Travel is Home

In the introduction to his seventeenth-century travel diary, The Narrow Road of the Interior, Matsuo Bashō declares that “travel is life, travel is home.” While the use of travel as a metaphor to express the transience of life was centuries old by Bashō’s time, the idea continues to resonate even today. 

The University of Iowa Japanese Program will host an international conference on the interaction between humans and their environments in Japanese literature, art, and culture, in which papers will explore instances of travel in all of its forms, from pilgrimage, official duties, and tourism, to military strategy, emigration, to evacuation, exile, and refuge.

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See the full schedule of conference events

See the paper abstracts


Keynote Presentation and Opening Reception
Thursday, April 4, 6:00-9:00pm, 1117 University Capitol Centre

Conference Sessions
Friday, April 5, 9:00am - 6:00pm, IMU 256 Academics Room

Conference Sessions
Saturday, April 6, 9:00am - 6:00pm, IMU 256 Academics Room



The UI Japanese Program is proud to host as keynote speaker Meredith McKinney, award-winning translator of classical and modern Japanese literature, whose translations include Sei Shônagon’s eleventh-century classic The Pillow Book, and Kokoro and Kusamakura by the early modern novelist Natsume Sôseki. After living and teaching for around 20 years in Japan, she returned to Australia in 1998 and now lives near the small town of Braidwood, in south-eastern New South Wales. She is currently a visiting fellow at the Japan Centre, Australian National University, where she teaches Japanese-English translation.


            How was travel represented in classical Japanese literature? What was the tradition that Bashô inherited in his travel journals, and just what did he do with it? This talk will take us on a quick tour of the impressively enduring characteristics of what could be termed classical Japanese travel writing, asking just what "travel" meant in the classical Japanese literary tradition and examining how this trope gathered fresh significance and momentum down the centuries.

            Beginning with the travel poetry of the Manyôshû, I will look at certain key texts through time to trace the evolution of literary travel representation, linking this back to the poetic tradition that continued to sustain it through the thousand years to Bashô's Oku no hosomichi. Along the way I will spend some time discussing the evolution of the utamakura, the reasons for its enduring importance, and its role in the story of the shifting perceptions of place and landscape through time. These various strands are then drawn together in an examination of a kind of crossroads reached in the travel journals of the 15th century renga poet Sôgi, who points forward to Bashô in fascinating ways.



Catherine Ryu is an associate professor of Japanese literature and culture at Michigan State University. Her research and teaching interests include classical Japanese literature, Heian narratives, game studies, children’s literature, graphic narratives, second language studies, digital humanities, and Zainichi studies. She served as program chair for the International Zainichi Symposium on “The Poetics of Passing: Interrogating Self-Fashioning as the Other in Zainichi Cultural Production” (2018) held at Michigan State University.

Ikumi Kaminishi is an associate professor of art history at Tufts University. She specializes in East Asian cultures and Japanese painting. She is the author of Explaining Pictures: Buddhist Propaganda and ETOKI Storytelling in Japan, which explored the pre-modern Japanese Buddhist tradition preaching with pictures by itinerant monks and nuns. Currently she is working three projects: A book on Japanese medieval visual culture with particular interests in political intrigues behind illustrated hand-scrolls (emakimono); an essay on the Illustrated Painting of Traveling Ascetic Monk Tokuhon in collaboration with The Newark Museum for their Fall exhibition; and an article on art and religion of Japan’s early-modern period for an anthology on Tokugawa History. She received her Ph. D. from The University of Chicago.

Gustav Heldt is an associate professor of Japanese literature at the University of Virginia. He is the author of The Pursuit of Harmony: Poetry and Power in Early Heian Japan (Cornell East Asia Series, 2008) and The Kojiki: An Account of Ancient Matters (Columbia University Press, 2014), as well as co-editor of China and Beyond in the Mediaeval Period (Cambria, 2014).  He has also contributed articles to Japan Forum, Japan Review, Journal of Asian Studies, Monumenta Nipponica, and U.S. Japan Women’s Journal, as well as the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (2012) and the Cambridge History of Japanese Literature(2016).

Christina Laffin is an associate professor and the Canada Research Chair in Premodern Japanese Literature and Culture at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. She is interested in women and travel, gender and genre, and education and socialization in Heian and Kamakura-era Japan. Publications include a monograph on the medieval poet Nun Abutsu (Rewriting Medieval Japanese Women: Politics, Personality, and Literary Production in the Life of Nun Abutsu, Hawai'i University Press, 2013), a co-edited collection of essays and translations on noh drama (The Noh Ominameshi: A Flower Viewed from Many Directions, Cornell East Asia Series, 2003), and a multi-volume anthology on Japanese history (Gender and Japanese History, Osaka University Press, 1999; managing editor).

LeRon Harrison is an assistant Professor of Japanese in the Global Languages and Theatre Arts Department of Murray State University. His research topics include classical Japanese poetry, Imperial Court music and its history, and the history and philosophy of martial arts. His published articles include "Gagaku in Place and Practice: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Place of Japanese Imperial Court Music in Contemporary Culture" (Asian Music, Winter/Spring 2017) and "Staging Poetic Balance: An New Introduction to and Translation of the Noh Play Hakurakuten" (Asiatische Studien / Études Asiatiques, Forthcoming). 

Steven Heine is professor and director of Asian Studies at Florida International University who specializes in Japanese religions, especially the history of Zen Buddhism spreading to and developing in Japan as well as issues in contemporary philosophy and ritual life. He has an ongoing interest in how cultural geography helps shape religious institutions and experience. A recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun Award in 2007, Heine has published more than 30 monographs and edited volumes. His recent works include Sacred High City, Sacred Low City (Oxford University Press), Zen and Material Culture (Oxford University Press), Zen Koans (University of Hawaii Press), and Readings of Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō (forthcoming with Columbia University Press).

Tariq Sheikh is assistant Professor of Japanese Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India. He is also a PhD candidate at the University of Delhi. He was a Mombukagakusho scholar at Osaka University and Japan Foundation Fellow at Waseda University, Tokyo. He is interested in literary and intellectual history of early modern Japan, working primarily on rural literature and the works of Suzuki Bokushi. He has published articles on “A Critique of Season Words from the Peripheries of Tokugawa Japan” in Enquiries in Literature and Translation, “Rajkumar Jyotirmoyer Kahini, Prothom Odhyay: Kiritsubo (Bengali translation of ‘Kiritsubo’ from Jūjō Genji)” In Journal of Heian Literature Research Overseas.

Anne Prescott is the director of the Five College Center for East Asian Studies housed at Smith College in Northampton, MA. Her research interests include koto and other traditional Japanese music, and the stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki hibakusha. She is one of the national directors for the Freeman Foundation-funded National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA) which provides K-12 professional development training on East Asia. She is the editor of East Asia in the World: An Introduction (Routledge, 2015) and is the media review editor for the Journal of the Society for Asian Music.

Peter Siegenthaler (Department of History, Texas State University) is senior lecturer in world history with teaching specializations in Japanese and Central Asian history and East Asian tourism. His primary research and writing fields are heritage tourism and historic preservation in twentieth-century Japan. Alongside projects on women in the townscape preservation movement and early postwar cultural politics, he is at work on a monograph on townscape preservation and local power that is nearing completion.

Sonia Favi is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the John Rylands Research Institure (The University of Manchester, United Kingdom). Her research interests include early modern Japanese history, the history of Japan-Europe relations, early modern cartography, historical bibliography, and digital humanities. She was part of the Japanese National Research Project Survey and Research on the Preservation and Publication of the Mario Marega Documents in the Collection of the Vatican Library, organized by National Institute of Japanese Literature (Tokyo), and of the Japanese National Five-Year Research Project, coordinated by the Art Research Center of Ritsumeikan University (Kyoto), for the digitization, survey and study of ukiyoe prints and Japanese books preserved in European collections. She is the author of Self through the Other, and she is currently researching the impact of travel literature on social and cultural transformation in Edo Japan.

