New Faces on Japan Dissertation Reviews


We are very excited to welcome two new editors to “Japan Studies Dissertation Reviews,” Akiko Takenaka (University of Kentucky) and Niels van Steenpaal (University of Tokyo), as we bid a very fond farewell to our long-serving colleague Dennis Frost (Kalamazoo College). Our new triumvirate of editors — William Fleming (Yale University), Akiko and Niels — will continue to bring you friendly, non-critical overviews of recently defended, unpublished dissertations in this dynamic field. If you are interested in having your dissertation reviewed, please fill out the Review Application Form. If you are interested in helping out in some other way, please contact Our Japan Studies Editors can be reached at, and


Introducing Our Field Editors

William Fleming is Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures and Theater Studies at Yale. He specializes in the literature and cultural history of early modern Japan. His dissertation, entitled “The World Beyond the Walls: Morishima Chūryō (1756-1810) and the Development of Late Edo Fiction” (Harvard 2011), explores the rich interrelationship between early modern Japanese fiction and contemporary intellectual movements including nativist studies and inquiry into Dutch, vernacular Chinese, and Russian materials. The dissertation challenges the view of Edo fiction as largely isolated from outside influence and offers a new way of thinking about the transformation of gesaku, the period’s so-called “playful literature,” from a pastime of the intellectual elite into a form of true popular fiction. His current research interests include the representation of disease and the body in premodern Japanese literature and the reception of Chinese fiction in the late Edo period, with a particular focus on the case of Pu Songling’s celebrated collection of “strange” tales, Liaozhai zhiyi. [Website here]


Akiko Takenaka is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Kentucky. She specializes in the cultural and social history of modern Japan with research focus on memory and historiography of the Asia-Pacific War. Trained as an architect and an architectural historian, she is particularly interested in the intersection between memory and space, and has examined a variety of memorial spaces broadly conceived, including memorials, museums and urban spaces, as well as virtual spaces of memory. She is the author of the book Memory and Spatial Practice: Yasukuni Shrine and Japan’s Unending Postwar, which will be published in the “Study of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute” series. The work examines Yasukuni Shrine — the contentious war memorial in Tokyo, Japan — as a physical space, object of visual and spatial representation, and site of spatial practice in order to highlight the complexity of Yasukuni’s past and critique the official narratives that postwar debates have responded to. She is currently working on a new project entitled War, Trauma and Postwar in Japan and East Asia in which she investigates the effect of trauma on war memory, as well as the influence of such representations on international relations in East Asia. She has published in journals such as The Pacific Historical Review, The Review of Japanese Culture and Society, and The Asia-Pacific Journal: The Japan Focus. She has received her PhD in Art History from Yale University, and a MS in the History, Theory and Criticism of Architecture and Art from MIT.  Her undergraduate degree is BEng in architecture from the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Prior to her appointment at the University of Kentucky, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the Art of East Asia (University of Chicago), and the Michigan Society of Fellows (University of Michigan). [Website here]


Niels van Steenpaal is a research fellow at the University of Tokyo where he conducts research on various aspects of early modern Japanese “moral culture,” a term that he uses to describe the pathways, processes and media through which morality finds expression in material culture. Although he still has a soft spot for the subject of his dissertation, “The Celebration of Filial Children in Early Modern Japan: Towards a History of Moral Culture” (Kyoto University 2012), which explored the cultural patterns behind the “creation” of filial children, he has now turned his attention to developing a statistical methodology to harness collective biographical material in order to look at the long term development of moral vocabulary throughout the Edo, Meiji and Taisho period. [Website here]

Editor’s Update (March 26, 2014): Niels van Steenpaal is now an Assistant Professor at the Kyoto University Hakubi Center for Advanced Research. As part of his primary research interest in “moral culture”—the pathways, processes and media through which morality finds expression in material culture—he is currently engaged in a digital humanities project that harnesses biographical material in order to look at the long term development of the Japanese moral imagination throughout the Edo, Meiji and Taisho periods.

Our Departing Editor

Dennis Frost is Wen Chao Chen Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies at Kalamazoo College. His first book, Seeing Stars: Sports Celebrity, Identity, and Body Culture in Modern Japan (Harvard Asia Center, 2011), traces the emergence and evolution of sports celebrity in Japan from the 1600s through the present, giving particular attention to the ways in which sports stars have both reflected and shaped society and body culture. He is currently working on two different projects. One is a study of sporting events for disabled athletes, which examines the different ways in which Japanese society has perceived and addressed disability in the postwar period, and the second is a comparative study examining the histories of several military “base towns” in Okinawa and other regions in Japan, which explores the US military’s ongoing influence on the people, society, culture, and environment of post-war Japan. [Website here]



Image: Ultraman.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like