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

Scriptures and Their Deployment

Two Examples of Sacred Works (Shōgyō 聖教) from Early Medieval Japan

Brian Ruppert

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

June 18th, 2021 18:00

This talk explores the role of the production and circulation of sacred works in the geographical and social spread of esoteric lineages of Buddhism in medieval Japan. To do so, it focuses on the contents and use of two such examples in Shingon lineages. One is Great Notes (Maka shō 摩訶鈔), a rare collection from Ninnaji compiled by Kōzen 興然 (1121-1203) which includes the ritual scriptures transmitted to him by “Great Dharma Master” Jitsunin 実任 (1097-1169). The other is Shingon Raishin’s Notes (Shingon Raishin shō 真言頼心鈔), held in Hagiwaraji 萩原寺, Kagawa. Its author, Raishin (1281-1336), was an active temple-network monk within the developing traditions at Negoroji and Tōdaiji. Examining Kōzen’s and Raishin’s works, along with the networks that enabled their copying and entreasuring, makes it easier to understand the connection between the appearance of ritual scriptures and their role in medieval Kansai and other parts of Japan.

Brian Ruppert, Ph.D. (Princeton), is Professor at Kanagawa University. He is author of Jewel in the Ashes: Buddha Relics and Power in Early Medieval Japan (Harvard U.), co-author of A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism (Wiley-Blackwell), and has authored articles such as “Buddhism in Japan” (Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed.), “Buddhism and Law in Japan” (in Buddhism and Law, Cambridge UP), “Religion in Medieval Japan” (in Routledge Handbook of Premodern Japanese History). He is completing an article on medieval Buddhism for the Cambridge History of Japan as well as writing a book on the history of scripture in Japanese Buddhism.

Kyoto Lectures

Datsueba’s Role in Structuring Religious Landscapes

Risshakuji in Yamagata and the Pilgrimage Route to Atsuta Shrine

Chihiro Saka

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

May 28th, 2021 18:00

In Japanese Buddhist folklore, the old hag Datsueba is said to take the clothes of the deceased by the Sanzu River, which people cross after death. Datsueba started to appear in religious texts in the eleventh century, but it is only from the thirteenth century onward that we find visual representations of this deity. Slightly different from textual references to her role, in paintings Datsueba often functions as a signal of the border between distinct realms, or indicates the presence of different levels of sacredness. In the same capacity she also appears across Japan in physical sites enshrining her images. Moreover, while representations of her contribute to shaping the religious landscape, as a persona she is reinterpreted in various ways according to local contexts.

This talk will focus on two Edo-period sites where Datsueba serves as an important landmark to structure the concept of actual religious space: the temple precincts of Risshakuji in Yamagata and the pilgrimage path to Atsuta Shrine in Aichi. Through these examples, the talk will demonstrate the diverse roles she played and reveal the range of her veneration.

Chihiro Saka is a postdoctoral fellow at the Research Center for World Buddhist Cultures, Ryukoku University. After completing her MA in Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Victoria (Canada), she received her PhD in Japanese Studies from the Graduate University for Advanced Studies (Sogo Kenkyu Daigakuin Daigaku or “Sokendai”) based at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in Kyoto. She is particularly interested in the development of hell imagery and the representation of women, especially the old hag Datsueba, on which she has already published two articles (Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 44/2, 2017, and Japanese Religions 43/1–2, 2018).

Kyoto Lectures

Studying Women and Networks in the Late Tokugawa Period

The Case of the Rai Family

Bettina Gramlich-Oka

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

April 23rd, 2021 18:00

The aim of the talk is twofold: to introduce the Japan Biographical Database, its origin, aim, and current status, and to discuss ongoing research on what networks meant for the people involved, how they were used, why they were necessary, and how women functioned within them. The Japan Biographical Database is a web-based resource intended to provide biographical information on Japanese historical figures and their personal, social, and political networks. Starting in 2012 with research on Rai Shunsui (1746–1816), a scholar of the Hiroshima domain school, and steadily growing, it currently encompasses entries on about 9,400 individuals and 7,500 events pertaining to these individuals and their interactions. Its architecture is built upon the Harvard University China Biographical Database (Harvard University et al., 2018) with a modified web application. The database is a tool intended for researchers and students alike, allowing to search all entries by date, social status, and other filters as well as visualize networks of interest in a dedicated component. While addressing the case study of the Rai family of Hiroshima, the talk will touch on the recent publication of Women and Networks in Nineteenth Century Japan (University of Michigan Press, 2020).

