Peter Nosco


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Spirits and identity in nineteenth-century northeastern Japan: Hirata Kokugaku and the Tsugaru Disciples (2013)

While previous research on kokugaku, or nativism, has explained how intellectuals imagined the singular community of Japan, this study sheds light on how posthumous disciples of Hirata Atsutane based in Tsugaru juxtaposed two “countries”—their native Tsugaru and Imperial Japan—as they transitioned from early modern to modern society in the nineteenth century. This new perspective recognizes the multiplicity of community in “Japan,” which encompasses the domain, multiple levels of statehood, and “nation,” as uncovered in recent scholarship. My analysis accentuates the shared concerns of Atsutane and the Tsugaru nativists toward spirits and the spiritual realm, ethnographic studies of commoners, identification with the north, and religious thought and worship. I chronicle the formation of this scholarly community through their correspondence with the head academy in Edo (later Tokyo), and identify their autonomous character. Hirao Rosen conducted ethnography of Tsugaru and the “world” through visiting the northern island of Ezo in 1855, and observing Americans, Europeans, and Qing Chinese stationed there. I show how Rosen engaged in self-orientation and utilized Hirata nativist theory to locate Tsugaru within the spiritual landscape of Imperial Japan. Through poetry and prose, leader Tsuruya Ariyo identified Mount Iwaki as a sacred pillar of Tsugaru, and insisted one could experience “enjoyment” from this life and beyond death in the realm of spirits. The Tsugaru nativists’ cause was furthered when their domain of Hirosaki switched allegiance from the Tokugawa to Imperial forces in the Boshin War of 1868 to 1869, and a domainal samurai from their group fought and died for the emperor. This young samurai was among 64 fallen soldiers who were honoured and deified in the shōkonsai ritual performed by Shinto priests of the group, an event which distinguished the domain as a loyal supporter of Imperial Japan. In conclusion, I describe the Tsugaru nativists’ experience of modernity, as members carried out religious reform, immortalized the domain through editing histories and poetry collections, and observed the rise of Hirata nativism in the creation of the Meiji state, only to witness its decline in a society which modernized rapidly, while embracing new and foreign intellectual influences.

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Bushido: The Creation of a Martial Ethic in Late Meiji Japan (2011)

This study examines the development of the concept of “bushido,” or the “way of the warrior,” in modern Japan, focusing on the period between the mid-nineteenth century and the early 1930s. The popular view holds that bushido was a centuries-old code of behavior rooted in the historical samurai class and transmitted into the modern period, where it was a fundamental component of Japanese militarism before 1945. In fact, the concept of bushido was largely unknown before the last decade of the nineteenth century, and was widely disseminated only after 1900, especially after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. This study argues that modern bushido discourse began in the 1880s, and was dependent on political and cultural currents relating to Japan’s modernization and the nation’s attempts to redefine itself in the face of foreign “others,” primarily China and the West. Following more than a decade of largely unquestioned thrusts towards modernization and Westernization after 1868, Japanese thinkers looked to their own traditions in search of sources of national identity. The first discussions of bushido at this time were not the work of conservative reactionaries, however, but were conceived by relatively progressive individuals with considerable international experience and a command of Western languages. Some of the first modern writings on bushido clearly posit the concept as a potential native equivalent to the English ethic of “gentlemanship,” which was widely admired in late-nineteenth century Japan, and much of early bushido discourse should be seen primarily as a response to outside stimuli. This study examines the causes and effects of the “bushido boom” that took place between 1898 and 1914, which firmly established the concept not only in Japan, but throughout the world. In this context, this study analyzes the use of bushido by the Japanese military and educational system, as well as its popularization by prominent figures in the early twentieth century. This study also examines the reasons for the decline in the popularity of bushido between 1914 and the early 1930s, thereby providing points of departure for future research on the trajectory of bushido from 1932 to the present day.

