Kyoto Lectures

Kyoto conserva ancora oggi la sua antica tradizione di cultura come uno dei maggiori centri accademici del Giappone e luogo di incontro per gli studiosi di tutto il mondo. Organizzate in collaborazione con la Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient e il Center for Research in Humanities dell’Università Statale di Kyoto, le Kyoto Lectures offrono agli specialisti delle culture e società dell’Asia Orientale la possibilità di presentare a Kyoto i risultati delle ricerche in corso.

Kyoto Lectures

How Zen Became Japanese

The Daitō Branch and the Birth of a New Practice in Rinzai Buddhism

Didier Davin

This lecture will be held on site and via Zoom

July 15th, 2022 18:00

The kanhua chan (Jp. kannazen 看話禅), a practice established by Dahui Zonggao 大慧宗杲 (1089–1163) during the Song period, soon became dominant in Chan (Jp. Zen) Buddhism. According to this method, practitioners must focus on a gong-an (Jp. kōan) until a spiritual explosion occurs, thus opening a passage toward awakening. This kanhua chan was imported into Japan and during the Middle Ages became the basis of the practice in both the Rinzai and Sōtō schools, as in China, Korea, and Vietnam. Around the middle of the fourteenth century, an important evolution occurred: while in other areas where Chan spread a practitioner had to pass only one gong-an to reach awakening, in Japan, several were considered necessary.

By examining the Daitō branch of Rinzai Buddhism, this talk will present the sources through which the history of this significant change can be reconstructed. It will also attempt to answer the question of how—and in part, why—Japanese Zen developed the specificities that radically distinguish it from other lands of Chan practice today.

Didier Davin is an Associate Professor at the National Institute of Japanese Literature. His first research examined the thought of the Zen monk Ikkyū Sōjun. Recently, he has been investigating the doctrinal evolution of the Rinzai Zen school from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century with a specific focus on the so-called Daitō branch, which became the Rinzai school’s main branch in the Edo period and is the only one remaining today. Davin has published a study on the reception in Japan of the important Chan text Wumenguan (Jp. Mumonkan) (Mumonkan no shusse sugoroku: Kika shita zen no seiten; Heibonsha, 2020).


This lecture will be held on site (limited space: send us an email in advance) and via Zoom. The meeting link will remain posted on the ISEAS website top page from two days before the event.


Kyoto Lectures

Between Collective Security and “Old Diplomacy”

Japanese-French Relations during the Manchurian Crisis, 1931–1933

Seung-young Kim

This lecture will be held on site and via Zoom

May 16th, 2022 18:00

After establishing Manchukuo in March 1932, Japan made strenuous efforts to persuade France to conclude an alliance by revitalizing the French-Japanese entente of 1907.  In particular, Japan wished to overcome its diplomatic isolation before the Lytton Report was discussed in the League of Nations during autumn 1932.  To this effect, Japanese diplomats and military attaches suggested favorable investment conditions for the French companies in Manchukuo. However, France declined these offers to prioritize collective security, despite substantial sympathy toward Japan in the French Foreign Ministry over concerns to protect French imperial interests in China and Southeast Asia.

Drawing on records from both sides, this talk will show the aims, details, and process of Japanese diplomatic initiatives along with the French response. After briefly reviewing the initial division within the French Foreign Ministry over its response to the Mukden Incident, it will examine Japanese diplomatic maneuvers toward France from the spring of 1932, as well as the reasons why they were declined by the French cabinet led respectively by André Tardieu and Édouard Herriot. The talk will also explore why the French government internally defined Japan’s military actions and assertive diplomacy as posing a “problem of aggression.”

Seung-young Kim is a Professor of International History and Politics at Kansai Gaidai University. Before joining Kansai Gaidai in 2018, from 2003 he taught at the University of Sheffield and the University of Aberdeen. He has published widely on U.S.-East Asian relations in the twentieth century.  Since 2019, he has been working on a JSPS research project entitled “Japanese-French Diplomatic Relations from 1900 to 1933.” He was a visiting researcher at the University of Tokyo from 2008–2010 and worked as the UN correspondent for The Chosun Ilbo until 1995. His publications include “The Diplomacy of the Japanese-French Entente and Fukien Question, 1905–1907,” in International History Review (2019).


This lecture will be held on site (limited space: send us an email in advance) and via Zoom. The meeting link will remain posted on the ISEAS website top page from two days before the event.