Bonnie McClure is a Ph.D. student in premodern Japanese literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She works on poetry and poetics of the late Heian and medieval eras, including waka and renga. She has a special interest in the expansion of travel poetry in the late Heian, and has published an article on late Heian/early Kamakura travel poetry entitled “Tabi no yoru o yomu kiryoka” (in Nihon shiika e no shinshiten: Hiroki Kazuhito Kyōju taishoku kinen ronshū, Kazama Shobō, 2017). Before coming to Berkeley, Bonnie spent several years studying renga at Aoyama Gakuin University.

Susanna Fessler is a professor and associate dean at the State University of New York at Albany. She is the author of Wandering Heart: The Work and Method of Hayashi Fumiko (SUNY Press, 1998), Musashino in Tuscany: Japanese Overseas Travel Literature 1860-1912 (Center for Japanese Studies, 2004), and the translator of Flowers of Italy: A Japanese Intellectuals Journey to Europe by Anesaki Masaharu (Kurodahan Press, 2009) and Teiunshū: The Continued Journeys of a Japanese Intellectual also by Anesaki Masaharu (Kurodahan Press, 2014). She has contributed articles to various journals including Monumenta Nipponica, Journal of Japanese Studies, and Transcultural Studies. Her current work is focused on Bakumatsu history as it intersects with the papers of Robert H. Pruyn, second American minister to Japan, 1862-1865.

David Henry is an associate professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His research interests include print culture in modern Japanese literature, serialized newspaper fiction, Yanagita Kunio and the formation of minzokugaku and folktales in modern Japan. He has published articles on Yanagita Kunio and the Momotaro folktale. He is currently researching the topic of image vs. text in the court case between Nakazato Kaizan, author of Daibosatsu toge, and one of his illustrators, Ishii Tsuruzo. His interest in travel as a topic was renewed during a Fall 2018 semester sabbatical during which he hiked the 88 Temple Shikoku pilgrimage for five weeks.

Tyler Walker is a Visiting assistant professor of Japanese at Kalamazoo College. His recently deposited dissertation, Battle in the Village: Literature and the Fight for the Japanese Countryside (1910-1938), examines literature and cultural criticism in and on rural Japan, with special attention to a discourse of agrarian literature (nōminbungaku). His research and teaching interests include modern Japanese fiction, film, and ecocritical approaches to the study of culture. Alongside working to expand the dissertation project, Tyler hopes to pursue further research on the curious case of anarchist Ōsugi Sakae and the entomological study Souvenirs Entomologiques.

Christina M. Spiker is a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art History at St. Catherine University. She received her Ph.D. in Visual Studies from the University of California, Irvine with a specialization in modern Japanese art and visual culture. Her dissertation explored turn-of-the-twentieth-century representations of the indigenous Ainu in Japan, and her research continues to investigate how their specific histories intersect with theories of globalization, modernity, and travel from the late nineteenth century until today. She published “‘Civilized’ Men and ‘Superstitious’ Women: Visualizing the Hokkaido Ainu in Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks, 1880” in Gender, Continuity, and the Shaping of Modernity in the Arts of East Asia, 16th-20th Centuries, edited by Lara Blanchard and Kristen Chiem (Brill, 2017) and is the creator of the online Mapping Isabella Bird: Geolocation and Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880) project on the Scalar 2 platform. She has also presented on a range of topics relating to visual culture in Hokkaido at conferences in the United States and Japan such as College Art Association, Popular Culture Association, American Historical Association, Asian Studies Conference Japan, and the Midwest Conference for Asian Affairs.

