New Books on Japan

The "New Books on Japan" series of Zoom-based conversations between book authors and noted scholars in the field was established in 2020 by Benjamin Uchiyama, Kirsten Ziomek, and Nick Kapur for the purpose of drawing more attention to some of the most exciting books on Japan published in recent years.

The series was initially made possible for the first two years thanks to the generous sponsorship of the University of Southern California's East Asian Studies Center, and now continues under the auspices of the Modern Japan History Association.

2023-2024 Series

Wednesday, September 13, 2023 | 7:00-8:30 PM ET | REGISTER FOR ZOOM

Oishii: The History of Sushi (Reaktion Books, 2021)

Author: Eric Rath, Professor of History, University of Kansas

Discussant: Takeshi Watanabe, Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, Wesleyan University

The Modern Japan History Association invites the wider community to a conversation with Eric Rath (Professor of History, University of Kansas). Professor Rath will be speaking about his new book, Oishii: The History of Sushi (Reaktion Books, 2021), which traces sushi’s development from China to Japan and then internationally, from street food to high-class cuisine. Takeshi Watanabe (Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, Wesleyan University) will serve as discussant.


Wednesday, October 11, 2023 | 7:00-8:30 PM ET | REGISTER FOR ZOOM

In Close Association: Local Activist Networks in the Making of Japanese Modernity, 1868–1920 (Harvard University Asia Center Press, 2022)

Author: Marnie Anderson, Professor of History, Smith College

Discussant: Anne WalthallProfessor of History Emerita, University of California, Irvine

The Modern Japan History Association invites the wider community to a conversation with Marnie Anderson (Professor of History, Smith College). Professor Anderson will be speaking about her new book, In Close Association: Local Activist Networks in the Making of Japanese Modernity, 1868–1920 (Harvard University Asia Center Press, 2022). In Close Association is the first English-language study of the local networks of women and men who built modern Japan in the Meiji period (1868–1912). Professor Anderson uncovers in vivid detail how a colorful group of Okayama-based activists founded institutions, engaged in the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement, promoted social reform, and advocated “civilization and enlightenment” while forging pathbreaking conceptions of self and society. Placing gender analysis at its core, In Close Association offers fresh perspectives on what women did beyond domestic boundaries, while showing men’s lives, too, were embedded in home and kin. Writing “history on the diagonal,” Anderson documents the gradual differentiation of public activity by gender in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Meiji-era associations became increasingly sex-specific, though networks remained heterosocial until the twentieth century. Anne Walthall (Professor of History Emerita, University of California, Irvinewill serve as discussant.


Thursday, November 16, 2023 | 7:00-8:30 PM ET | REGISTER FOR ZOOM

Provincializing Empire: Omi Merchants in the Japanese Transpacific Diaspora (University of California Press, 2023)

Author: Jun Uchida, Associate Professor of History, Stanford University

Discussant: Mark MetzlerGiovanni and Amne Costigan Professor in History, University of Washington

The Modern Japan History Association invites the wider community to a conversation with Jun Uchida (Associate Professor of History, Stanford University). Professor Uchida will be speaking about her new book, Provincializing Empire: Omi Merchants in the Japanese Transpacific Diaspora (University of California Press, 2023)Provincializing Empire explores the global history of Japanese expansion through a regional lens. It rethinks the nation-centered geography and chronology of empire by uncovering the pivotal role of expeditionary merchants from Ōmi (present-day Shiga Prefecture) and their modern successors. Tracing their lives from the early modern era, and writing them into the global histories of empire, diaspora, and capitalism, Professor Uchida offers an innovative analysis of expansion through a story previously untold: how the nation's provincials built on their traditions to create a transpacific diaspora that stretched from Seoul to Vancouver, while helping shape the modern world of transoceanic exchange. Mark Metzler (Giovanni and Amne Costigan Professor in History, University of Washingtonwill serve as discussant.


Wednesday, December 13, 2023 | 6:00-7:30 PM ET | REGISTER FOR ZOOM

Japan's Ocean Borderlands: Nature and Sovereignty (Cambridge University Press, 2023)

Author: Paul Kreitman, Assistant Professor of History, Columbia University

Discussant: Miriam Kingsberg Kadia, Professor of History, University of Colorado, Boulder

The Modern Japan History Association invites the wider community to a conversation with Paul Kreitman (Assistant Professor of History, Columbia University). Professor Kreitman will be speaking about his new book, Japan's Ocean Borderlands: Nature and Sovereignty (Cambridge University Press, 2023). Japan's Ocean Borderlands reveals how the politics of conservation have entangled with the politics of sovereignty since the emergence of the modern Japanese state in the mid-nineteenth century. Using case studies ranging from Hawai'i to the Bonin Islands to the Senkaku (Ch: Diaoyu) Isles to the South China Sea, he explores how bird islands on the distant margins of the Japanese archipelago and beyond transformed from sites of resource extraction to outposts of empire and from wartime battlegrounds to nature reserves. This study examines how interactions between birds, bird products, bureaucrats, speculators, sailors, soldiers, scientists and conservationists shaped ongoing claims to sovereignty over oceanic spaces. It considers what the history of desert islands shows us about imperial and post-imperial power, the web of political, economic and ecological connections between islands and oceans, and about the relationship between sovereignty, territory and environment in the modern world. Miriam Kingsburg Kadia (Professor of History, University of Colorado, Boulder) will serve as discussant. 


