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A Tale of Two Cities: Kyoto and Tokyo – four online talks by Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones

posted on 15/04/24


The Japanese Architect Tadao Ando once wrote, ‘In Japan a temple is made of wood. The divine spirit of the building is eternal, so the enclosure doesn’t have to be.’ In other words, Japanese culture finds beauty in impermanence – the celebration of the fleeting cherry blossom, the aesthetics of wabi sabi (imperfection) and mono no aware (wistfulness). Nothing in Japan lasts forever – the power of earthquakes, fires and tsunamis have seen to that – and yet Japan is steeped in a tradition that stretches back to its mythical origins. Cities fall and cities are rebuilt; the traditions do not perish.

In a series of four beautifully illustrated lectures Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones will explore the idea of impermanence/permanence in two pivotal periods in Japanese history, through two specific sites – Kyoto in the Heian era (794 to 1185) and Tokyo (or Edo as it was known) in the period of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603 to 1868). The talks will examine the history, arts and daily life of Japan in these formative periods of great cultural significance, exposing the richness of one of the world’s great civilisations.

They take place every Tuesday from 6th–27th August at 4.30pm and, including Q&A, will probably last just under an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (22nd October 2024).

Register for the webinar series for £55

The talks

1. Kyoto – The World of the Shining Prince (6th August 2024)

Founded in 794, Heian-kyo (‘Capital of Peace and Tranquility’, present-day Kyoto, became the seat of the court of the Japanese emperor, after it moved from the nearby city of Nara. The new capital would remain the heart of Japan for a thousand years and even today Kyoto is still considered the cultural capital of the country. In this ‘Florence of the East’, the emperor appointed senior advisers who were responsible for government business and who managed to arrogate imperial power for themselves. The exploits of this powerful class of nobles forms the background to Japan’s first great literary masterpiece, The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari) and this lecture will focus on what the book tells us about life in early Kyoto.

2. Kyoto – Crossing the Bridge of Dreams (13th August 2024)

In the Heian period Japan developed its own writing systems. The era is still regarded as a golden age of literature – and it was the work of women that predominated. Not only did Lady Murasaki Shikibu write the brilliant Genji monogatari, but other court ladies wrote poetry and a series of unique literary outputs known as ‘pillow books’ (Makura no soshi). These diaries-cum-musings tell us much about daily life in Heian-era Kyoto and this talk will explore the greatest of them all – the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, a dazzling display of comic and melancholy observations on the activities and mores of Heian aristocrats.

3. Tokyo – Tokugawa Ieyasu and the Creation of Edo (20th August 2024)

Although the emperor nominally ruled from Kyoto, the Tokugawa Shogunate established its administrative capital in Edo – present-day Tokyo – seat of the military government. Tokugawa Ieyasu consolidated his power by eliminating all rivals and his family, the Tokugawas ruled without interruption for over 250 years. With Japan completely closed to foreigners (a policy of isolationism called sakoku), Edo witnessed a tremendous cultural blossoming. This talk explores the creation of Edo and its districts and takes a concentrated look at the lifestyle of the Shoguns and their women within Edo Castle.

4. Tokyo – Willow Worlds (27th August 2024)

Today a district that looks very similar to many other neighbourhoods in modern Tokyo, in the Edo period the area known as Yoshiwara was the greatest ‘pleasure quarter’ in all Japan. This well-known red-light district was created in 1617 by the Tokugawa shogunate, alongside Shimabara in Kyoto in 1640. Created by the shogunate to curtail the tastes of and sequester the nouveau riche chōnin (merchant) classes, the entertainment offered in Yoshiwara would eventually give rise to the creation of geisha, who would become known as the fashionable companions of the chōnin classes. This talk explores the pleasures and dangers of Yoshiwara and examines its depiction in ukiyo-e, popular prints. Alongside the world of courtesans, we will look at actors and the popularity of kabuki drama in the Edo period.

Illustrated Handscrolls of The Tale of Genji (The Met)

The speaker

Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones

Chair of Ancient History and Persian Studies at the University of Cardiff and specialist in the history and culture of Iran, the ancient Near East and Greece. He has published widely on Iran, Greece and the history and cultures of the ancient world. Books include Creating a Hellenistic World, King and Court in Ancient Persia, The Culture of Animals in the Ancient World, The Hellenistic Court, Designs on the Past: How Hollywood Created the Ancient World and, in 2022, Persians: the Age of the Great Kings. His latest publication is Ancient Persia and the Book of Esther, Achaemenid Court Culture in the Hebrew Bible and his next publication is about the forgotten queens of Egypt. He has contributed to TV documentaries and BBC radio programmes and is a regular reviewer for The Times and Times Higher Education.

Register for the webinar series for £55

Frequently asked questions

What methods of payment do you accept?

An electronic invoice will be sent to your e-mail address 1–3 working days after you have completed our registration form. Payment can be made online using AMEX, Apple Pay, Google Pay, MasterCard or Visa.

How do I purchase the webinar series as a gift?

Please contact us specifying how many subscriptions you would like and who they are for (we require their full name and e-mail address). We will invoice you directly, and after we have received your payment we will release the webinar joining instructions to your friend(s) or family member(s).

Can I purchase a single episode?

No, unfortunately not. The series must be purchased in full.

How do I join the webinar?

An e-mail confirmation will be sent to you after you have paid for your subscription, which includes your unique link for joining the webinar. Reminder e-mails will be sent to you one day and one hour before each event. We recommend that you download the Zoom software in advance of the first webinar.

Can I watch the live broadcast(s) on more than one device?

Only one device can be connected to the live broadcast(s) at any one time. If you wish to purchase a second subscription, please contact us.

What happens if I am unable to attend the live broadcast(s)? 

A recording will be uploaded to a dedicated webpage approximately two hours after the live broadcast. For copyright reasons, these recordings cannot be made available indefinitely; access is granted for eight weeks after the final live broadcast of the series.

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