Kyoto Lectures

De-Christianizing Nagasaki

Temples and Shrines in the Early Edo period

Carla Tronu

This lecture will be held on site and via Zoom

April 13th, 2022 18:00

After the Tokugawa shogunate banned Christianity in Japan in 1614, several anti-Christian measures were implemented, but not in all domains, and not at the same time or speed. Substantial regional variations can be seen regarding when these actions began, as well as regarding their methods and development. In the process, the establishment (or re-establishment) of temples and shrines was an important move in areas where Christianization had involved iconoclasm. This was the case in the territories of the Omura and Arima daimyo, and especially in the self-governed city of Nagasaki.

This talk will focus on early measures concerned with religious institutions: specifically, the dismantlement of churches and the founding of temples and shrines. Previous scholarship on operations to eradicate the Christian presence in Nagasaki has thoroughly studied the many martyrs that lost their lives there, as well as the shifts in the anti-Christian legislation and the methods of persecution adopted. However, as will be argued, in the early Edo period (1614–1644), the support for new religious buildings and rituals by the shogunate and the local authorities also played a key role in the process of transforming Nagasaki from a “Christian city” into a “normal” Japanese Shinto-Buddhist town.

Carla Tronu is an Associate Professor at the Department of Foreign Languages, Kansai University of Foreign Studies. After she received her PhD in history at SOAS, University of London in 2012, she conducted postdoctoral research on missionary publications in Japan (kirishitan-ban) and the martyrs of Japan at Tenri University, Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, and Kyoto University. She is currently the Principal Investigator of a project on lay confraternities and missionary rivalry in the early modern Japanese mission. She has published articles and book chapters in English, Japanese, and Spanish, and is currently preparing a monograph on the Christianization and de-Christianization of early modern Nagasaki.


This lecture will be held on site (limited space: send us an email in advance) and via Zoom. The meeting link will remain posted on the ISEAS website top page from two days before the event.


Kyoto Lectures

Urbane Waters

The Worldliness of Gion, ca. 1825

Stephen Roddy

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

March 18th, 2022 18:00

Is a truly cosmopolitan sensibility possible where foreign travel is nearly impossible? In spite of the ease of maintaining virtual connectedness in today’s world, this question once again seems worth asking. This talk examines some examples of cultural omnivorousness across East Asia as manifested in the genre of bamboo branch lyrics (chikushiji/zhuzhici/jukjisa 竹枝詞), with a focus on Ōtō shiji zasshi 鴨東四時雑詞 (Miscellaneous Poems of the Four Seasons East of the Kamogawa, 1826), a sequence of 120 heptasyllabic quatrains set in Kyoto’s Gion District. Its author, Nakajima Sōin 中島棕隠 (1779-1855), drew extensively from the West Lake zhuzhici tradition—the lodestar of such poetry in China—in limning the customs and habits of its geiko and maiko as well as multiple other cultural and physical charms of the district. Examining Nakajima’s sequence in light of the genre’s full geographical and historical expanse (from Katori to Kashgar, from Saigon to Svobodny, and from Bai Juyi to the Meiji era), the talk assesses how it situates Gion as a node within the cultural cosmopolis of late-pre-modern East Asia.

Stephen Roddy is a professor of East Asian literatures and languages at the University of San Francisco. Recent and forthcoming publications include The Fragrant Companions (a translation with Ying Wang of the 1651 chuanqi drama 「憐香伴」), Writerly Engagement: The Reinvention of Chinese Literature in Europe and the Americas, 1910–2010 (co-edited with Zong-qi Cai), and articles on intellectual figures such as Gong Zizhen (1793-1841), Yu Yue (1821-1907), and Liang Shuming (1893-1988). In 2021-22, he has been a resident foreign researcher at the Nichibunken in Kyoto.


The meeting link will remain posted on the ISEAS website top page from march 16.

Kyoto Lectures

Law, Justice, and International Relations at the Dawn of the Meiji Restoration

The “María Luz” Incident

Giorgio Fabio Colombo

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

February 14th, 2022 18:00

In July 1872, the María Luz, a bark flying the Peruvian flag, carried Chinese indentured servants from Macau to Peru. Due to a storm, the ship had to stop for repairs in Kanagawa Bay, and because of this, a number of legal issues arose that were destined to change the perception and use of the law in Japan forever. The María Luz incident is a significant episode in Japanese and world history. The case had a tremendous impact on the collective imaginary, both Japanese and international: it is one of the first occurrences in which an Asian country decided to resist the pressure of a “Western” nation, and responded using the most refined tools of domestic and international law. Moreover, the final outcome of the case (arbitration in front of the Czar of Russia) marks the debut of Japan on the stage of international arbitration. While historians have already examined the María Luz incident, jurists are yet to do so. This talk aims to address the most significant legal issues of the case and to foster further cooperation between historians and legal scholars of the early Meiji period.

