Another talk on the Nakai diaries coming up!


Nakai Hiromu's Kokai Shinsetsu

I have very kindly been given another opportunity to talk about translating Nakai Hiromu’s first travel diary, A Travel Sketch of the West – A New Account of Crossing the Seas.

This time the event is organised by JAT (Japan Association of Translators) and SWET (Society of Writers, Editors and Translators) and will be held in Osaka on Sunday, September 21st, 2014.

Please see the website below for details:

I look forward to seeing you there if you can make it!

– Eleanor



Lecture on Nakai Hiromu at Sokushu-in Temple


On May 20th, 2012, I had the great honour of giving a talk in Japanese about Nakai Hiromu at the temple where he is buried; Sokushu-in, within the Tofuku-ji Temple complex in the south-east of Kyoto city.

About 20 people came to listen to the talk and I received several questions and comments afterward. One of the listeners was kind enough to send me copies of some photographs he took, and he has given me kind permission to post them here.

Speaking about Nakai at Sokushu-in

Preparing to wash the grave

It was an excellent opportunity to give a talk in Japanese. Earlier in the year, I had been given the wonderful opportunity to talk  to fellow members of the Kyoto Ryoma-kai on the subject of Nakai Hiromu. I’m hoping there will be more such opportunities in the future to introduce the important role that Nakai played in Japanese history.

Sokushu-in itself is a beautiful temple. It is not usually open to the general public, except for a brief time each year during the red leaves season. The main complex of Tofuku-ji Temple is well-known for it’s red leaves and receives thousands of visitors each year.

Sokushu-in is the Shimazu clan (Feudal Lords of Satsuma) temple in Kyoto and it has seen many illustrious guests in its time. The great ‘Saigo-don’ (Saigo Takamori, 1828-1877) is known to have been here for secret meetings. Also, there are several monuments commemorating those who were lost in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. The grave of Narahara Kizaemon (1831-1865) (famous for attacking the British merchant, Charles Lennox Richardson, in the Namamugi Incident of 1862) is also here, near to the Nakai/Yokoyama family grave compound.

The grave of Narahara Kizaemon

I enjoyed this opportunity to again wear the kimono given to me for the occasion of my doctoral graduation ceremony. Here in Aichi, unfortunately I don’t see many people wearing kimono, so coming back from Kyoto on the Shinkansen, I probably stuck out like a sore thumb (even more than I do anyway, I mean). Still, it was all good fun!

Thank you to the organizers, and the most attentive audience, at Sokushu-in. I had a lovely day; albeit a very nervous one!

Doshisha and Globalization


My work for the Global MBA Programme at Doshisha Business School (DBS) is almost at an end. From the beginning of April, I shall become a “specially appointed associate professor” at the Research Institute for World Languages, Osaka University. Therefore, I felt it might be appropriate to write a bit of a review of my time at DBS, for my own record, if nothing else.

Having been a member of the administrative team for the Global MBA (GMBA) for the past year, my perspectives are naturally from an administrative point of view rather than an academic one. However, this in itself has been a useful exercise in getting to see the workings of a Japanese University at a structural level. My one word for this experience is “interesting”.

As the key initial programme geared toward globalization at Doshisha University, the Global MBA has been the leading force in the university’s successful bid for the Global 30 initiative.  Before coming to work full-time at Doshisha in May last year, since September 2008 I had been coming once a week to help out translating information from Japanese into English for the  GMBA website. Upon subsequently joining the Business School office team, I was initially busy translating many of the documents for our new incoming GMBA cohort. 

The entire GMBA programme is in English and our students are not expected to have any knowledge of the Japanese language (though, of course, it helps in daily life). Therefore, many documents (library information, student handbooks, official notices, application forms, etc.; everything needed to be translated into English. At one point, I was even making little English labels for things in the building and doing simple things like creating instructions in English for how to use lockers…)

Then, in September 2009 our international students arrived, and I have since been busy translating, interpreting, advising, helping to organise and so on, carrying out all manner of administrative duties. It was an interesting experience because prior to that I had been studying for such a long time as a student at Kyoto University, pouring over books alone in my quiet room with little contact with the outside world unless I sought it in the company of friends. It has been very interesting and eye-opening to observe the dynamics of working in an open-plan office with a team of other people, albeit a little difficult to concentrate sometimes because I am used to the silence of my own study.

