My research focuses primarily on the urban and architectural history of Japan and East Asia to 1800, with interests extending to religion, material culture, and monumentalism.

Recently, I've been exploring how medieval Japanese kingship followed a symbolic grammar similar to that of the great Hindu-Buddhist empires of Southeast Asia. Sprawling temple-palace complexes and monumental pagodas helped Japanese rulers—not necessarily emperors—assert an anthropocosmic connection between themselves and the divine. They were legitimising their rule based on foreign idioms of authority.

Highlighted Projects

The Shōkokuji Pagoda 相国寺大塔

The Shōkokuji pagoda was a breathtaking statement about the capacity of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu 足利義満 (1358-1408) to leverage the symbolic power of architecture and ritual pageantry to advance his political aims. It towered a staggering 109 meters above Kyoto's urban landscape and was decorated to represent a stacked mandala of the two realms (ryōkai mandara 両界 曼荼羅). By building the structure, the Yoshimitsu sought to create a context within which the symbols and rituals of Hindu-Buddhist kingship could be deployed to assert a status synonymous with dharma king (hōō 法皇). Find out more from this article in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, written with Tomishima Yoshiyuki 冨島義幸:

Monuments and Mandalas in Medieval Kyoto

The strategic creation of palaces and temples helped Ashikaga Yoshimitsu 足利義満 (1358-1408) infiltrate and eventually dominate warrior, imperial, and religious spheres of influence in Kyoto. More important, he leveraged the allusive power of architecture and urban planning to forge an anthropocosmic connection between himself and the divine. I suggest that Yoshimitsu—like his counterparts in the premodern Buddhist centers of Angkor, Bagan, and Borobudur—sought to transform Japan’s medieval capital into an expression of sacred geography, thereby advancing his aim of attaining a status synonymous with dharma king. Find out more from this article in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies:

Kyoto: An Urban History of Japan's Premodern Capital

Kyoto: An Urban History of Japan's Premodern Capital (Univ. Hawai'i Press: 2014) explores Kyoto’s urban landscape across eight centuries, beginning with the city's foundation in 794 and concluding at the dawn of the early modern era in about 1600.