Giorgio Fabio COLOMBO is Professor of Law at the Graduate School of Law, Nagoya University, where he is the Director of the Research Unit “Decolonizing Arbitration.” He is also Visiting Professor of Japanese Law at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy. He is Resident Research fellow of the Italian School of East Asian Studies (ISEAS), and a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Japanese Law/Zeitschrift für Japanisches Recht. His research focuses on ADR, arbitration, private comparative law, law and literature, and legal cultures. His book on the María Luz incident, International Law, Justice and Modernity in Japan: The María Luz Incident and the Dawn of the Meiji Restoration is forthcoming with Routledge (2022).


The meeting link will remain posted on the ISEAS website top page from february 12.

Kyoto Lectures

Rakugo as Variety Entertainment ⇆ Rakugo as Literature

M.W. Shores

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

January 26th, 2022 18:00

Unlike the arts of nō, kabuki and bunraku, Japan’s comic storytelling art rakugo rarely gets termed ‘literature’. This has to do with the fact that it’s an oral tradition without formal scripts, and because intellectuals have long viewed rakugo as uncouth, unsophisticated variety entertainment. Still, some label rakugo a ‘classical’ (koten) art. Truth be told, many still aren’t sure what to make of rakugo, so it gets overlooked. But rakugo is many things, literature included. The art is intimately linked to more conventional literature (on the page), both early modern and modern. Yet, some become alarmed or offended at the suggestion that rakugo is literature. This is strange considering that rakugo makes up an immense body of work and serves as an extraordinary vessel for much that has otherwise vanished with history—adages, customs, jokes, home remedies, poems, prejudices, profanity, recipes, songs, stories, wisdom, words, and more. This talk aims to challenge misguided perceptions of rakugo and how we define Japanese literature.

M.W. Shores is a scholar of Japanese literary arts and entertainment, with a focus on rakugo and its early-modern precursors, literary and otherwise. He began his career at Cambridge, where he was a fellow of Peterhouse. He has been Lecturer of Japanese at The University of Sydney since 2019. Shores has spent over a decade in Japan for research as well as apprenticeships with two prominent rakugo masters, and has directed Traditional Theater Training (TTT) at Kyoto Art Center since 2015. His recent monograph is The Comic Storytelling of Western Japan: Satire and Social Mobility in Kamigata Rakugo (Cambridge University Press, 2021). For more see


The meeting link will remain posted on the ISEAS website top page from january 24.

Kyoto Lectures

The Circulation of Playful Energy in Early Modern Japanese Popular Culture

Laura Moretti

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

December 15th, 2021 18:00

Play occupied a significant place in the publishing industry of early modern Japan. Boardgames were designed to fuel competition among participants. Riddles, rebuses, and brainteasers enticed willing players to engage in mental play. Books of magic tricks worked as props that facilitated performative play. We tend to think of these materials as largely ephemeral, often associated with the child reader and deemed too trivial to be admitted in the realm of the literary. What happens when materials designed for play are reskinned to fit fictional prose? How do we make sense of texts that are replete with what we might readily dismiss as unnecessary, cognitive obstacles? This talk interrogates a wealth of early modern materials that appropriate the ludic and enable what can be tentatively called playful reading. The focus will be on texts that are designed as play spaces, with a view to explore how their potential is fully unleashed by readers who are eager to become comrades in play.

Laura Moretti is an Associate Professor in Premodern Japanese Studies at the University of Cambridge and a fellow at Emmanuel College. Her research focusses on early modern Japanese prose, with a specific interest in popular literature. Her new project investigates playful reading in a wide range of early modern materi-als, including graphic narratives and ephemera. She has published a wide range of articles in English and Japanese and is also the author of Recasting the Past: An Early Modern “Tales of Ise” for Children (Brill, 2016) and Pleasure in Profit – Popular Prose in Seventeenth-Century Japan (Columbia University Press, 2020).


The meeting link will remain posted on the ISEAS website top page from december 13.

Kyoto Lectures

Thoughts on the Cult of Tokugawa Ieyasu as the Great Avatar

Timon Screech

This lecture will be held on site and via Zoom

November 29th, 2021 18:00

It is well known that Tokugawa Ieyasu was deified and that his cult became centred at Mt Nikkō. However, the period from his death in Sunpu, in early summer 1616, to his interment at Nikkō in 1617, was fraught. In fact, he was twice-buried and twice deified, according to competing rites. This represented a struggle between the kami ritualists of the House of Yoshida, and the abbot of the Mangan-ji at Nikkō, Tenkai. Tenkai won, and went on to devise an unprecedented cult for Ieyasu as an avatar (gongen), that is, a kami emanating from a Buddha, the Buddha chosen in this case being Yakushi-nyorai. Why and how this occurred will be the first part of this talk.

