Reopening the "Opening of Japan"
The aim of this graduate-led conference is to commemorate the Meiji Ishin, commonly known in English as “the Meiji Restoration”, and reflect on its legacy at the close of its 150th anniversary. It seeks to promote renewed historical understandings by revisiting the “Opening of Japan”, an important aspect of the birth of modern Japan. The “Opening of Japan” has mainly been understood as the opening of the nation to ‘the West’, its political discourse, and the accompanying ideas of civilizational progress. However, as Japan opened its borders to a specifically ‘Western’ modernity, it simultaneously opened to competing visions of progress, alternative conceptions of time, and new forms of social organization. Moreover, with the multiplication of its transnational connections and multilateral flows of knowledge-transfer, the world seemed as much to be opening up to Japan as it did vice versa.
A reinterpretation of the meaning of the “Opening of Japan” might shed new light on surprising transnational connections and their potentially far-reaching implications for the study of history, literature, religion, science, and technology in relation to Japan. The impact of the experiences of the Ishin on the development of Kropotkinism, for example, remained overlooked until relatively recently. Although this is a major current of anarchism that continues to resonate around the world to this day, few recall its indebtedness to a non-imperial encounter between Japanese and Russian non-state actors in the nineteenth century. On the basis of this finding, the University of Chicago recently held a conference to delve more deeply into Japan’s relationships with Russia. Going beyond the dichotomy of a traditional East encountering the modern West, it brought attention to the many cultural feedback loops that have gone unnoticed due to the closed nature of the understanding of Japan’s nineteenth century opening. Besides Russia however, modern Japan’s connections with the wider world might be found in numerous other geographical locales. Our conference, therefore, aims to scour Eurasia, Africa, Oceania, as well as Euroamerica for narratives of global historical significance that can radically expand our understanding of modern Japan. We aim to go beyond examining the indigenous origins or reconfigurations of aspects of the historical experience of the West, such as the development of capitalism, the public sphere, or democratic institutions, to find local histories and global designs otherwise lost to posterity.
We are calling for papers that explore, particularly with reference to nineteenth century Japan, the following subjects and themes:
- the culture of Japan’s shifting frontiers;
- the blurring of the categories of modern, premodern, and early modern;
- the breaking down of binaries of East and West;
- multilateral, unofficial, and coeval knowledge transfers in the realms of science, technology, and/or religion;
- intellectual, cultural, environmental, and economic interactions across borders involving non-state actor