Bettina Gramlich-Oka is Professor of Japanese History at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Sophia University. Some of her publications include Thinking Like a Man: Tadano Makuzu (Brill, 2006) and the coedited volume Economic Thought in Early Modern Japan (Brill, 2010). In the past years, her research has centered on the exploration of networks of the Rai family from Hiroshima during the Tokugawa period. The development of the Japan Biographical Database ( is part of this endeavor, as well as the coedited volume with Anne Walthall, Miyazaki Fumiko, Sugano Noriko, Women and Networks in Nineteenth Century Japan (University of Michigan Press, 2020). Gramlich-Oka is currently the chief editor of Monumenta Nipponica.

Kyoto Lectures

‘Tommy Atkins’ in Japan

Examining the British Garrison of Yokohama (1864-1875) through First Person Accounts

Thomas French

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

March 8th, 2021 18:00

This talk is based on three published accounts of life in Japan produced by British Army and Marine officers to explore the influences and legacies of the British Garrison of Yokohama (1864-1875). A general background to the presence and role of the garrison and a summary of extant scholarship focused on it will be presented, followed by a more detailed examination of the content and themes of the accounts of the officers. These accounts, published as books in the years following the departure of their authors from Japan, present a range of insights into the activities of the garrison, both in terms of their daily lives (diet, housing, health), professional activities (training, administration, action at Shimonoseki) and leisure time (shooting, fox hunting, sport, the social life of the settlement). The works also provide illustrative examples of the views of the British officer class on Japan and its culture, and the interactions of the garrison with the local population. The talk will argue that the influence of the garrison has been underplayed in studies of the period to date and that the examination of its cultural, political, economic and social roles, as well as the lives and thoughts of its members, deserve greater attention.

Thomas French is an Associate Professor of Modern Japanese History in the College of International Relations, Ritsumeikan University. He is a specialist on the Occupation of Japan, and peacetime military interactions between Japan and the West. His broader research interests include U.S.-Japan relations, UK-Japan Relations, the Japanese automotive and arms industries, and the Japanese Self Defense Forces. He is the author of National Police Reserve: The Origin of Japan’s Self Defense Forces (Global Oriental, 2014) and editor of The Economic and Business History of Occupied Japan: New Perspectives (Routledge, 2017). He is currently leading the JSPS funded project “Old Friends, New Partners: A History of Anglo-Japanese Peacetime Military Relations: 1864-Present”.

Kyoto Lectures

Early Medieval Monks and their Patrons

The Cases of Butsugon and Shinjaku-bo

Alessandro Poletto

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

February 12th, 2021 18:00

When compared to the great gures that dominate the scholarly conversation on Buddhism in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, monks such as Butsugon 仏厳 (. twelfth century) and Shinjaku-bo 心寂房 (d. 1231) have received scant attention. They were not grand thinkers, nor innovators—or so the argument goes. A detailed analysis of their ideas and actions within their complex web of contexts will, however, allow us to get a glimpse of early medieval Buddhism on the ground, as understood and practiced in certain circles of court aristocracy at the turn of the twelfth century. At the same time, the patronage that these skilled monks enjoyed reveals the concerns and aspirations of their backers. Butsugon, one of Fujiwara no Kanezane’s 藤原兼実 (1149–1207) mentors, advised him on issues ranging from physical well-being to the practice of the nenbutsu. On the other hand, as a close advisor to Fujiwara no Teika 藤原定家 (1162–1241) between 1225 and 1231, Shinjaku-bo was a frequent practitioner of moxibustion and herbalism in a period in which Teika struggled with numerous aictions, as wellas an accomplished botanist.

This examination of the practices of Butsugon and Shinjaku-bo, and of their relationship with their notable patrons, will reveal another side of early medieval Buddhism, one that is concerned with diseased bodies and their care rather than with issues of rebirth. It will also show the disparate technologies these well patronized specialists of healing had at their disposal, including the conferral of precepts, moxibustion, and the concoction of medicinal remedies.

Alessandro Poletto is JSPS Research Fellow at Kyoto University. He earned his PhD from Columbia University in 2020 with a dissertation entitled “The Culture of Healing in Early Medieval Japan: A Study in Premodern Epistemology,” a cultural and social history of healing in Japan from the tenth to the thirteenth century. His research interests include the understanding and ritual resolution of natural disasters in premodern Japan, and, more broadly, the methodological implications of the study of non-Western, non-modern societies through the lens of Western epistemological categories (e.g., “religion” and “medicine”).

