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Universal Frontiers and the Mutual Constitution of Tōhoku and Kyoto

Sat, June 25, 8:30 to 10:20am, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 108


This paper explores Iwate-born historian Takahashi Tomio’s application of Frederick Jackson Turner’s “frontier thesis” to ancient Japanese history as a structural model recognizing the mutual constitution of metropole and frontier and a remedy for national history’s particularism. Reimagining Tōhoku as a universal frontier was one aspect of Takahashi’s three-part project to find in the history and culture of the Northeast the seed of a new value system for postwar Japan. He contended that the conquest and management of Tōhoku was the first major project of the Japanese state after its formation in the mid-seventh century, and that this consuming preoccupation with Tōhoku was a formative influence on the shape of Japan thereafter. I argue that Takahashi’s fascination with Turner and the structural similarities between the European colonization of the American West and the Japanese conquest of the Northeast is best understood in the context of the universalist historiographies—derived variously from Marx, Toynbee, and the American modernization theorists—that dominated Japanese academia after 1945 as a reaction to the failed exceptionalism of Imperial Japanese history.