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  • Gateway to Japan: Hakata in War and Peace, 500-1300
  • Charlotte von Verschuer
Gateway to Japan: Hakata in War and Peace, 500-1300. By Bruce L. Batten. University of Hawai'i Press, 2006. 183 pages. Hardcover $55.00; softcover $25.00.

Those interested in the history of cross-border intercourse will find important clues about Japan's relations with surrounding peoples in Gateway to Japan: Hakata in War and Peace, 500-1300. While focusing on Hakata, the ancient name of the present-day northern Kyushu city of Fukuoka, the book is about more than the history of a city. Its purview extends broadly to encompass the story of how and why the Japanese have been curious about the outside world. As the author, Bruce Batten, puts it on the last page, "Japan may be an island country, but its people are not 'naturally' insular" (p. 140).

The book is organized thematically into five chapters dealing respectively with war, diplomacy, piracy, and trade in the ancient period, and ending with a glance at medieval Hakata. Starting with war may at first seem somewhat harsh, but the reader is soon convinced of the plausibility of Batten's approach. In the first chapter, Batten recalls the arrival of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry's fleet in Tokyo bay in 1853 and its consequences for the modern history of Japan. A similar scenario took place in 664, we are told, when the people of a fishing village on the island of Tsushima one day saw several Chinese warships sail into view. The ships came in the wake of the victory the previous year by the combined forces of Tang and Silla over the large army the Yamato state had sent to the aid of its ally, the Korean kingdom of Paekche. Several other such flotillas arrived in the following years, including one in 671 that consisted of forty-seven Chinese warships, with a total crew of six hundred and carrying fourteen hundred Japanese prisoners of war. As Batten observes, warfare in the region was commonplace "in the early centuries C.E."; indeed, he describes the expansion from local to interregional and international conflict in the 660s as "an East Asian 'world war'" (p. 18). During the years after 663, fear of invasion prompted the Yamato state to construct huge fortification works on the Inland Sea and the northern coast of Kyushu as well as to install the sakimori border guard defense system. Within a decade, an "international boundary" had come into existence where none existed before (p. 24), with various consequences for the people of the region and their relationship with the Yamato government. (Batten has also addressed the issue of border formation and its impact in his previous book, To the Ends of Japan: Premodern Frontiers, Boundaries, and Interactions; University of Hawai'i Press, 2003.)

Prior to this time, the people of Tsushima had been accustomed to seeing foreign vessels and had gone "abroad" to fish and barter with the peoples of other lands, with whom they occasionally intermarried. The islanders had lived free from interference [End Page 481] by any central administration. After the events of the 660s and early 670s, Japan had a fortified border and a system of control over all foreign intercourse through a single gateway: the Dazaifu headquarters, located some distance south of Hakata bay (and protected by the huge Ōno fortress to its north), and the Tsukushi Lodge on the shores of the bay, where any foreigners allowed to disembark on Japanese soil were required to stay. The first chapter sets the stage: the Tsukushi Lodge would remain the main gate of entry to Japan for several centuries to come. Batten's perception of a momentous shift at the dawn of Japanese history and his analysis of the events of the seventh century are convincing, and his presentation of the geographical setting and relevant archaeological data adds vividness to his account. Photographs, maps, and graphs introduce Dazaifu to us as a new city that would gradually grow to hold several thousand inhabitants, including officials, soldiers, artisans, and their families. Its officials were responsible for the regional administration of the Kyushu provinces, the management of Japan's...


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