My research focuses primarily on the urban and architectural history of Japan and eastern Asia to 1800, with interests extending to religion, material culture, and monumentalism in Japan and Southeast Asia.
In the thirteenth century, after Japan was rocked by a series of natural and man-made disasters, a wise old man took to the hills in search of inner peace. Living in a small grass hut, isolated from the world, Kamo no Chōmei (1155–1216) put brush to paper and wrote the poetic masterpiece Hōjōki. This classic work of Japanese literature is the product of an age of profound social and political turmoil. And yet, its message about the transcendent power of simplicity and self-reliance is universal. Today, as many of us negotiate the contradiction of gnawing despondency amidst unprecedented abundance, Hōjōki reminds us that clinging to possessions, status, and social recognition can only bring suffering. With unvarnished honesty and profound compassion, this inspirational work invites readers to reassess their attachment to worldly success and to contemplate the inner quiet that comes from solitude.
The ‘Kitayama-dono’ constituted a sprawling temple-palace complex that covered a massive 436 acres. While in residence there, Yoshimitsu exercised de facto control over Japanese politics, economic affairs and international diplomacy for about eight years after 1400. Following his death in 1408, the site was largely abandoned. Only the small area around the Golden Pavilion was converted into the Zen temple of Rokuonji, better known today as Kinkakuji. Investigation into the architecture and spatial composition of the Kitayama complex opens up new ways of thinking about medieval Japanese power and politics. This article summarises my own findings on the property with the aim of inviting readers to look beyond the Golden Pavilion to imagine an even more majestic complex indicative of an extraordinary period in Japanese history. // TAASA Review: The Journal of the Asian Arts Society of Australia, 32/3 (Sep. 2023).
This book is a complete transliteration and translation into modern Japanese of Gakizōshi, The Hungry Ghost Scroll (Kyoto National Museum edition) from 12th-century Japan. It is written entirely in Japanese.
An examination of the 12th-century Hungry Ghost Scroll in the collection of the Kyoto National Museum reveals new ways to think about concepts of space and time in Buddhist cosmology. This essay examines that cosmology by exploring the special circumstances in which hungry ghosts gain access to food and water though savic acts. // TAASA Review: The Journal of the Asian Arts Society of Australia, 31/4 (Dec. 2022).
Amulets and talismans are ubiquitous elements of Japan’s cultural landscape. Issued by temples and shrines throughout the archipelago, they can be found on prominent display in people’s homes and cars or dangling conspicuously from mobile phones and school bags. They come in every shape and size, ranging from small, intricately woven satchels to gaudy, highly reflective bumper stickers. Their efficacies are equally varied. Some protect their holders from disease or malevolent forces. Others guarantee traffic safety or success in romance and business. // TAASA Review: The Journal of the Asian Arts Society of Australia, 30/3 (Sep. 2021): 4-6.
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, 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: http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/466
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: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/682983
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. www.kyotohistory.com
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 legitimised their rule by drawing on foreign idioms of authority.
Search the Internet for a high resolution images of the Ryōkai-mandala, the mandalas of the two realms! Chances are that you won't find any good ones, until now!
These are scans of images on sale at the temple of Rengeōin in Kyoto.
This guide outlines how to extract data from the bunkachō database, customize it, and use it to make your own interactive maps for publishing on Google Maps.