Ronald Toby

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  • Born: 1942

Ronald Toby is a historian of early modern Japan. Professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, he is most known for his work on the Korean embassies to Edo, and on representation and conception of foreigners in Edo period Japan.

Toby says that his interest in Japan was first sparked by a Beatnik high school teacher who introduced him to Zen Buddhism, the writings of D.T. Suzuki, and other aspects of so-called "Eastern philosophy." Toby went on to study Japanese language and history at Columbia University, graduating in 1965. He traveled to Japan for the first time in the fall of that same year, where he continued his studies at Tokyo Foreign Languages University and Waseda University on a two-year Monbushô (Ministry of Education) scholarship. For two weeks in late July 1966, during his time in Japan, Toby traveled to Korea for his first time, and says his scholarly interest in Korean-Japanese relations stems from this very first visit. He later took up the study of modern Korean, and of kanbun and other forms of pre-modern / early modern Japanese, in order to pursue research into such subjects.

Selected Publications

  • "Korean-Japanese Diplomacy in 1711: Sukchong's Court and the Shogun's Title," Chôsen gakuhô 朝鮮学報 74 (1975), 1-25.
  • “Reopening the Question of Sakoku: Diplomacy in the Legitimation of the Tokugawa Bakufu.” Journal of Japanese Studies 3, no. 2 (July 1, 1977): 323–63.
  • State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan. Princeton University Press, 1984.
  • “Contesting the Centre: International Sources of Japanese National Identity,” The International History Review 7:3 (1985), 347-363.
  • “Carnival of the Aliens: Korean Embassies in Edo-Period Art and Popular Culture.” Monumenta Nipponica 41:4 (Winter 1986), 415-456.
  • "'Indianness' of Iberia and Japanese iconographies." in Stuart Schwartz (ed.), Implicit Understandings: observing, reporting, and reflecting on the encounters between Europeans and other peoples in the early modern era. Cambridge University Press (1995), .
  • "Three Realms/Myriad Countries: An 'Ethnography' of Other and the Rebounding of Japan, 1550-1750." in Kai-wing Chow, et al. (eds.), Constructing Nationhood in Modern East Asia. University of Michigan Press (2001), .
  • "Rescuing the Nation from History: The State of the State in Early Modern Japan," Monumenta Nipponica 56:2 (2001), 197-237.
  • "The originality of the 'copy': Mimesis and subversion in Hanegawa Tôei's Chôsenjin Ukie," The Culture of Copying in Japan, Routledge (2007), 71-110.
  • Sakoku to iu gaikô 『鎖国』という外交, Tokyo: Shogakukan, 2008.


  • Nihon ni kyômi wo motta riyû ha? 日本に興味をもった理由は? (insert in Toby, Sakoku to iu gaikô).
  • Toby, Sakoku to iu gaikô 『鎖国』という外交, Tokyo: Shogakukan (2008), 12.