The students seem quite happy with the programme, and because the programme is still in its early years, as the initial cohort, there are many opportunities for them to put forward ideas on the development and running of the programme. The 2009 cohort is a diverse  body of 20 students from 13 different countries around the world; they are a close-knit community of very enthusiast, dynamic people, and therefore, a lot of fun to be around.

My own field is not related to Business Studies and I have been asked on occasion why I am working at DBS. My first thought is, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles…”, but actually, in a  roundabout sort of way admittedly, my work here is very much related to my field, that is, the field of international relations. Granted, my research is more historically based, but a historical base is not much use if it is not to be made reference to in the context of the present, and indeed, the future. Therefore, it is important to understand the present situation too.

I have learned a great deal about globalization and internationalism during my time at DBS. I have also learned a great deal about what constitutes professionalism, and I have developed quite a strong opinion about what does not constitute professionalism. I have been fortunate enough to have been surrounded by colleagues who have taught me a great deal about professionalism, and about the world of business, of which I really knew nothing before.

As my interests lie in the history of Bakumatsu/Meiji Japan, I  wonder what the founder of Doshisha, Niijima Jo (or Joseph Hardy Neesima, as he is also known, 1843-1890), would think of his university’s Global 30 initiative and the Global MBA. I assume he would be proud of the developments, although admittedly sometimes during my time here I have sensed frustrations amongst those involved regarding the pace of these developments, and I have an inkling Niijima-sensei might have felt the same. There is still a lot to be done in terms of the general mindset toward globalization within the university as a whole, but small and gradual steps may be better in the long run rather than a dive into the unknown.  This begs the question, what is globalization (and should I spell it with an ‘s’ or a ‘z’)? What does it mean to globalize (I’m still not entirely comfortable with that ‘z’… nevermind, I’ll try and get over it)?

For me, an important element of being global however, is multiculturalism. As a child, I grew up in places like Birmingham, Dudley and later Liverpool, which are very multicultural places. Britain is a small island nation like Japan, but it is much more culturally and racially diverse. If the colour of somebody’s skin is different to mine, so what? They still have the same red blood coursing through their veins. If somebody has a different cultural background to mine, so what? Diversity makes the world a more interesting place. Multiculturalism is still pretty low on the cards in Japan. I still get stared at for my white skin and red hair in some places, at least I think it’s that and not my poor dress sense 🙂 Being in the environment of the Global MBA at Doshisha however, is a very multicultural experience. With so many people from so many different backgrounds working together, the environment can do nothing but give you a sense of being a true global citizen.

 The one or two movers and shakers at Doshisha are gradually influencing their colleagues and the “fear of the unknown” seems to be steadily dissipating. I imagine that Niijima-sensei came up against a lot of opposition and stick-in-the-mud mindsets himself when he first established his school. Certainly, his escape to the United States of America in 1864 was against the rules; at the time, no Japanese was allowed to leave Japan on pain of death, but off he went anyway to learn about the west. He studied at Amherst College, Massachusetts and was baptised a christian. Then he brought his religion back to Japan and established Doshisha on christian principles. That would have rankled quite a few people in Japan at the time having been a very anti-christian nation for so many years. Christianity had long been forbidden in Japan by the Bakufu government and it was still feared as a method for the western take-over of Japan by many. State Shinto was in many ways established as a means to counter this. Nevertheless, Niijima brought his christianity, set up an English school under its principles and the school eventually became one of the best private universities in the country. Doshisha is now faced with a new challenge, however; does it wish to get left behind, or does it wish to enhance and expand itself to meet the global era? I’m pretty sure Niijima-sensei would want it to move forward into globalisation and make its mark as a world-class university, and it is now taking gradual steps toward this.

Doshisha recently succeeded in becoming a member of AACSB International – the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. I was helping to organise the application for that and I am very glad that we managed to become a member before my work here finished (it gives me a bit of a sense of closure). It may perhaps be some time before Doshisha can become accredited by AACSB (the process usually can take anything up to 5 years, apparently), but if the University stays true to its goal of globalization, I really think Doshisha Business School can make its mark on the world stage. I think Niijima-sensei would be proud of that. Doshisha Business School aims to be a world-class business school. The standards must therefore meet the standards of international institutes. That means much more participation in the global sphere (ie participating in international symposia etc) and Doshisha Business School is certainly progressing towards that.

My time at Doshisha has been interesting. I truly learned a lot about the behind-the-scenes running of a Japanese university. More important to me personally, I also learned a great deal about myself and about what I want out of life. I would be lying if I said my time at Doshisha has been a breeze. If I am honest, it has been quite a struggle for me. I am grateful for all I have learnt however, and I am very happy that I was able to work with some very lovely people. Thank you to the GMBA team.

I hope the Global MBA will continue to go from strength to strength.





I was recently in Tokyo in order to send off some relatives who had been visiting here in Kyoto. After seeing them through the gates at Narita Airport I dashed off to visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum near Ryogoku Station. I had been desperate to go there for some time as I had heard about the model of the Rokumeikan building they had. However, after being mighty impressed at the sheer scale of the museum itself and the somewhat elaborate method for actually getting into the museum building itself, I made a beeline for the Rokumeikan display and found myself utterly  disappointed with what was on show. Or rather, not on show, because the Rokumeikan model could hardly be seen. I felt most put-out. It was a little bit like that feeling you get when you’re all expectant and excited about seeing a movie you’ve heard rave reviews about and then you watch it and it’s quite simply ‘rubbish’.  What depressed me most of all was that all of the other exhibition pieces were brilliant! Only the Rokumeikan, or rather the method of its display, was a real disappointment. The model itself, what I could see of it at least, was amazing.

It simply could not be seen properly. It was fitted into a hole in the floor and over the top of it some thick glass was placed for people to walk over to see it from a kind of bird’s eye view. This might not have been such a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that because the model was so large in scale (it included both the Rokumeikan building and the large front garden and gate) one sheet of glass alone was not safe enough for people to walk over, so the glass cover was split into smaller sections with what appeared to be thick iron girders in between, thus blocking a clear view of the model beneath.

After this disappointment, I wondered despondently around the rest of museum and then decided to try the museum shop. I found some postcards with one being of the Rokumeikan model. The photograph on the front gave a much better perspective and clearer view. I wondered why the display itself could not have allowed a view like the one on the postcard. Thinking that was all they had in the way of Rokumeikan goods I was about to leave, but then, in the far corner of the shop I saw some publications, one of which gave a description of the Rokumeikan and the construction of the model by the modeler, Uchida Yoshio who is an architect and lecturer at Toyo University. I bought a copy of that and two copies of the Rokumeikan postcards and headed back to my hotel.

The following day, weighed down by heavy luggage, I went to the site where the Rokumeikan once stood. Now, the Yamato Life Insurance company building stands on the spot. Exhausted from the weight of my bags, I was glad to find a trusty old Starbucks coffee shop on the ground floor of the building. After taking a couple of pictures of the plaque commemorating  the Rokumeikan, I went and enjoyed a Matcha Tea Latte and pondered the significance of the Rokumeikan.

The Rokumeikan was highly criticized within Japan for its unnecessary lavishness. Inoue Kaoru, the driving force behind the Rokumeikan project, was eventually forced to resign from his position as Foreign Minister for failing to rid Japan of the bonds of the Unequal Treaties with western nations, and his so-called ‘failure’ is also seen to be part of the failure of the Rokumeikan.

My interest in the Rokumeikan began when I discovered that it was Nakai Hiromu who, apparently, suggested the naming for the Rokumeikan. It comes from a Chinese classic poem in the collection called the Shi Jing. In the book by Pat Barr, The Deer Cry Pavilion (which is how the word “Rokumeikan” translates into English) quotes the English translation by Arthur Waley of the Chinese poem:

Yu, yu, cry the deer

Nibbling the black southernwood in the field.

I have a guest.

Let me play my zither, blow my reed-organ,

Blow my reed-organ, trill their tongues,

Take up the baskets of offerings,

Here is a man that loves me

And will teach me the ways of Chou.

The poem represents the welcoming of guests, which is exactly what the Rokumeikan was for. The prevailing idea that its purpose was to rid Japan of the bonds of the Unequal Treaties appears to me to be more an idea that came with the after-thought of the contemporary media and critics of the time. The original purpose, I think, was that it would merely be a place to welcome foreign guests. Certainly, if anything positive had come from it regarding the unequal treaties, the Rokumeikan would perhaps not have been so highly criticised, and it could well have been in existence today.

There is an excellent translation by David Rosenfeld (2001) of Pierre Loti’s vicious attack on the Rokumeikan. Loti tells of his personal experience when he was invited to a ball at the Rokumeikan to celebrate the Emperor Meiji’s birthday in 1886. I was absolutely shocked to read his account; his racist attitude seems to know no bounds. To give an example, he calls the rickshaw men that drive the guests to the ball “little black imps”! Need I say anymore?!

I am glad I finally made it to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. As long as you don’t get too excited about seeing the Rokumeikan exhibit as I did, I can really recommend a visit there. It’s a pretty big place and one of the bonuses is that you can use your ticket for multiple re-entry for one day, so if you fancy going to get some “chanko-nabe” (sumo wrestlers’ hot-pot) for lunch you can! Ryogoku is a famous Sumo mecca, of course; home to a number of Sumo stables, restaurants that serve Sumo hot-pots and there is also the famous Sumo Stadium. I always enjoy watching the Sumo on TV; I’d like to go there again to see a tournament. Perhaps by that time, the Rokumeikan model will have a  better form of display.

Translating Japanese History


I have recently begun work on the English translation of Nakamura Takeo’s work Kyoto no Edo Jidai wo Aruku (Bunrikaku, 2008).  I really feel that this work will be of great benefit to both scholars and the general public abroad who are interested in learning more in depth about the history of Kyoto, as well as to foreign tourists who visit Kyoto and want to do more than just scratch the surface while they tour round the city. I feel it is a shame to limit the vast amount of information in the book to just Japanese language speakers.

I do of course also have to complete my doctoral thesis on Nakai Hiromu, but it is nice to have a break from that occasionally and to do some pure translation work.

Nakamura’s work presents a large section of information on Sakamoto Ryoma of course too, which will be very good for an English speaking audience since Ryoma is becoming ever more popular in a global context.

Speaking of translation work, I was also happy recently to receive a copy of the soon to be published Shinsengumi no Ronjikata ([Discussing the Shinsengumi] Matsuno Shoten, 2009) by Miyachi Masato, Ito Katsushi, Kobayashi Takehiro, Tada Toshikatsu and Miyakawa Teiichi.  It was my job to help out with the English translation of the contents page; however, as I read through the articles themselves I thought how nice it would be to present this work in full to an English speaking audience in the future.

There appears to be an ever-growing interest in Japanese history of all periods and this is evident from the ever-growing number of books in English in this field. Many of these books in English are written by western scholars who are specialists in the field of Japanese history, and of course there are many great works out there. However, it is also important to present the works of Japanese historians and give them a voice in the English speaking world to present their views of their own history. One example of this kind of work that I enjoyed particularly was Takii Kazuhiro’s The Meiji Constitution (I-House Press, 2007) translated by David Noble. I hope to be able to present much more about Japanese history to the English speaking world in future with both my own research and with translations of great works by Japanese authors.