[I-House Lecture]
“Down and Out in Meiji Japan”—Lessons from the Urban Slums

This event now concluded.

  • Lecturer: James L. Huffman (H. Orth Hirt Professor History Emeritus, Wittenberg University)
  • Date: Friday, April 12, 2019, 7:00-8:30 pm (Doors open at 6:30 pm)
  • Venue: Lecture Hall, International House of Japan
  • Language: English (without Japanese interpretation)
  • Admission: 1,000 yen (students: 500 yen, IHJ members: free)
  • Seating: 100 (reservations required)

Officials in Tokyo and Osaka were shocked in the late Meiji years by the explosive growth of slums, sprawling areas populated by hundreds of thousands of ex-villagers seeking jobs in the modernizing cities. Like their counterparts in London and New York, these people, generally referred to as hinmin, lived in polluted neighborhoods where entire families crowded into one-room apartments without toilets, running water, or adequate cooking facilities. Their paltry salaries meant their children had to work for pay rather than go to school. Most slum-dwellers took life on with zest, however, thronging street markets and festivals, staging protest rallies, and struggling to improve their conditions. Professor Huffman will discuss the lessons he learned while studying these people: the things they teach about human survival, the light they shed on capitalism, the insights they provide into class relationships—and what they have to tell us about how Japanese attitudes toward poverty have changed across the last century. He also will reflect on questions the hinmin experience raised for him about the broader nature of history, questions such as why vast segments of people are omitted from standard histories and how that omission distorts our view of the past.

James L. Huffman (H. Orth Hirt Professor History Emeritus, Wittenberg University)

James L. HuffmanH. Orth Hirt Professor History Emeritus at Wittenberg University in Ohio. A former reporter, Prof. Huffman has studied Japanese history for half a century. While his early work focused on the newspaper press, he has spent the last decade attempting to understand the Meiji era’s urban poor. He has published eight books, including Creating a Public: People and Press in Meiji Japan (University of Hawaii Press, 1997), Japan in World History (Oxford University Press, 2010), and Down and Out in Late Meiji Japan (University of Hawaii Press, 2018). He was a visiting scholar three times at the University of Tokyo and more recently has taught at Dartmouth College and Williams College. In 2017 he received the Association for Asian Studies Distinguished Contributions Award.