SOAS University of London

Japan Research Centre

Japanese Castles: Tradition, Modernity, and Militarism from the 1860s to the Postwar

IMG - 20170301 - Oleg Benesch
Dr Oleg Benesch (University of York)

Date: 1 March 2017Time: 5:05 PM

Finishes: 1 March 2017Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Seminar


Castles are some of Japan’s most iconic structures, and have become prominent symbols of local, regional, and national identity recognized both at home and abroad. The current exalted status of Japan’s castles obscures their troubled modern history, however, when the vast majority of premodern structures were abandoned, dismantled, or destroyed before being rediscovered and reinvented as physical links to an idealized martial past. From the turn of the twentieth century to the end of the Second World War, castles contributed both symbolically and physically to the militarization of Japanese society in several unique ways. The importance of castles changed dramatically after 1945, but was not diminished. Now shorn of their overt militarism and connections with the discredited imperial state, castles became symbols of local and regional identity, linking these to their “safe” premodern pasts by skipping over the problematic aspects of imperial modernity. This paper examines the history of Japan’s castles from the late nineteenth century to the present to provide a new approach to narratives of continuity and change in modern Japan.

Speaker Biography

Dr Oleg Benesch is Lecturer in East Asian History at the University of York, specializing in the history of early modern and modern Japan and China. His publications and research interests cover a variety of fields, including Japanese intellectual, religious, and social history, Chinese intellectual history, as well as the transnational history of modern East Asia. Dr Benesch's first book, Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan (Oxford University Press, Sept. 2014), examines the historical development of the ostensibly traditional Japanese ethic of bushido—the “way of the samurai”—from the nineteenth century onward. He and Prof Ran Zwigenberg of the Pennsylvania State University are currently completing a manuscript examining the history of Japanese castles in the modern period. For more information, please see

Organiser: Centres & Programmes Office

Contact email:

Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4893