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Exploring the Material Culture of Edo Japan – NCTA in-person Summer Program

Nihonbashi Fish Market Prosperity (Edo period). Ukiyo-e by Utagawa Kuniyasu (1794-1832).

This is an in-person program taking place at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA.

Course Description

When Edo (present day Tokyo) became the military capital of Japan in 1604, it was a minor and remote fishing village. Yet by the mid-1700s the city had become the largest city in Japan and rivaled the older cultural hubs of Osaka and Kyoto, surpassing Paris and London in size. Material culture produced in Edo reflected this spatial shift and its rise as the new center of Japan. In turn, Edo projected this centrality to an increasingly national audience.  At the same time, the material culture of Edo reflects an insatiable demand for depictions of and information about an expansive world view and awareness of global trends and developments.

In addition to space, Edo is also an expansive historical period, stretching from the early 1600s to the middle of the 1800s. This era is remembered and represented as the age of popular, lowbrow culture; however, it was also a time of great reflection and engagement with the past; urban commoners and samurai alike consumed classical texts, styles, and accoutrement, as they used their wealth and time to learn poetry, painting, philosophy, and other cultural markers of class. The objectified cultural capital of Edo was hybrid–-mixing old and new, low and high, sumptuous and simple.

Exploring the Material Culture of Edo Japan will examine the significance of Edo as both a location and a historical period. To better understand this place and time, we will consider short stories, poetry, utilitarian objects, decorative arts, and related primary source documents.

This program will be led by Melanie King, Art Historian and Brian Dowdle, Associate Professor of Japanese Language and Culture and Mansfield Fellow, University of Montana.

Program details

This is an in-person, three-day program taking place at the University of Washington campus in Seattle, WA. Attendance of all three sessions is mandatory in order to complete the program.

Wednesday, June 26 – 9:00 am – 3:30 pm

Thursday, June 27 – 9:00 am – 3:30 pm

Friday, June 28 – 9:00 am – 12:30 pm

Participants are expected to make their own travel arrangements. Additional information regarding housing will be provided upon acceptance to the program. Partial travel reimbursement might be available (please contact for additional information).


In advance of attending the program, participants will need to complete all assigned readings and write a short reflection paper.

Program benefits upon completion of seminar

  • Free books, materials, and resources.

  • Stipend for additional classroom resources.

  • Free WA OSPI clock hours.


This program is free and open to current in-service of all grades and related subjects. Space is limited to 16 participants. The priority deadline to apply is April 28, 2024. Participants will be notified of their acceptance by May 6. To apply, please follow this link.


This program is sponsored by the East Asia Resource Center at the University of Washington and funded by a Freeman Foundation grant in support of the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA).