On June 7 and June 21, 2020, the Historians’ Workshop held workshops on the interpretation and translations of Japanese historical materials. We invited Paula R. Curtis (Yale University), a specialist in Japanese medieval social and economic history), as our lecturer.
In the first session, we discussed fourteenth-century documents related to Daigoji Temple. TACHIBANA Yuta (Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties) and HUANG Xiaolong (The University of Tokyo), who specialize in the history of medieval Japanese religion, prepared the medieval Japanese readings and modern Japanese interpretations, which were distributed to workshop participants. In the second session, we discussed the Kamakura period legal code Goseibai shikimoku. KINOSHITA Ryoma (Historiographical Institute, The University of Tokyo) and SATO Yuki (Rikkyo University), who specialize in the history of legal systems in medieval Japan, presented their readings, interpretations, and insights into the translations of some terms found in the documents.
The following is a brief summary of these sessions.
【A selection of Daigoji Materials】 ・Issues in the translation of premodern historical materials ・Documents discussed: Ashikaga Yoshimitsu Directive (1379), Ashikaga Tadayoshi Letter Facsimile (1347),High Priest Ryūkan Letter of Transmission (1427) .etc. ・Some points of interest: the translation of 護持 as “defense” or “protection、” how to capture the nuance of the term 道具 in religious settings (debating the terms “implement,” “tool” or “instrument”)、how to translate titles of documents provided by scholars that may be interpretative (based on style or function), etc.
【A selection of Goseibai shikimoku】 ・John Carey Hall’s 1906 translation and its influence on present-day research and teaching ・Documents discussed：Article 5 “Regarding land stewards (jitō) of various provinces withholding the annual tribute (nengu) and land taxes (shotō)”; Article 41 “Regarding bound servants (nuhi zōnin)”, etc. ・Some points of interest：considerations in the translation of core terms such as 年貢, 所領, 知行, 奴婢, etc.
We had about 27 participants in each session. Attendees included scholars of Western history and Eastern history, and discussions were held on the differences between land systems and legal systems in medieval Japan and Europe, and the complications that arise when dealing with Japanese terms such as “奴婢,” which is sometimes translated as “slave,” and sometimes as “bound servant.”
Participants also expressed their hopes that (1) by having Japanese and foreign researchers discuss translation together at the word/phrase level we will be able to find common issues that emerge when translating Japanese historical materials (as well as all the non-Western historical materials) into English, and that (2) we might be able to elevate these discussions to a historiographical perspective and reconsider their significance to both Japanese and foreign researchers.
We are still experimenting with the workshop’s format, but organizers are very pleased to know that it was meaningful for all the participants. We are also planning to hold Edo and modern sessions this fall and look forward to seeing you all next time!
For more information, please contact at HUANG Xiaolong (hxiaolong[at]e.u-tokyo.ac.jp).