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Interesting Lectures and Seminars

Japanese History Seminar 6 (Ancient Japanese History)

Ancient Japanese history in global Asian society

Shiho Innami
2nd-Year Student, Master’s Program, Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences

All Japanese people have heard of the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan). When deciphering this text, we have learned that ancient Japanese society until the end of the 7th century existed in a global environment which would astound people nowadays.

This seminar is taught by Professor Tokio Shinkawa, an expert in ancient Japanese history and Asian cultural studies. Classes consist of reports given by designated individuals, followed by class debate. Our text is a copy of the Kitano manuscript, a National Treasure. We thoroughly study each line of text in order to understand subtle nuances. (It once took us one month to read just 3 lines of text!) Currently, we are reading about the era ruled by Empress Jitou in the late 7th century.

This seminar has taught me that Japanese history cannot be perceived through a historical view of a single country. The Nihon Shoki describes a Japan which was formed through the interaction of people throughout East Asian society. While reconciling new concepts with conventional customs, Japan incorporated the ritsuryō (the legal codes of the Nara and Heian periods), Buddhist religion and Chinese characters that are a shared form of expression in East Asia, propagating these ideas to the fringe of the Japanese archipelago. Accordingly, in order to create summaries, I often analyze unfamiliar historical material from China and the Korean Peninsula.

Moreover, I sometimes encounter historical material related to historical controversy in Asia. In class, we debate the form of “historical fact” which is exposed through strict interpretation of the truth. Such debate is conducted without taboo and gives understanding to the historical perspectives of all countries involved. There is great meaning in the pursuit of such historical fact.

Visiting the Asuka Mizuochi Ruins as part of a joint survey with Nara Prefecture

Copied manuscript of the Nihon Shoki used in class. The text is handled with great care.