Komonjo at Yale: Introducing Our New Collections of Japanese Historical Documents

Komonjo at Yale: Introducing Our New Collections of Japanese Historical Documents

Masato Takenouchi - Associate Research Scholar in East Asian Studies, Yale University; John C. D'Amico - PhD Candidate, Department of History, Yale University

Friday, March 1, 2024 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Room 05 (Lower Level), Rosenkranz Hall See map
115 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Across Japan, a vast number of historical documents from the 16th to the 20th centuries have survived. Historians have used these invaluable sources to understand the unique array of diverse social and cultural formations that emerged within Japan over the course of the past half millennium. In recent years, the continued survival of this rich body of sources has come under threat due to a number of social and environmental changes, including rural depopulation, the depletion of local government funding, the decline of the historical profession in Japan, and the impact of natural disasters. In this talk, we would like to introduce several collections of Japanese historical materials recently acquired by Yale, showing how these sources could be used for historical research while also reflecting on the significance of Japan’s documentary heritage within contemporary society.

Dr. Takenouchi completed his Ph.D. in Japanese history at the University of Tokyo. During his studies, he worked as a full-time archivist and researcher for the Iida City Institute of Historical Research in Nagano Prefecture. In 2013, he returned to his alma mater as a research associate for the Department of Japanese History in the Faculty of Letters. Most recently, he taught Japanese history and document analysis at Rikkyō University and Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. His own research focuses broadly on the social and cultural history of early modern Japan and specifically on urban society, rural communities, religious institutions, and the social status system. 

Throughout his career. Dr. Takenouchi has worked directly with individuals, community organizations, and student groups on how to handle, read, and analyze kuzushiji and other documents. He has a plethora of experience teaching both Japanese and foreign students how to read documents that were originally written in various forms of pre-modem Japanese languages (kanbun, bungo, sorobun) as well as in kuzushiji and how to properly transcribe those works into modem Japanese. 

At Yale, Dr. Takenouchi will devote half of his time working with the university’s pre-modern Japanese special collections through teaching kuzushiji reading courses, providing research and reference consultations, and engaging in outreach activities.  In this coming fall semester, he will co-teach “Japanese Reference Works and Documents” (History 880) with Professor Daniel Botsman. At the Library, Dr. Takenouchi will assist in improving discovery and preservation of Japanese documents at Yale and working with scholars and students to aid them in their research about premodern Japanese history. 

John D’Amico is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at Yale. He specializes in the social and economic history of Tokugawa Japan (1600-1868). His dissertation project is about the role of merchants and their money in the 18th and 19th century, centering on the Nakai Genzaemon (1734-1942), one of the wealthiest and most expansive merchant houses of the period. Their archive of nearly 30,000 documents offers a unique window onto the complex interactions between commerce, merchant capital, and society in the late Tokugawa period, covering everything from finance, trade, and governance to disputes with gangsters, reports on local society, and the get-rich-quick schemes of disgruntled employees