Wednesday, January 17, 2024 | 7:00-8:30 PM ET | REGISTER FOR ZOOM

Nuclear Ghost: Atomic Livelihoods in Fukushima's Gray Zone (University of California Press, 2023)

Author: Ryo Morimoto, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University

Discussant: Anne Allison, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University

The Modern Japan History Association invites the wider community to a conversation with Ryo Morimoto (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University). Professor Morimoto will be speaking about his new book, Nuclear Ghost: Atomic Livelihoods in Fukushima's Gray Zone (University of California Press, 2023). Nuclear Ghost takes us deep into the liminal zone of evacuated, post-cataclysm Minamisōma, a town powerfully affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. "There is a nuclear ghost in Minamisōma" is how one resident described a mysterious experience following the disaster. Investigating this nuclear ghost among the graying population, Professor Morimoto examines radiation’s shapeshifting effects. What happens if state authorities, scientific experts, and the public disagree about the extent and nature of the harm caused by the accident? In one of the first in-depth ethnographic accounts of coastal Fukushima written in English, Nuclear Ghost tells the stories of a diverse group of residents who aspire to live and die well in their now irradiated homes. Their determination to recover their land, cultures, and histories for future generations provides a compelling case study for reimagining relationality and accountability in an ever-atomizing world. Anne Allison (Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University) will serve as discussant.  


Thursday, February 15, 2024 | 8:00-9:30 PM ET | REGISTER FOR ZOOM

Reading Medieval Ruins: Urban Life and Destruction in Sixteenth-Century Japan (Cambridge University Press, 2022)

Author: Morgan Pitelka, Bernard L. Herman Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Discussant: Ethan Segal, Associate Professor of History, Michigan State University

The Modern Japan History Association invites the wider community to a conversation with Morgan Pitelka (Bernard L. Herman Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Professor Pitelka will be speaking about his new book, Reading Medieval Ruins: Urban Life and Destruction in Sixteenth-Century Japan (Cambridge University Press, 2022). Reading Medieval Ruins takes us back to the Japanese provincial city of Ichijōdani, which was destroyed in the civil wars of the late sixteenth century but never rebuilt. Archaeological excavations have since uncovered the most detailed late medieval urban site in the country. Drawing on analysis of specific excavated objects and decades of archaeological evidence to study daily life in Ichijōdani, Reading Medieval Ruins illuminates the city's layout, the possessions and houses of its residents, its politics and experience of war, and religious and cultural networks. Professor Pitelka demonstrates how provincial centers could be dynamic and vibrant nodes of industrial, cultural, economic, and political entrepreneurship and sophistication. In this study a new and vital understanding of late medieval society is revealed, one in which Ichijôdani played a central role in the vibrant age of Japan's sixteenth century. Ethan Segal (Associate Professor of History, Michigan State University) will serve as discussant.  



Thursday, March 7, 2024 | 6:00-7:30 PM ET | REGISTER FOR ZOOM

Nuclear Minds: Cold War Psychological Science and the Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Chicago University Press, 2023)

Author: Ran Zwigenberg, Associate Professor of Asian Studies and Jewish Studies, Pennsylvania State University

Discussant: Elyssa Faison, Associate Professor of History, University of Oklahoma

The Modern Japan History Association invites the wider community to a conversation with Ran Zwigenberg (Associate Professor of Asian Studies and Jewish Studies, Pennsylvania State University). Professor Zwigenberg will be speaking about his new book,  Nuclear Minds: Cold War Psychological Science and the Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Chicago University Press, 2023) . In 1945, researchers with the United States Strategic Bombing Survey canvassed survivors of the nuclear attack. This marked the beginning of global efforts—by psychiatrists, psychologists, and other social scientists—to tackle the complex ways in which human minds were affected by the advent of the nuclear age. A trans-Pacific research network emerged that produced massive amounts of data about the dropping of the bomb and subsequent nuclear tests in and around the Pacific rim. Professor Zwigenberg traces these efforts and the ways they were interpreted differently across communities of researchers and victims. He explores how the bomb’s psychological impact on survivors was understood before we had the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, psychological and psychiatric research on Hiroshima and Nagasaki rarely referred to trauma or similar categories. Instead, institutional and political constraints—most notably the psychological sciences’ entanglement with Cold War science—led researchers to concentrate on short-term damage and somatic reactions or even, in some cases, on denial of victims’ suffering. As a result, very few doctors tried to ameliorate suffering. But, Zwigenberg argues, it was not only that doctors “failed” to issue the right diagnosis; the victims’ experiences also did not necessarily conform to our contemporary expectations. As he shows, the category of trauma should not be used uncritically in a non-Western context. Elyssa Faison (Associate Professor of History, University of Oklahoma) will serve as discussant.



