Book Launch – Reopening the Opening of Japan: Transnational Approaches to Modern Japan and the Wider World

‘Reopening the Opening of Japan: Transnational Approaches to Modern Japan and the Wider World’ is the result of the Meiji Restoration sesquicentennial conference held at St Antony’s College in 2019. It rethinks the way in which ‘the Opening of Japan’ constitutes a historical event that connected the archipelago to the wider world.

The book draws attention to the historiographical underrepresentation of non-state historical actors and non-imperial encounters in flows of cultural and intellectual life within and beyond Asia in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It tackles subjects ranging from the worldwide nineteenth century trade in mummified mermaids and a globetrotting Japanese scientist’s study of sexual desire in slime moulds, to the Japanese-Russian intellectual links underpinning threads of anarchism in the work of Akira Kurosawa. These historical studies also revisit many of the broader topics that those learning about Japanese history for the first time will come into contact with, from ideas of revolution, progress, and civilisation, to sizeable shifts in medicine, the arts, politics, religion, industry, and conceptions of nature and humanity.

Instead of searching for a specifically “Japanese” experience of these developments, they look at the fundamentally transnational character through the lenses of a diverse range of people. The book sheds light on the lives of pearl divers, sex workers, African American writers, radical doctors, craftsmen, cartoonists, and many more – people whose roles in the ‘Opening of Japan’ have either been downplayed or overlooked entirely. Together, they offer new understandings of Japan’s modernity that emphasise its heterogeneous and polylithic nature.

Join us in a conversation about the implications of Reopening the Opening of Japan for future studies of Japan’s global past.

Contributing authors: Natalia Doan (Waseda University), Maki Fukuoka (University of Leeds), Eiko Honda (Aarhus University), Mateja Kovacic (Hong Kong Baptist University), Joel Littler (University of Oxford), Chinami Oka (University of Oxford), Yu Sakai (Waseda University), Olga Solovieva (Nicolaus Copernicus University, Torun, Poland), and Warren Stanislaus (NYU Shanghai).
Editors: Lewis Bremner (University of Cambridge), Manimporok (Brown University), Sho Konishi (University of Oxford).


Sho Konishi is a historian specializing in transnational discourses on knowledge at the University of Oxford.

Lewis Bremner (University of Cambridge) is a historian in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. He has previously held posts at Harvard University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Oxford, and teaches a range of courses on the history of science and technology and the history of East Asia. His interest in the cultural and social dimensions of technology and the interconnections formed by the movement of knowledge is a common thread in his research, and his recent work includes an article in Modern Asian Studies. He is currently writing a book on the history of the magic lantern in Japan.

Manimporok (Brown University) studies trans-Asian historical connections with a focus on environment and indigenous universalisms. He does so as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of East Asian Studies and the Cogut Institute for the Humanities at Brown University, which occupies part of the ancestral homelands of the Narragansett. Maani teaches courses on the transnational history of Japan and indigenous histories of the Western Pacific, and is preparing a book manuscript on the Arafura Zone, a historical seascape where non-state actors found autonomy and freedom from modern empires.

Chinami Oka is the Tanaka Junior Research Fellow in Japanese Studies at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. She is a cultural and intellectual historian of modern Japan, with a particular focus on peoples and ideas that transcend the nation-state and national boundaries. She teaches the history of religion in modern Japan and the wider world from the early nineteenth century to the present. Her recent publications include an article in The Historical Journal, amongst others.

Mateja Kovacic (Hong Kong Baptist University) is Assistant Professor at the Department of Interactive Media, School of Communication. Mateja is a former British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. She is a transdisciplinary researcher of symbiotic entanglements between science, technology, and popular culture in life-and-knowledge-formations. Her most recent work includes the co-edited book Idology in Transcultural Perspective, and an article published in Science as Culture, “Between Animated Cells and Animated Cels: Symbiotic Turn and Animation in Multispecies Life.” Her current book project is on the people’s making of scientific modernity in the Tokugawa period through scientific-popular engagements with weird stuff including mutated morning glory, skeletons, and snowflakes.

Joel Littler (University of Oxford) is a DPhil candidate in History as a Daiwa Scholar of Japanese Studies at Pembroke College. He is the convenor of the Oxford Japanese History Workshop. He was formerly a lecturer at Thammasat University and Mahidol University in Thailand, where he taught philosophy. His research centres on the non-colonial intellectual, cultural, and political phenomena that emerged in nineteenth and early twentieth century Japan as a reaction to the perceived failures of the Meiji Ishin to improve ordinary people’s lives. This intersects with his interest in the history of philosophy and religion in Asia’s other non-colonised country, Thailand. His recent publications include: “A Song of Fallen Flowers: Miyazaki Tōten and the making of naniwabushi as a mode of popular dissent in transwar Japan, 1902–1909,” in Modern Asian Studies (2024).