Historians who work with those world systems that functioned in full force before incorporation into the Gregorian calendar should find much to ponder in this collection of essays because Karatani Kojin demands that readers engage the past in more meaningful ways than simply as a series of dots along a predetermined timeline.

For those of us thinking about Japan, making reference to imperial reign names can offer conceptual excitement. For example, one could write, “In early Meiji—1873 to be precise—Japan adopted the Western calendar,” and so on. While some who “practice” Japan remain fluent with pre- and early modern imperial-era markers, such as “Ansei,” their numbers are dwindling as fast as the kanbun requirements once deemed vital for doctoral imprimatur in Japanese studies. Monolithic adjectival placeholders centered on sites of central governance—“Edo” and “Kamakura”—now more commonly hold together distant times.

In this mix, in a series of fascinating essays in...

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