Tuesday, April 11, 2024 | 7:00-8:30 PM ET | REGISTER FOR ZOOM

Dream Super-Express: A Cultural History of the World's First Bullet Train (Stanford University Press, 2022)

Author: Jessamyn R. Abel, Associate Professor of Asian Studies, Pennsylvania State University

Discussant: Yuting Dong, Assistant Professor of East Asian History, University of Chicago

The Modern Japan History Association invites the wider community to a conversation with Jessamyn R. Abel (Pennsylvania State University). Professor Abel will be speaking about her book Dream Super-Express: A Cultural History of the World's First Bullet Train (Stanford University Press, 2022), which was recently awarded the inaugural Modern Japan History Association Book Prize. Dream Super-Express sheds fresh light on postwar Japan’s rise to technological and economic superstardom. Integrating the histories of technology, infrastructure, economics, politics, diplomacy, and empire, Abel argues that the Tōkaidō Shinkansen—the first bullet train, dubbed the "dream super-express"—represents the bold aspirations of a nation rebranding itself after military defeat, but also the deep problems caused by the unbridled postwar drive for economic growth. Abel contends that understanding the various, often contradictory, images of the bullet train reveals how infrastructure operates beyond its intended use as a means of transportation to perform cultural and sociological functions. As the train variously enchanted, enthralled, and enraged government officials, media pundits, community activists, novelists, and filmmakers, it prompted a reimagination of identity on the levels of individual, metropolis, and nation in a changing Japan. Yuting Dong (University of Chicago) will serve as discussant.



Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | 6:00-7:30 PM ET | 
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Demarcating Japan: Imperialism, Islanders, and Mobility, 1855–1884 (Harvard University East Asia Center Press, 2023)

Author: Takahiro Yamamoto, Singapore University of Technology and Design

Discussant: David Howell, Robert K. and Dale J. Weary Professor of Japanese History, Harvard University

The Modern Japan History Association invites the wider community to a conversation with Takahiro Yamamoto (Singapore University of Technology and Design). Professor Yamamoto will be speaking about his new book, Demarcating Japan: Imperialism, Islanders, and Mobility, 1855–1884 (Harvard University East Asia Center Press, 2023). Histories of remote islands around Japan are usually told through the prism of territorial disputes. In contrast, Professor Yamamoto contends in Demarcating Japan  that the transformation of the islands from ambiguous border zones to a territorialized space emerged out of multilateral power relations. Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, Tsushima, the Bonin Islands, and the Ryukyu Islands became the subject of inter-imperial negotiations during the formative years of modern Japan as empires nudged each other to secure their status with minimal costs rather than fighting a territorial scramble. Based on multiarchival, multilingual research, Demarcating Japan argues that the transformation of border islands should be understood as an interconnected process, where inter-local referencing played a key role in the outcome: Japan’s geographical expansion in the face of domineering Extra-Asian empires. Underneath this multilateral process were the connections forged by individual non-state actors. Translators, doctors, traffickers, castaways, and indigenous hunters crisscrossed border regions and enacted violence, exchanged knowledge, and forged friendships. Although their motivations were eclectic and their interactions transcended national borders, the linkages they created were essential in driving territorialization forward. David Howell (Robert K. and Dale J. Weary Professor of Japanese History, Harvard University) will serve as discussant.  



Tuesday, May 7, 2024 | 6:00-7:30 PM ET | REGISTER FOR ZOOM

Asia and Postwar Japan: Deimperialization, Civic Activism, and National Identity (Harvard University East Asia Center Press, 2022)

Author: Simon Avenell, Professor in the School of Culture, History, and Language, Australian National University

Discussant: Robert Hoppens, Associate Professor of History, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

The Modern Japan History Association invites the wider community to a conversation with  Simon Avenell (Australian National University). Professor Avenell will be speaking about his new book,  Asia and Postwar Japan: Deimperialization, Civic Activism, and National Identity (Harvard University East Asia Center Press, 2022). Asia and Postwar Japan examines Japanese deimperialization from 1945 until the early twenty-first century. It focuses on the thought and activism of progressive activists and intellectuals as they struggled to overcome rigid preconceptions about “Asia,” as they grappled with the implications of postimperial responsibility, and as they forged new regional solidarities and Asian imaginaries. Professor Avenell reveals the critical importance of Asia in postwar Japanese thought, activism, and politics—Asia as a symbolic geography, Asia as a space for grassroots engagement, and ultimately, Asia as an aporia of identity and the source of a new politics of hopeRobert Hoppens (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley) will serve as discussant.



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