Kyoto Lectures

Bringing the Vernacular into Modernism

Architect Antonin Raymond in Interwar Japan

Yola Gloaguen

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

December 11th, 2020 18:00

Antonin Raymond’s career allows us to explore the dynamics and implications of the development of European and American architectural modernism in a non-Western context. The Czech-born American architect arrived in Japan on the eve of 1920 to assist Frank Lloyd Wright with building the new Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. However, Raymond soon opened his own office in the capital and became one of the pioneers of modern architecture in Japan. The human and technical challenges taken on by  his office included responding to an increasing demand for the design of villas suited to the Western and Japanese lifestyles of Tokyo’s international elites. This was reflected in the spatial design and construction of these new types of houses. The talk will highlight various examples of prewar and postwar residential works, with a focus on how Raymond and his team developed an approach to design based on the appropriation and adaptation of selected elements of the Japanese vernacular into the Western modernist idiom, which itself had to be reevaluated in the particular context of Japan. This approach to Raymond’s work provides a means to reassess the usual binaries of Western influence and Japanese adaptation through the medium of architecture.

Yola Gloaguen is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre de recherche sur les civilisations de l’Asie orientale–CRCAO, Paris. After receiving her degree in architecture from Paris La Villette School of Architecture, she became a doctoral student at Kyoto University and studied modern architectural history in Japan. During her studies, she took a particular interest in the work of Antonin Raymond. She wrote her PhD dissertation on his work during the interwar period, with a focus on his designs for private villas. She is currently working on a book project entitled Modernisme occidental et habitat japonais. Les villas réalisées par Antonin Raymond dans le Japon des années 1920 et 1930.

Kyoto Lectures

The Annexation of the Ryūkyū Kingdom to Japan from a Global Perspective

Marco Tinello

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

November 20th, 2020 18:00

From 1872 onward Tokyo’s leaders resorted to a number of political and diplomatic maneuvers to formally incorporate the Ryūkyū Kingdom into the newly established Meiji state, culminating in the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879. Generally referred to by Japanese historians by the term used at the time, Ryūkyū shobun (“Ryūkyū disposition”), the crucial issue in this process was to eliminate the Ryūkyū’s traditional dual subordination to both China and Japan, and earlier studies have considered the annexation an event that mainly concerned these two states. However, the United States, France, and Holland had stipulated Treaties of Amity with the Ryūkyū Kingdom in 1854, 1855, and 1859, without any reference to its subordination to Japan. This talk will attempt to address a question not yet duly considered: how was it possible for the Meiji government to prevent these treaties from becoming a major diplomatic obstacle during the annexation process? In fact, as will be argued, the annexation marked a significant passage not only in Ryūkyūan, Japanese, and Chinese history, but also in Western foreign diplomacy in East Asia, as the Western powers played a role that has yet to be taken into consideration.

Marco Tinello is an assistant professor in East Asian and Japanese history in the Faculty of Cross-Cultural and Japanese Studies at Kanagawa University. His research focuses on early modern and modern East Asian diplomacy. He is the author of Sekai-shi kara mita “Ryūkyū  shobun” (Yōju Shorin, 2017), which was awarded the 16th Tokugawa Award/Special Award in 2018, and several peer-reviewed articles in Japanese on Ryūkyū diplomatic history. In 2015, he also received the first Professor Josef Kreiner Hosei University Award for International Studies, and in 2016 the 38th Okinawa Bunka Kyōkai Prize (Higa Shunchō Award).

Kyoto Lectures

Locating Shugendō through Institution, Ritual, and Narrative

The Case of Mount Togakushi

Caleb Carter

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

October 28th, 2020 18:00

Japan’s mountain religion of Shugendō has long been a source of fascination among scholars and the public, but its historical contours continue to be largely obscured from view. The term itself refers to “the cultivation of special powers,” which were believed to have been acquired through austere rituals undertaken in the mountains. Yet beyond this scope, the parameters become murky. Modern research biases and a folk studies approach have often led to vague assertions about when and where Shugendō existed and who practiced it.

