SOAS University of London

Japan Research Centre

Entrepreneurial Aristocrats and Courtly Casters: Seeing Social Status through Artisanal Labor in Medieval Japan

Artisanal Labor in Medieval Japan
Paula R. Curtis (Yale University)

Date: 9 December 2020Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 9 December 2020Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Virtual Event

Type of Event: Webinar


Prevailing images of premodern Japan often evoke elegant, courtly life or the violence of warrior competitors. But what about the mundane? Who fashioned their tea kettles, provisioned their banquet lanterns, and kept their sword hilts in prime condition? This talk highlights the lives of those “downstairs,” the lower nobility and artisanal producers whose work gave substance to elite ideals, and considers their social and economic intersections in order to better understand the underlying structures of medieval institutions of authority. Focusing on the imperial court, I examine how Matsugi Hisanao, a low-ranking courtier, reestablished lapsed patronage relationships with artisanal metal caster organizations in the later sixteenth century. His entrepreneurial pursuit of transregional business relations with casters and their provincial overlords was not new, but built upon a long legacy of privileges that casters enjoyed as purveyors of goods and services to the court. A fuller understanding of the roles and prerogatives that these lower nobility and artisanal laborers retained reveals the permeability and fluidity of social status in medieval Japanese society, as well as how the labor of some of its least visible figures was critical to the longevity of its most iconic institutions.

Speaker Biography

Paula R. Curtis is a historian of medieval Japan. She is presently a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer in History at Yale University with the Council on East Asian Studies. Her current book project focuses on metal caster organizations from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries and their relationships with elite institutions. She also works on the history of documentary forgery in premodern Japan. In addition, Dr. Curtis collaborates in several online projects, including the Digital Humanities Japan initiative; an online database for digital resources related to East Asia; the blog What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies; and the digital archive Carving Community: The Landis-Hiroi Collection.


If you would like to attend the event please register. The link to the webinar will be emailed to the registered attendee closer to the event date. Online registration

Organiser: SOAS Japan Research Centre

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