Skip to main content

Berkeley scholar to discuss wealth in Japan's age of the Tokugawa Shogun

March 01, 2011

This year's Robert C. Staley Distinguished Visiting Professor in East Asian Studies lecture features Mary Elizabeth Berry, chair of the Department of History and a Dean's Professor of East Asian History at the University of California, Berkeley. She will present a free public lecture at 7 p.m., March 3 in the Global Institute of Sustainability building, lecture room 101 at Arizona State University's Tempe campus.

The title of Berry's talk is "The Virtue of Wealth and the Ethics of Consumption in the Age of the Tokugawa Shogun."  The Tokugawa period, defined as the era when the Tokugawa shogunate ruled, is regarded as one of the most important periods in Japan's history. The samurai class was at the top of the social hierarchy and sought to reinforce its traditional values and ethics of the past.

However, the period also witnessed the rapid rise of the merchant or commercial class, which, having gained wealth through business, became known for its conspicuous consumption as well as for its relaxing morals. The era therefore was characterized by the clash between traditional feudal values and those of the merchants and their new emergent culture.

ASU's Staley lecture series in East Asian studies began in 2004. Hosted this year by the School of International Letters and Cultures, Director Robert Cutter appreciates Robert Staley's prescience in funding the lectures. "By now, everyone recognizes the important role East Asian countries like China, Japan and Korea play in today's world. But Bob Staley had the foresight several years ago to make it possible for us to bring leading experts on East Asia to ASU to present fascinating lectures exploring the region from a variety of perspectives," Cutter said. "Mr. Staley deserves our thanks."

Elizabeth Berry's scholarship in Japanese history makes her an outstanding addition to the series. Recognized as one of the foremost scholars in premodern Japanese studies, she has authored numerous articles and several important books on print history and on premodern cities in Japan. 

Berry's professional contributions include serving as president and vice-president of the Association for Asian Studies, and appointments at Kyoto University as a Visiting Scholar and at Stanford University as a Yamato Ichihashi Visiting Professor of Japanese History and Civilization. In 2009 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Berry focused her education on East Asian studies and history, earning a bachelor's degree from Manhattanville College, and a master's degree and doctorate from Harvard University.

Her lecture will be followed by a question and answer period, and light refreshments will be served.

The Global Institute of Sustainability building is on the southwest corner of University Drive and College Avenue. Additional information about the event is available from the School of International Letters and Cultures at or (480) 965-6381.