Art & Design

Japanese Castles and the Making of Regional, National and World Heritage – with Oleg Benesch

16 October 2017, London

Castles are among Japan’s most iconic structures, and are recognized worldwide. They are powerful symbols of local, regional, and national identity. This exalted status of Japan’s castles obscures their troubled modern history, however, when the vast majority of premodern structures were abandoned, dismantled, or destroyed immediately following the Meiji Restoration of 1868. By the turn of the twentieth century, however, castles were being rediscovered and reinvented as physical links to an idealized martial past, and the 1920s saw major movements to rebuild lost castles across Japan.


From the late nineteenth century to the present day, castles have played a key role in the development of concepts of cultural heritage in Japan. This has been a highly international process, with Japanese attitudes influenced especially by European trends, while Japanese approaches to heritage protection have helped define global standards.


This talk explores the modern history of Japanese castles as sites of public history and heritage, including the destruction of castles in the Meiji period and the Second World War, the great proliferation of concrete castles in the early postwar, the global recognition of Japanese castles by UNESCO, and the immediate challenges faced by castles in the twenty-first century.


Dr Oleg Benesch is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of York, specializing in the history of early modern and modern Japan and China. His publications and research interests cover a variety of fields, including Japanese intellectual, religious, and social history, Chinese intellectual history, as well as the transnational history of modern East Asia. Dr Benesch’s first book, Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan (Oxford University Press, Sept. 2014), examines the historical development of the ostensibly traditional Japanese ethic of bushido—the ‘way of the samurai’—from the nineteenth century onward. He is currently working together with Prof Ran Zwigenberg of the Pennsylvania State University to complete a manuscript examining the history of Japanese castles in the modern period. For more information, please see


Free – booking recommended
To reserve your place, please call the Japan Society office on 020 3075 1996 or email

16 October 2017

The Swedenborg Society, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way (Hall entrance on Barter St) London WC1A 2TH

The Japan Society