Friday, March 18, 2011
1–3 p.m.
Lucy Ellis Lounge
Foreign Language Building

Professor Laura Nenzi (Department of History, University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

Portents and Politics in Late-Tokugawa Japan: Kurosawa Tokiko and the Comet of 1858

Kurosawa Tokiko (1806-1890) was born and raised in Mito domain, about 100 km northeast of Edo. As most women in her day and age, she did not pay much attention to political issues. Then, on the evening of September 30, 1858, a neighbor rushed over announcing the arrival of a large comet. In her later writings Tokiko would identify the comet as the spark that ignited her activism: she interpreted the portent in a political key, embraced the loyalist faction and, in 1859, surreptitiously traveled to Kyoto to deliver a petition to none other than the emperor. This presentation will draw on Tokiko’s unpublished diaries to follow the trajectory of her political awakening and examine the role of the 1858 comet as part and parcel of her political vocabulary.

Laura Nenzi is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Tennessee. She is the author of Excursions in Identity: Travel and the Intersection of Place, Gender, and Status in Edo Japan (University of Hawaiii Press, 2008) and of various articles on the culture of travel in the early modern period. Her current research focuses on female political activism in late Tokugawa Japan.