Brackets & Breakdowns: How academic disciplines define and sustain segmentations of time in ancient Japan

Jason Webb (University of Southern California)
Tomoyasu Kato (Meiji University)
Bloco 1, Piso 0, Sala 0.05
Start time:
2 September, 2017 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel seeks to turn a critical eye to conventions of periodizing Japan's "ancient" times first by comparing orientations historical, archaeological, and literary. How does each discipline indulge in its own collective fabrications of sequence, rupture, and inevitability? Can we improve things?

Long abstract:

Periodization is the guardrail at a scenic but treacherous spot. It confers a certain kind of security, a feeling of chaos grasped and momentarily tamed. Perhaps therein lies its appeal. The enterprises of history, archaeology, and literature each answer the craving for periodization in different ways, using different criteria and (perhaps) different underlying values. Ancient Japan (from when to when? by whose definition?) is grist for sharply divergent conceptions of periods, sub-periods, and episodes. Historians, depending on their concerns, seem to favor developments in political and economic systems; archaeologists are apt to base theirs on the emergence (and decline) of tools, mounds, pottery, and agricultural technology; and literary historians often look to changes in poetic themes, forms, and stylistics. Of crucial importance too is the timeline (periodizable?) of materials, textual or otherwise, flowing from the continent into the archipelago. All in all, this summary - simplistic though it may be - is enough to provoke important questions: how do schemes of periodization across disciplines relate to each other? Are their incompatibilities irresolvable? Shall we content ourselves merely by concluding that perhaps truth lies in their composite? Our panel seeks to explore these questions by way of three presentations and a response from a learned discussant. Ken Sasaki will revisit the evolving and at times contested criteria by which Japanese archaeologists seek to demarcate the Yayoi and Kofun periods. Jason Webb will examine the preface to Keikokushū, the third and last the early Heian royal anthologies of Chinese languages poetry (and prose), focusing on how its compilers celebrated their historical moment as a high point for writing (bun), defined in contrast to "turbid" eras of the past, both domestic and abroad. Takehiko Yoshimura will survey how schemes of periodization in history and archaeology evolved from the Meiji period onward, and offer his own interdisciplinary proposal of alternatives. Tomoyasu Katō will serve as discussant.