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Toward the late Tokugawa public sphere : dissent, remonstration, and agitation in the Settsu province (2009)

This dissertation addresses the growth of the public sphere and its chief componentsthrough an examination of late eighteenth and nineteenth century cases of remonstration inSettsu, one of early modern Japan’s eighty provinces. Encompassing the city of Osaka andits twelve surrounding districts, Settsu served not only as the economic center of earlymodern Japan or the so-called “Country’s Kitchen,” but it also represented a hotbed ofintellectual debate, social change, and most importantly for the purposes of this dissertation,discontent. These trends in social contention from Settsu further set the tone for dissentacross early modern Japan in the 1800s.I adapt Jürgen Habermas’ model of a public sphere—a discursive arena between theofficial and domestic sphere where one may express him or herself on public matters—informulating my own paradigm of the public sphere of late Tokugawa Japan. For lateTokugawa civil society, I define it as voluntary associations where those active in the publicsphere may gather and formulate their thoughts. In addition to civil society, I include suchelements as aesthetics, print literature, religious travel, the marketplace, entertainment,village affairs, and of course dissent within the public sphere.Employing primary documents from compendiums of early modern Japanese peasantuprisings, local histories, and secondary literature, I follow a chronological progression inoutlining the public sphere’s development. Two chapters are devoted respectively toseparate incidents in 1837, Ōshio Heihachirō’s Osaka uprising and Yamadaya Daisuke’sNose riot, in order to account for individual interest as a contributor to the public sphere.The penultimate chapter departs from the chronological schema to analyze kokuso or interprovincialmercantile protests from the 1740s through the 1850s, thereby discussing the roleof the marketplace in civil society and the public sphere.The dissertation’s conclusion first summarizes the principal contributors to Settsu’spublic sphere. Then, it explores certain episodes of remonstration outside of Settsu todemonstrate the impact of the province’s social movements elsewhere in late TokugawaJapan. Finally, it proposes that the Edo Bakufu had played a pivotal role in the publicsphere’s development by the end of the Shogun’s rule.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Ogyu Sorai, Human Nature and Edo Society: the Chinese Context (2014)

This thesis deals with the prevailing image of Ogyū Sorai 荻生徂徠 (1666-1728) as a pioneer who proposed to read Chinese classics not in the Japanese way of kundoku 訓読 but in its original way, i.e. in the Chinese word order and pronunciation. I challenge the historical accuracy of this image and regard it as a product created mainly by the prominent Japanese Sinologist, Yoshikawa Kōjirō 吉川幸次郎 (1904-1980). It is well known that Sorai stressed the importance of rites, music, punishments and administration 禮樂刑政 as external forces which transform the internal mind from the outside. I believe that Sorai stressed mastery of literary style rather than mastery of colloquial Chinese as an external thing 物. His belief in practicality which was cultivated by the art of war led Sorai to attempt to realize a world based on a rigid meritocratic hierarchy. Therefore, Sorai proposed to return to the literary styles of the Qin, Han and Tang dynasties whose political situations were highly centralized. This, he believed, would serve to transform the feudalistic hereditary Neo-Confucian Edo state composed of Shogun and Daimyo into a more centralized and meritocratic one through educational policy. In pre-modern China, literature and politics were thought to be connected closely. Previous research, however, had been centered around literary studies focusing on the influence of the Guwenci pai 古文辭派 (Old Phraseology School) upon Sorai’s Kobunji 古文辭 (Ancient Words and Phrases) school. In short, there was no bifurcation in Sorai’s thought between literature and politics in the modern sense. I propose that Yoshikawa separated literature from politics in Sorai’s thought to prove the legitimacy of his own methodology of the evidential school. I will demonstrate their closeness by questioning why Sorai proposed to read poems from the High Tang dynasty instead of the Zhou-dynasty The Book of Songs 詩經. Finally in my conclusion, I suggest that Sorai’s design was ultimately realized in the Meiji era.

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