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Evaluating Evidence

A Positivist Approach to Reading Sources on Modern Japan

George Akita

Publication Year: 2008

Evaluating Evidence is based on the grueling lessons learned by a senior scholar during three decades of tutoring by, and collaboration with, Japanese historians. George Akita persisted in the difficult task of reading documentary sources in Japanese, most written in calligraphic style (sôsho), out of the conviction of their centrality to the historian’s craft and his commitment to a positivist methodology to research and scholarship. He argues forcefully in this volume for an inductive process in which the scholar seeks out facts on a subject and, through observation and examination of an extensive body of data, is able to discern patterns until it is possible to formulate certain propositions. In his introduction, Akita relates how and why he decided to adopt a positivist approach and explains what he means by the term as it applies to humanistic studies. He enumerates the difficulties linked with reading primary sources in Japanese by looking at a variety of unpublished and published materials and identifying a major problem in reading published primary sources: the intervention of editors and compilers. He illustrates the pitfalls of such intervention by comparing the recently published seventeen-volume diary of Prime Minister Hara Takashi (1856–1921), a photo reproduction of the diary in Hara’s own hand, and an earlier published version. Using documents related to Yamagata Aritomo (1838–1922), a figure of central importance in Japan’s post-Restoration political history, he demonstrates the use of published and transcribed primary sources to sustain, question, or strengthen some of the themes and approaches adopted by non-Japanese scholars working on modern Japanese history. He ends his inquiry with two "case studies," examining closely the methods of the highly acclaimed American historians John W. Dower and Herbert P. Bix.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

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pp. ix-xi

THIS BOOK began as an article in 1997, in between transcribing letters and documents written in the cursive script (sōsho), translating the transcripts as well as published documents on Meiji-Taishō political history, and working with Japanese colleagues on publishing the multivolume Shina-gawa Yajirō Kankei Monjo (SYKM). Its roots, however, can be traced to ...

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pp. xiii-xv

A PERSON can be born and earn a master’s degree in a quarter of a century, and one can incur, as well, a lot of on (indebtedness) in that time. The years of support by the granting agencies and their selection committees over the years is acknowledged with gratitude. The deeply felt obligation to repay the accumulated on to them has much to do with the compulsion to continue. ...

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pp. 1-8

THE UNIVERSITY of Hawai‘i in the late 1940s and 1950s was a small liberal arts college of some four to five thousand students. It could even have been called a “cow college,” given its establishment as a land grant institution. Indeed, cows and pigs...

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1. Japan’s Postwar Positivists: The IHKM and YAKM Projects

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pp. 9-29

In the midst of the imposing edifices in Chiyoda-ku that house Japan’s bureaucratic elites stands the eight-story Shōyū Kaikan, the home of the Shōyū Kurabu. The Shōyū Kurabu had its genesis in the mid-Meiji period when a group from among all the counts and viscounts in the peerage formed the Shōyūkai to streamline and coordinate their selection process. All of...

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2. Reading Primary Documents: Letters, Ikensho, Nikki, and Memoirs—the Pitfalls

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pp. 30-52

Documents, especially those written by the principals involved, are one of the basic building blocks for the historian seeking to reconstruct the past. Paulding notes correctly that these documents are not necessarily what they seem, but the very awareness of the problems they raise enhances their utility and value. There is no...

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3. Hara Kei Nikki and Eiin Hara Kei Nikki Compared: Typos and Other Problems

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pp. 53-64

HARA KEIICHIRŌ followed eight guidelines in transcribing from the original Hara Kei Nikki (HKN) for the Kangensha edition, only one of which needs to be highlighted. He writes that he tried to faithfully follow the original and made changes only in the event of obvious errors.1 For example, Keiichirō used...

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4. Now That We Have These Primary Sources

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pp. 65-124

Kent Calder has exhorted fellow political scientists to “resort to political archaeology,” that is, to engage in the kind of approach favored here, “a systematic search for historical origins of key institutional features.”1 This call for more “political archeology” is seconded by...

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5. John W. Dower and Herbert P. Bix

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pp. 125-163

John W. Dower was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for his Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999). In 1975 he wrote a one-hundred-plus-page introductory essay to Origins of the Modern Japanese State: Selected Writings of E. H. Norman (New York: Pantheon, 1975).1 It was praised as “brilliant,”2 “eloquent,”3 and...

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Concluding Remarks

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pp. 164-167

PETER DUUS was also a frequent user of Kensei Shiryōshitsu in the summer of 1981, when he was doing research on what ultimately became his The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895–1910 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995). He said one day, “George, I would go crazy if I were doing what I see you doing,” to which I replied, “But Peter, I am going crazy!” “Crazy,” “obsessed,” or “possessed” may well be...


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pp. 169-225


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pp. 227-232


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pp. 233-256


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pp. 257-267

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862428
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824825607

Publication Year: 2008