This talk lays out a path forward by navigating three interlocking components in its historical development: institution, ritual, and narrative. Taking the case of Togakushisan (in present-day Nagano-ken), it will highlight several key moments when practitioners (shugenja/yamabushi) incorporated Shugendō into their community and shaped it into a self-conscious religious system they could call their own. This process included the ritual transmission of Shugendō to Togakushi (from Hikosan, Kyushu) in the early sixteenth century, seventeenth-century narratives, and the formal establishment of a lineage in 1707. These instances illustrate how Shugendō found a home at one regional site and exemplify a way forward in clarifying the history of Shugendō and related religious systems.

Caleb Carter is an assistant professor of Japanese religions in the Faculty of Humanities at Kyushu University. He received his MA and PhD from UCLA (Buddhist Studies) and was awarded a Japan Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins before taking his current position. His main research centers on the history of Shugendō and more recently on contemporary trends in areas such as power spots (pawāsupotto) and regional restorations of Shugendō. He has published articles in the History of Religions and the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies and is author of A Path into the Mountains: Shugendō at Mount Togakushi (University of Hawai’i, forthcoming).

Kyoto Lectures

Articulating Inner Dharma

The Development of the “Five Viscera Mandala” in Japanese Esoteric Buddhism

Takahiko Kameyama

September 28th, 2020 18:00

The Shingon concept of the “Five Viscera Mandala” (gozô mandara) is a sophisticated theory of the body that was widely circulated in Japanese Esoteric Buddhist circles during the medieval period. In Chinese medicine, five viscera—liver, heart, lung, kidney, and spleen—were regarded as the key elements for the physical, mental, and cosmological condition of human beings. The balance between their energies is the fundamental source of health, while their imbalance could lead to harmful effects. East Asian monks accepted this theory, and attempted to reconcile it with their Buddhist views in an effort similar to the relationship between Indian Buddhism and ancient Indian medicine and cosmology such as Âyurveda.

This talk will show how, in medieval Japan, Esoteric Buddhist monks enthusiastically studied ancient Chinese medicine and developed the Five Viscera Mandala as a main interpretative tool that equated bodily organs with the Five Esoteric Buddhas. This mandalic conception made it possible to intuitively grasp complex Shingon doctrinal and ritual discourses, giving concrete ground to such ideas as “attaining Buddhahood within this very body.”

Takahiko Kameyama is a research fellow at Kyoto University and adjunct instructor at Ryukoku University. His research field is both the doctrinal and ritual discourses developed mainly within Esoteric Buddhist traditions in medieval Japan. He currently focuses on the physiological and embryological teachings transmitted by Esoteric practitioners belonging to Shingon temples from the perspective of Buddhist intellectual history, to reveal the conception of the human body unique to medieval Shingon. He has published a number of articles on this subject, and most recently he co-edited the volume Nihon Bukkyô to rongi (Kyoto: Hôzôkan, 2020).


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

Kyoto Lectures

Animal Shape-Shifters

from Japanese Folktales to North-American Fiction

Luciana Cardi

This lecture will be available only on Zoom

July 29th, 2020 18:00

In recent years Japanese folklore, reworked in literature, popular culture, and visual media, has enjoyed a huge popularity among Western audiences, to the extent that Euro-American writers and filmmakers have often appropriated it in their works. However, the incorporation of Japanese folktales into Western narratives is not a recent phenomenon of the digital era, as we may be tempted to believe. This talk explores how Japanese folktales were adapted for American readers in the late 19th century, in a period that witnessed the establishment of folklore as a discipline—with a widespread fascination for fairy tales and a revival of Gothic fiction through Stoker’s vampire narrative. Beginning with these considerations, the presentation will focus especially on two early 20th-century novels featuring the shape-shifting fox trickster from Japanese folktales: John Luther Long’s The Fox-Woman and Winnifred Eaton’s Tama. In so doing, it will shed light on the literary and ideological issues behind the reception of Japanese folklore in that period-for instance, the intersections between Japanese fox lore, the Gothic narratives revolving around the figure of the vampire, the fear of miscegenation, and the post-Victorian changes in the models of femininity.

Luciana Cardi is Lecturer in both Japanese and Comparative Studies, and Italian Language and Culture at Osaka University. She is the co-editor of the forthcoming volume Re-Orienting the Fairy Tale: Contemporary Adaptations across Cultures (Wayne State UP, 2020). She has published in journals and edited volumes such as Forms of the Body in Contemporary Japanese Society, Literature, and Culture (Lexington, 2020), Receptions of Greek and Roman Antiquity in East Asia (Brill, 2018), and Folktales and Fairy Tales: Traditions and Texts from around the World (ABC-CLIO, 2016).