitment to foster the next generation of leaders in developing and maintaining the Japan-U.S. relationship, NEH encourages applications to this program from junior scholars (that is, scholars who have earned their terminal degree within the last seven years).

Additional Details

The fellowships are designed for researchers with advanced Japanese language skills whose research will require use of data, sources, documents, onsite interviews, or other direct contact in Japanese. Fellows may undertake their projects in Japan, the United States, or both, and may include work in other countries for comparative purposes. Projects may be at any stage of development. The fellowships provide $5000 per month, for 6-12 months of full-time work. Eligibility is limited to a) U.S. citizens and b) non-citizens who have lived in the U.S. for at least the three-year period immediately preceding the application deadline.

Application Deadline: April 28, 2021 (for projects beginning between January 1, 2022 and September 1, 2023).

More information (including samples of successful applications) is available at

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Book Announcement: Dancing the Dharma: Religious and Political Allegory in Japanese Noh Theater

Dancing the Dharma
Religious and Political Allegory in Japanese Noh Theater
Susan Blakeley Klein

Dancing the Dharma examines the theory and practice of allegory by exploring a select group of medieval Japanese noh plays and treatises. Susan Blakeley Klein demonstrates how medieval esoteric commentaries on the tenth-century poem-tale Ise monogatari (Tales of Ise) and the first imperial waka poetry anthology Kokin wakashū influenced the plots, characters, imagery, and rhetorical structure of seven plays (MaigurumaKuzu no hakamaUnrin’inOshioKakitsubataOminameshi, and Haku Rakuten) and two treatises (Zeami’s Rikugi and Zenchiku’s Meishukushū). In so doing, she shows that it was precisely the allegorical mode—vital to medieval Japanese culture as a whole—that enabled the complex layering of character and poetic landscape we typically associate with noh. Klein argues that understanding noh’s allegorical structure and paying attention to the localized historical context for individual plays are key to recovering their original function as political and religious allegories. Now viewed in the context of contemporaneous beliefs and practices of the medieval period, noh plays take on a greater range and depth of meaning and offer new insights to readers today into medieval Japan.

For more information:

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Fun Link Friday: A Single Sheet Samurai

Are you serious about origami? How serious is serious?

Because according to Colossal, Finnish artist Juho Könkkölä might have you beat. Using upwards of thousands of individual folds, Könkkölä spent 50+ hours creating a fully-armored origami samurai figure using only one sheet of rice paper.

Honestly, I can’t even imagine haven’t the bandwidth to figure out the how (and maybe even the why?). In addition to some stunning photographs on Könkkölä’s social media  of the samurai and many other battle-ready figures, he also posted a video showing the whole process. Happy viewing!

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Resource: Bell Historical Postcard Collection

With digitization of notable collections increasing it’s wonderful to learn about new and fascinating archives. This week we briefly feature the Bell Historical Postcard Collection at the University of Hawai’i. Originally donated to the university as a scrapbook by Mr. and Mrs. Bell in 1993, the materials therein were said to be gathered in the 1920s (though specialists working with the collection have found some items from the ’30s). The collection contains 344 postcards, prints, and bromides, all created before the second world war.

Digitized in 2017, the collection can now be browsed on Hawai’i’s website, either from the images and titles or by selecting browse options by Creator, Format, or Subject. Among the subjects that appear in the collection one will find mundane scenes of nature and cultivation like bamboo or fields as well as historical or well-known sites like the tombs of the 47 Ronin and Yokohama harbor. Anyone interested in these early representations of twentieth century Japan should definitely spend some time perusing this fascinating collection!

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