The Mangan-ji was a great and ancient temple, and Tenkai had further aims for it, architectural, spiritual and temporal. These included full rebuilding for the 20th anniversary of Ieyasu’s entry into the pantheon. Having looked at the above, the talk will address the meaning of nikkō – ‘sunlight.’ Yakushi-nyorai has historically been worshiped with lanterns. The Mangan-ji – renamed the Rinnō-ji after Tenkai’s death – acquired a large number of curious instruments of illumination, which warrant analysis.

Timon Screech taught the History of Japanese Art for 30 years at SOAS, University of London, before moving to the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in Kyoto, in 2021. An expert on the art and culture of the Edo Period, he has published some 15 books, probably best known being Sex and the Floating World, a study of erotica. In 2016, his field-defining overview of the Edo arts, Obtaining Images, was paper-backed. His most recent books, both published in 2020, are Tokyo before Tokyo, and The Shogun’s Silver Telescope. Screech’s work has been translated into Chinese, French, Japanese, Korean, Polish and Romanian. His is a Fellow of the British Academy.


This lecture will be available on Zoom. A limited audience (maximum twenty persons, with precedence to researchers and advanced students) will be allowed at our centre. For this, please contact us by e-mail. ()


Kyoto Lectures

Weather and Local Knowledge

Forecasting Strategies in Japanese Small-Scale Fisheries

Giovanni Bulian

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

October 28th, 2021 18:00

Despite what Robert Marc Friedman has called the “scientific appropriation of weather”, traditional observations of local weather are still used in many areas of the world and belong to a long-established historical ‘sub-culture of the atmosphere’ which encompasses a variety of decision-making strategies, habitual applications of knowledge in everyday life,  and a rich variety of sensory knowledge. This talk explores some of traditional forecasting techniques used in Japanese island and coastal communities in order to provide a general overview of the interaction between community know-how, enskillment and risk mitigation practices in the context of small-scale economies. In particular, it will discuss how traditional forecasting strategies interface with and adapt to the most modern meteorological forecasting technologies. Through some ethnographic cases, it will then focus on how this particular form of hybrid knowledge represents an example of the complex dialogue between global science and local science.

Giovanni Bulian is a researcher at the Department of Asian and North African Studies of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. His field of research includes environmental anthropology, ethno-climatology, landscape studies and the history of Japanese social science. He has published Periferie del sacro. Il Capodanno in una comunità di mare del Giappone (2012) and I linguaggi del rito: prospettive antropologiche sulla religiosità giapponese (2018). He has coedited with Sasa Raicevich In mare altrui: pesca e territorialità in ambito interdisciplinare (2013); and with Yasushi Nakano Small-scale Fisheries in Japan: Environmental and Socio-cultural Perspectives  (2018).

Kyoto Lectures

Emperor of Shadows

Napoleon and the Japanese Imagination (1800-1900)

François Lachaud

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

October 11th, 2021 18:00

From 1812 to today, Napoleon remains the most famous Frenchman in Japan. During the early years of the 19th century, while trying to stay away from the international diplomatic scene, Japan could not escape the consequences of the Napoleonic wars. It almost exclusively relied on Dutch traders—stationed in Dejima as the only state-sanctioned conveyors of Western knowledge—to be enlightened on the nature of a man who had unflinchingly defied the Russian and British empires, both sworn enemies of Japan. In charting the different stages of Napoleon’s discovery in Japan—from the confessions of a sailor under duress, to the tears of his admirers—, this presentation will explore a series of texts and images that turned a ‘defeated’ French emperor into the icon of a new generation in urgent need of change and avid for glory. However, this passion did not stop in 1868 but gathered an even greater momentum during the Meiji era, when his nephew appeared as the worthy heir of Napoleon’s genius. The lives and afterlives of the French emperor in Japan remain a neglected subject among specialists of Napoleonic studies and among Japanese historians. The talk will then examine the significance of this ‘Napoleon moment’, and the far-reaching implications of the discovery of France through its most universal great man.

François Lachaud is a Professor of Japanese studies at the École Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) since 2000. His field of research includes art history (antiquarianism) and Japanese Buddhism. Inter alia, he has published Le Vieil Homme qui vendait du thé. Excentricité et retrait du monde dans le Japon du xviiie siècle (Cerf, 2010), and coedited two volumes (EFEO, 2010 and 2017) with Dejanirah Couto on the diplomatic and cultural exchanges between Western empires and East Asia in the early modern period. Most recently, he has coedited with Martin Nogueira Ramos a volume on Japanese-French relations in the 19th century: D’un empire, l’autre. Premières rencontres entre la France et le Japon au xixe siècle (EFEO, 2021).