Graduate summer school on early-modern written Japanese

Early-modern Japan (1600-1867) witnessed the production of a vast amount of texts, both handwritten and commercially printed by means of woodblocks. These materials are the key to unlock a variety of disciplines when studying early-modern Japan, and yet they present multiple challenges.

Linguistically, they can display three different written languages: vernacular Japanese (wabun), literary Chinese read in Japanese (kanbun) and hybrid literary Chinese used in administrative correspondence (s?r?bun). They also present modulations based on gender, with the existence of a very idiosyncratic written language used by women or by men to communicate with women. Paleographically, early-modern texts show a preference for cursive. This applies to both logographic characters (kanji) and phonetic script (hiragana). Moreover, the phonetic script makes extensive use of multiple variants for each syllable (the so-called hentaigana). These linguistic and palaeographic challenges have traditionally been a major obstacle for Western scholars to access Japanese early-modern archival materials. 

The Graduate Summer School in Japanese Early-modern Palaeography, which has been running for five consecutive years now, is a programme unique in the world and teaches how to decode this kind of Japanese early-modern written materials in their original format. Over the years I have developed a teaching method tailored to non-native speakers of Japanese. It has proven extremely effective in allowing participants to become conversant with cursive Japanese and all its phonetic variants. Bespoke sessions with calligraphy master Yukiko Ayres constitute an important part of the learning experience we offer. Moreover my colleague Yamabe Susumu (Nish?gakusha University, Tokyo), who is in charge of kanbun, has devised an effective way to teach what is normally perceived as a dry textual typology.

Every year we attract participants from a variety of first-rate institutions around the world (e.g., Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Berkley, Oxford, SOAS, and Leiden among many others) and we have taught altogether more than 120 young scholars since the first summer school in 2014.

We are training a new generation of scholars, who has the potential to produce truly cutting-edge research by combining palaeographic skills that are traditionally regarded as a prerogative of Japanese scholars with sound grounding in literary theory. We are also working with a view to foster research on Japanese early-modern palaeography and to open up a new field of research.

Our Graduate Summer School has gained international recognition. Over the years we have received generous grants from Japan Society, The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, and Mitsubishi Corporation among others. These grants are used to offer bursaries to students whose university cannot help financially. Our cutting-edge teaching methodology has obtained recognition in Japan and it has been acknowledged in academic publications. American, European and UK institutions see it as a ‘must-do’ for any graduate student who is starting research on early-modern Japanese literature.

If you are interested in joining us please visit: We are the only institution in the world that offers this kind of training!