Class of 2012
Barbara Yen Sun Prize
The Bakumatsu period includes the final decades of the Tokugawa Era when Japan transitioned from a shogunate-dominated cluster of domains to a unified modern nation-state. The dynamics of this period have attracted enormous interest from anime fans to historical scholars. When I did an independent study on this period at Mount Holyoke College last semester, I was surprised to find that the mainstream narratives are centered upon the three domains of Choshu, Satsuma, and Toza. However, I was intrigued by the case of Saga, a crucial part of Bakumatsu history that has not received proper attention in either English or Chinese academia, but is an indispensable piece to the puzzle of Bakumatsu Japan.
Located near Nagasaki, the only open trade port in the Tokugawa Era and equipped with the cutting-edge weapons, Saga was one of the four strong domains from the southwestern part of Japan that dominated early Meiji oligarchical government. Similar to the developmental trajectory of the other three strong domains, Saga was heavily invested in Dutch learning and was the pioneer in military strength and western technology. What distinguishes Saga from other domains was its peaceful rise in a time of turbulent changes. Despite being the strongest military power in Tokugawa Japan, Saga did not fight any wars with foreigners or choose to side with any power.
As an International Relations and Asian Studies double major, I am interested in finding out how Saga stayed neutral in a time of drastic power struggles as well as quantifying the benefits and costs of their peace. Due to the lack of Chinese and English secondary sources, I had to narrow my research almost entirely to Japanese sources.
Last semester I did a survey on the history of Saga during the Bakumatsu period based on Japanese secondary sources. However, I was not able to expand my research into an honors thesis because the primary sources are inaccessible. The Barbara Yen Sun Prize allows me to go to Saga during the summer to continue my research. I hope to make substantial progress this summer and if possible complete the project as a PhD dissertation in the future.