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Prof. Mikael (Mickey) Adolphson

Social structures, ideologies, mentalitée, religious institutions, legal history, historical documents and international trade in Medieval Japan
Prof. Mikael (Mickey) Adolphson

Keidanren Professor of Japanese Studies

Fellow and AMES Director of Studies at Trinity College

Office Phone: 01223 335430


Brought up in Kalmar, Sweden, where he used a thirteenth century castle as his playground, Mickey Adolphson has been a historian as long as he can remember. After graduating from high school in the late (and joyful) 1970s, he went to Lund's University, where he graduated with a B.A. in History, Museum and Cultural Studies in 1984. A premodernist, he was inspired by the similarities between medieval Europe and Japan to focus his attention on pre-1600 Japan. He spent two years studying Japanese at Stockholm University before receiving a scholarship from the Japanese Education Ministry in 1986. During the next two and a half years he lived in Kyoto and Osaka while studying at Kyoto University under the guidance of Professor Oyama Kyohei. In 1989, he entered Stanford University's Ph.D. program with Professor Jeffrey P. Mass as his mentor. Returning to Kyoto University in the spring of 1992 for dissertation research, he also worked for the Japan Volleyball Association as an interpreter. He resumed at Stanford in the fall of 1993 and finished his dissertation two years later. Adolphson’s first academic appointment was at the University of Oklahoma from 1995 to 1999, after which he moved to Harvard University, where he was assistant and associate professor of Japanese History. In 2008 he joined the faculty at the University of Alberta as Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies, where he served as chair and associate dean. Professor Adolphson is currently Keidanren Professor of Japanese Studies at Cambridge.

Subject groups/Research projects

Japanese Studies:

Research Interests

Professor Adolphson is a broadly trained historian with a strong interest in medieval societies. In fact, he studied medieval societies and religions in southern France at the University of Lund before suddenly being inspired to switch to medieval Japan. Nevertheless, he took with him an interest in Annales history to the Japan field, and so he focuses on a wide variety of topics, ranging from social structures, ideologies, mentalitée, religious institutions, legal history, historical documents and international trade. In addition, he has a strong interest in how historical narratives have been and are constructed both in the past and the present.

Other Professional Activities

Graduate Supervision

Having supervised graduate students in a range of fields, including premodern and modern Japanese history, premodern literature as well as Buddhism, Adolphson would welcome enquiries from motivated students and young scholars from across the world. He is known to be a demanding but also caring mentor.

Key Publications

In addition to essays in edited volumes and journals, Mikael Adolphson’s main publications are The Gates of Power: Monks, Courtiers and Warriors in Premodern Japan (2000) and The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha: Monastic Warriors and Sōhei in Japanese History (2007). He is also the co-editor, together with Professor Edward Kamens of Yale University and Stacie Matsumoto, of Heian Japan, Centers and Peripheries (2007), which was based on a conference he conceived and organized at Harvard in June of 2002. More recently, he co-edited Lovable Losers: The Heike in Action and Memory (2015) together with Anne Commons. The result of a conference held in Banff, Alberta in 2012, this volume focuses on the Heike, an aristocratic warrior family that experienced a brief surge in the late twelfth century, but whose memory has been constructed and reshaped until the present. Adolphson’s current project focuses on Sino-Japanese trade in the twelfth century, with a special focus on the import of Chinese copper coins, which eventually led to a monetized economy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. 

Selected articles and reviews can also be found at Adolphson’s profile page here: