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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Event date: 
Monday, 2 November, 2020 - 18:00 to 19:30


Japan's Castles: Citadels of Modernity in War and Peace

Castles are some of Japan’s most iconic structures, and have become prominent symbols of local, regional, and national identity. Contemporary celebration of castles obscures their troubled modern history, however, when the vast majority of these structures were abandoned, dismantled, or destroyed before being reinvented as physical links to an idealized martial past. From the turn of the twentieth century to the end of the Second World War, castles contributed both symbolically and physically to the militarization of Japanese society. After 1945, castles were at the centre of the postwar transition. Shorn of their overt militarism, castles became symbols of local and regional identity, linking these to their “safe” premodern pasts by skipping over problematic aspects of imperial modernity. This talk builds on Ran Zwigenberg and my recent monograph and examines the history of Japan’s castles from the late nineteenth century to the present to provide a new approach to narratives of continuity and change in modern Japan.

Oleg Benesch is Reader in East Asian History at the University of York. He is the author of Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan (Oxford, 2014) and, with Ran Zwigenberg, Japan’s Castles: Citadels of Modernity in War and Peace (Cambridge, 2019). For more information on his research, please see