Japan, A Journey to Modernity: A Six Part Course with Dr. Gavin Campbell - Context Travel

Japan, A Journey to Modernity: A Six Part Course with Dr. Gavin Campbell


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In six lectures, this course explores the extraordinary generation of Japanese women and men who transformed their country virtually overnight, all without abandoning the legacy of their ancestors. Contemporary Japan's striking blend of tradition and modernity rests upon their accomplishments.

“People say that Japan was awakened thirty years ago,” mused the novelist Natsume Sōseki in 1902, “but it was awakened by a fire bell and jumped out of bed.” Many shared his astonishment. In the span of just one lifetime, the blast fires of modernity had transformed everything from what people wore and what they ate, to where they traveled and where they shopped. Nothing felt immune to change. And yet, even a century later, nearly every visitor to Japan notices the country’s tender care for its old traditions. How did the Japanese navigate this head-spinning period between 1850 and 1930? What did it feel like to live in a world under constant construction? And how did they rush ahead without entirely abandoning their ancestors?

Finding the roots of this balancing act takes us back to the extraordinary generation of women and men who created modern Japan. Though taking in the rich and the powerful, Gavin James Campbell, professor of history at Doshisha University in Kyoto, goes even deeper. For it was in the lived experience of ordinary women and men that modernity most felt like a fire bell, and where the consequences felt most immediate. Through vivid visuals and in their own voices, we trace the roots of contemporary Japan, seeing how with remarkable courage and curiosity, they challenged each other to imagine a new society that did not discard the old.

Led by an expert on Japanese history, Gavin James Campbell, this interactive course will explore Japan’s modernization. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of how contemporary Japan’s striking blend of tradition and modernity rests on the lives of a generation eager to stitch together old and new.

Lecture 1: The Opening of Japan
Commodore Perry’s determination to open Japan in 1853 certainly caused alarm among the nation’s rulers. But many Japanese embraced the opportunity for new encounters and exploring the wider world. Through travel, education and the visual arts they reached out across old borders.

Lecture 2: The Floodgates Open
In the 1870s everything seemed open for debate. No idea, no matter how outlandish, failed to find an advocate. Yet few could agree on how much needed to change, and on which old ways, if any, they should keep.

Lecture 3: Fashioning Modernity: Clothing
Clothing was a dramatic symbol of modernity. Imported western garments certainly caught the eye, but so, too, did the striking designs, colors and patterns that continually transformed the kimono.

Lecture 4: Consuming Modernity: Shopping
Going shopping had always been fun, but new modern department stores fundamentally changed the meaning of shopping. Women embraced the modern life these stores promoted, and in so doing caused heartburn among those who worried that women were forgetting “their place.”

Lecture 5: Building Modernity: Architecture
Modern cities demanded new buildings and new aesthetics. But as the old wooden city gave way to the concrete and steel metropolis, some complained that they felt displaced by their own architects.

Lecture 6: Reflecting Modernity: Japan From Abroad
All these extraordinary changes and experiments mattered to more than just the Japanese. Japonisme -- the enthusiasm for Japanese traditional crafts -- showed a Western concern that the nation's modernization might rob not only the Japanese, but the world of a precious heritage.

Dr. Gavin Cambell received a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and came to Kyoto in 2001. He is a Ph.D. professor of history at Doshisha University. His teaching and research revolve around Japan's cultural encounters with the West, particularly during the Edo, Meiji, Taisho and early Showa periods (1600-1940), and he has published on the history of foreign tourism and of Protestant missionaries in Japan. To further explore Japan's global cultural encounters, he is currently writing a book on the history of Japanese menswear from the 1600s through the early 20th century. He is also an expert on Kyoto geisha culture and a frequent participant in geisha entertainment.

How does it work?
This is a six-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?
Though the course is open to participants with no background in Japanese history, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?
Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?
The course is $210 for 6 lectures.

Is a recording available?
In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

Each lecture is 90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.