Forum Report

On October 26, 2018, Re-examining Japan in Global Context's 14th seminar took place at St. Antony's College, the University of Oxford. The theme of the seminar was "the Meiji Ishin (‘Meiji Restoration’) and Kaikoku," the "opening" of Japan as an epochal experience in Japan’s global past, conceived as the advent of its modern era. This event was held as a joint project of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies and the Suntory Foundation, with the aim of identifying fresh significance, meanings and value of the rich experience of the Meiji Ishin from new angles.

The first presentation was given by Professor Tadashi Karube, School of Legal and Political Studies, the University of Tokyo. In his presentation titled "‘Long Revolution’ in Modern Japan: Rethinking the Search for Civilization in Nineteenth-Century Japan," Professor Karube first drew attention to the difference between "revolution" and "restoration" as an English equivalent for "Ishin." Referring to Yukichi Fukuzawa and Yosaburo Takekoshi, he then discussed the socio-economic context that had allowed a series of drastic reforms to be carried out under the notion of "restoration." Professor Karube also argued that Japanese people in the 19th century had found "the Commonalities" between their own culture and Western culture, and hence accepted different systems not only as "technique" but also as one dimension of "civilization." He concluded that this attitude toward different cultures, that is, attempting to figure out the commonalities for a continued dialogue, was important in the age of globalization.

The second presentation "The Play of Virtues: A Transnational History of Revolutionary Civil War Losers and Criminals" was delivered by Professor Sho Konishi, Faculty of History, the University of Oxford. After introducing contemporary debates on transnational intellectual history of modern Japan, Professor Konishi shed light on the nonimperial underground encounters in revolutionary Japan between the newly labeled "criminals" and "losers" of the civil war. Using the Tokugawa-era Kaitokudo School of Virtue as a case, he described a fresh non-state transnational historical narrative and connectivity of this era enacted by the historical actors who had been erased by the political deployment of the nationalizing term "civil war" in history and historiography. Professor Konishi further argued that his interpretive and theoretical implications for a modern history of Japan had the potential to open up fresh historical studies of many parts of the world.