Jeffrey Newmark is an associate professor of Japanese culture and language at the University of Winnipeg.  His area of expertise is early modern Japanese thought and society, specifically the growth of civil society and the public sphere in nineteenth century Settsu.  His recent publications include his co-edited monograph, Religion, Culture, and the Public Sphere in China and Japan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), “Kokuso and Late Tokugawa Civil Society” (Thought and Culture of East Asia, 2016), and “Yamadaya Daisuke’s 1837 Nose Movement” (Early Modern Japan Journal, 2014).  He is currently completing a translation of Ihara Saikaku’s 1685 anthology Saikaku shokoku banashi or Saikaku’s Tales from the Provinces.

Steve Forrest teaches Japanese literature and language at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After an initial focus on classical waka anthologies and travel literature, he has shifted to research in the print culture of the Edo period (especially visual-verbal popular texts). He has been teaching premodern texts in authentic scripts (kuzushiji 崩し字 and hentaigana 変体仮名) to both undergraduates and M.A. students for two decades, and is happy to see that this is gradually becoming standard practice. He is interested in connecting with the fields of book history and digital humanities outside of Japanese studies and bringing their techniques into his own research and teaching practice. His ongoing project is developing a comprehensive, open-access, virtual library of gōkan 合巻.

Artem Vorobiev received his Ph.D. in Japanese from The Ohio State University with the focus on Modern Japanese Literature. His research interests include nihilism in Japanese literature, Japanese popular literature of the pre- and postwar periods, as well as jidai and kengō shōsetsu (period and swordsmanship novels). He teaches courses in Japanese culture, language and literature. 

Esther Ladkau is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of Michigan. She specializes in the environmental history of premodern Japan and is broadly interested in aquatic environments and what those environments meant within the religious, economic, and social spheres of preindustrial societies. In her current research, she examines the waterscape of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Kyoto, and considers how the two major rivers that cut across the city interacted with the development of conceptual boundaries between humans and non-humans.



Kendra Strand is an assistant professor of premodern Japanese literature and visual culture at the University of Iowa. Her research interests are in travel writing, poetry, calligraphy, and manuscript culture. Her published articles include “Jingū: Narratives of Motherhood and Imperial Rule in Early Japan” (in Cooper and Phelan eds., Motherhood in Antiquity, Palgrave 2017), as well as translations “Souvenirs for the Capital: A Travel Journal by Sōkyū” in Asiatische Studien /Études Asiatiques 71.2 (June 2017) and “An Excerpt from Ashikaga Yoshiakira’s Pilgrimage to Sumiyoshi” in Transference 3 (Autumn 2015). She is currently working on her book manuscript examining the ways in which travel, landscape, and famous places are represented in medieval Japanese cultural production, particularly among the poetic milieu surrounding Nijō Yoshimoto and Ashikaga shogunate.

Kendall Heitzman is an assistant professor of modern Japanese literature and culture at the University of Iowa. His forthcoming book Enduring Postwar: Yasuoka Shōtarō and Literary Memory in Japan (Vanderbilt University Press, 2019) examines the postwar writer Yasuoka Shotaro (1920-2013) and the individual writer’s relationship to history and collective memory through the lens of memory studies. He is currently researching a project on second-generation war narratives—the vast body of written and visual texts that continue to be produced in surprising numbers even today by people with no direct memory of World War II or the early postwar period—and another on the history of Japanese writers to the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. His articles on contemporary Japanese literature have appeared in the US-Japan Women’s Journal, Mechademia, Introducing Japanese Popular Culture (Routledge, 2018), and the Routledge Handbook of Modern Japanese Literature (2016).

Morten Schlütter is an associate professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa, where is he also the director of the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies. He is the author of How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China (University of Hawai’i Press, 2008), that focuses on crucial developments within Chan [Jpn.: Zen] Buddhism which came to dominate Chinese monastic Buddhism by the tenth century. He is the co-editor of Readings of the Platform Sūtra (Columbia University Press, 2012), and is currently working on a book manuscript that traces the evolution of Chinese Chan through different versions of the Platform Sūtra. He is also working on a long-term project concerned with how Buddhist monastic communities in Southern-Song China (1127-1279) interacted with secular elite society, and has written essays on meditation and Buddhism in the modern world.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Dongwang Liu at, (319) 335-1305.