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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies


During the height of the Bubble years, one could scarcely pass a shelf in the business section of American or Japanese bookstores without seeing a copy of Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings. Although a book of swordsmanship, it was reputed to explain the “Japanese economic miracle,” contain the wisdom needed by Westerners to successfully do business in Japan, and simultaneously described as an instructive textbook detailing how Japanese methods could be utilized abroad. In these post-Bubble years, we now see a need for lessons about leadership across the globe. Interestingly, just like the early eighteenth-century Book of Five Rings once inspired businessmen around the world, there are important leadership lessons to be learned from an earlier Japanese warrior text; the Azuma kagami, or The Mirror of the East.

Commissioned and written in the 1260s by the Kamakura shogunate to document its history—such as the myths surrounding its founder Minamoto no Yoritomo—the Azuma kagami was later used as a primer on wise rulership for centuries: by successive Kamakura regents, Warring States (1467-1573) lords, and shoguns during the Tokugawa age (1600-1868). In short, it was their answer to Machiavelli. Thus, both scholars and the general public can learn about Japanese cultural and historical philosophies on governance from the chronicle, but also use it more broadly as a window into understanding the nature of constructed narratives on rulership.

As a first step in exploring and learning from Japanese primers on leadership, this project will engage scholars in six research clusters across the world to produce the first complete English translation of the Azuma kagami, while at the same time pursue questions of purpose, biases, and appropriation in several venues, including well-known journals. The translation will be digital to allow for feedback, comments, but also populated with hyperlinks for personal names, titles and place names. This will, we believe, make the chronicle far more accessible across the world than any printed edition. At the same time, we will bring together our collective analytical essays into a companion publication, which can be read separately or together with the translation.

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