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Travel in Tokugawa Period Japan (1603-1868): Identity, Nationand Social Transformation

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TOKUGAWATRAVEL (Travel in Tokugawa Period Japan (1603-1868): Identity, Nationand Social Transformation)

Reporting period: 2019-04-01 to 2021-03-31

The EU-funded TOKUGAWATRAVEL project addressed the cultural and social meanings of travel in Edo or Tokugawa period (1603-1868) Japan.
The Tokugawa period was a time of internal peace and economic growth in Japan, but also of strict political and social control: geographical and social mobility were limited to a minimum, as a way to ensure political stability. The project investigated the ways in which travel within Japan subverted this immobility. It also reviewed the ideological transformation connected with travel for different social classes and genders, and particularly how travel impacted the formation of national identity. These transformations are keys to understanding Japanese modernity and Japan’s place in “world society”.
The project analysed travel not only as a physical practice, but also as a “virtual” experience. Assessing how travel tends to be interconnected with text, it focused on commercial travel literature, and particularly on the guidebooks and maps from the Japanese Collection of the John Rylands Research Institute and Library (JRRIL), University of Manchester (UoM), UK. The items were analysed combining the outlook of social history with the analytical approach of historical bibliography, focusing also on their editorial history and physical characteristics.
The project’s main objectives were:
1) To undertake pioneering archival research in a collection which had previously only been examined in terms of scope and provenance.
2) To disseminate information about the contents of the collection and the research conducted in the context of the project both to a wide-range of scholarly communities and to an audience beyond the university.
3) To strengthen the researcher’s professional profile and the interdisciplinary value of her expertise.
4) To establish long-term international collaborations.
The work performed from the beginning (April 2019) to the end (August 2021) of the project can be divided into: 1) Training; 2) Research; 3) Exploitation and dissemination.
1) The researcher underwent training in a number of key areas. A) Digital Humanities (digital mapping and archive literacy), at the seminars offered by digitalhumanities@manchester (April-October 2019) and at the Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School (July 22-26, 2019). B) Research Dissemination, at workshops held at UoM. C) Library training: training in handling, preservation, minor repairs and display of Japanese books at the Conservation Studio of the JRRIL (June-October 2019) and in TEI (Text Encoding Initiative, a mark-up language used to describe books and other objects and structure information about them) at the JRRIL (October 2019).
2) The researcher conducted archival research both at the JRRIL (throughout the project) and at Japanese institutions holding travel-related items: the National Institute of Japanese Literature and the National Diet Library of Japan, in Tokyo, and the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, in Kyoto. She was in Japan from January 2020 to March 2020, working on items not accessible in digital form.
3) The researcher presented at numerous sector and general conferences, and delivered lectures addressed to a more general audience (including an invited lecture for the Japan Society of London: She also contributed to the organization of public events at the JRRIL and held hands-on workshops for students.
On July 12-13, 2021 she organized, with her supervisor Professor Erica Baffelli, the International Online Symposium “Travel in a modernizing world (1700-1840): Materiality, Transformation and Representation”. She is currently working, with Professor Baffelli, on ad edited volume based on the conference.
She produced, so far, two scholarly pieces connected to the project: one published chapter (for the book “Furusato. 'Home' at the Nexus of History, Art, Society, and Self”. Mimesis International, 2020, ISBN: 9788869772771) and a peer-reviewed article, accepted for publication in the journal “Japan Forum”. She is working on another journal article centred on the narrative dimension of Tokugawa period maps and guidebooks. Lastly, she created an open source portal of digitised and annotated items from the Japanese Collection at the JRRIL, within Manchester Digital Collections: For each item, the portal includes digital images, metadata, a detailed description discussing the item’s contents and editorial history, and a list of references.
Other outcomes include an online exhibition ( a physical exhibition at the JRRIL (“Visions of Edo Japan”; launch: November 2021), and some blog pieces (linked here:
The project encountered some difficulties in light of the Covid-19 emergency (particularly related to a restricted access to archives), and some of the expected outcomes of the project will see the light only in the near future. Still, it was able to achieve a majority of the objectives set out in the proposal.
The open source portal made the rare and hitherto unstudied items within the JRRIL, and the research conducted on them in the context of the project, widely available to scholars throughout the world, and was warmly received as a resource for research and teaching.
The project progressed beyond the state of the art in research about the interconnections of text, travel and society in pre-modern and modern Japan. The researcher analysed maps with a focus on representational techniques and icons, evaluating the cultural and social narratives they built, in relation with their recipients. She also uncovered the use of intertextuality and nostalgia-oriented narrative strategies in popular maps and travel guidebooks, which contributed to the birth of a “Japanese" literary and topographical "canon”.
Within the collection at the JRRIL, she found an interesting item, slightly outside of the time period contemplated by the project: a tourist map of Japan published in the second half of the 19th century by the Kihinkai (or Welcome Society), the first Japanese organization for the promotion of inbound tourism. The map, addressed in the article she wrote for "Japan Forum", gave her the idea for a monograph discussing the impact of “modernization” and “nation-building” on the guidebook genre in Japan throughout the 19th century. She is currently drafting it.
The international conference organized by the researcher was an occasion to connect the project with the global, generating dialogue between experts in different areas, and exploring the ways in which travel and its textual and material manifestations impacted diplomacy, nationalism and colonialism throughout the world. The edited volume will shed light on the interconnections between travel, textuality and material culture in the premodern world, from a global studies perspective and with an interdisciplinary approach.
The project also impacted a more general public, divulging knowledge about the JRRIL Japanese collection, inspiring varied audiences to look at primary sources from new perspectives, and generating discussion on the impact of physical travel, virtual travel and travel restrictions on the circulation of knowledge and ideas, in a way that generated stimulating responses, particularly in light of the restrictions on movement connected with the pandemic.
This reproduction of Japanese 211 from the JRRIL was used as recurrent thumbnail for the project.