Kyushu University Academic Staff Educational and Research Activities Database
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Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem Last modified date:2017.06.19

Associate Professor / International Master's Program and Intenattional Doctorate in Japanese Humanities
Department of Philosophy
Faculty of Humanities

Graduate School
Undergraduate School

Academic Degree
Doctor in Oriental Languages and Cultures
Field of Specialization
History of Ancient Japan; History of Ideas
Outline Activities
Ellen Van Goethem's research focuses on the Asuka, Nara, and Heian periods, particularly on the layout of Chinese-style capital cities, on religious and philosophical thought underpinning the construction of these cities, and on inscribed wooden tablets (mokkan). She has published on Japan's ancient capital cities and site divination practices in East Asia. Her current research also touches on the influence of fengshui on contemporary Japanese architecture and the presence of geomantic beliefs and practices in Shinto shrines. She is currently involved in a four-year research project titled “Site Divination Practices in Premodern East Asia” for which she receives funding from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Kakenhi Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (A), project no. 15H05376).
She is the co-chair of the International MA Program (IMAP) and International Doctorate (IDOC) in Japanese Humanities at Kyushu University where she teaches courses in premodern Japanese history, material culture, religion beliefs and practices, and East-West encounters.
Research Interests
  • Research on 19th- and early 20th-century creation of Shinto shrines and rituals
    keyword : Heian shrine, Dazaifu tenmangu shrine, Kashihara jingu, four deities
  • Research on urban planning in ancient Japan
    keyword : capital city, urbanisation, palace, city
  • Research on inscribed wooden tablets (ancient Japan)
    keyword : inscribed wooden tablets
  • Research on "shijin soo", i.e. "correspondence to the four gods"
    keyword : the Sakuteiki, feng shui, geomancy, site divination
  • Research on the influence of religio-philosophical thought on the establishment of the Nagaoka capital
    keyword : the Nagaoka capital, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, yin yang and Five Phases
  • research on the Nagaoka capital
    keyword : gridiron capital cities, inscribed wooden tablets, Kanmu tenno
Current and Past Project
  • In this project, postdoctoral research DeWitt explores the religious history of Munakata Shrine 宗像大社 in northern Kyushu (which in fact denotes three separate shrines). The project examines a diverse range of factors as windows to understanding how the current tradition of women’s exclusion from Okinoshima 沖ノ島 is deployed and challenged. The results of this work will preserve the important histories of the shrines shed new light on the cultural phenomenon of women’s prohibitions in Japan.
  • Through this research I aim to arrive at a better understanding of ancient site divination practices in East Asia in general and in Japan in particular, differentiating between various divinatory models (for tombs, private residences, cities, military camps, etc.).
  • To trace how the “Four gods” were interpreted in the landscape and how this knowledge spread from the continent to Japan
    To investigate why different interpretations were given to each of the “Four Gods”
    To find an explanation why trees species and numbers are different among various related texts
    To clarify issues related to text transmission
Academic Activities
1. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Ellen Van Goethem, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, "Feng Shui Symbolism in Japan: The Four Divine Beasts" in Florian C. Reiter (ed.), Theory and Reality of Feng Shui in Architecture and Landscape Art (Asien- und Afrika-Studien der Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin) 41, 35-48., 2013.11.
2. Ellen Van Goethem, Nagaoka, Japan's Forgotten Capital, Brill, 2008.04.
1. Ellen Van Goethem, Kyoto: An Urban History of Japan's Premodern Capital (Matthew Stavros), Monumenta Nipponica, 2017.01.
2. Ellen Van Goethem, Heian Japan – Centers and Peripheries (Mikael Adolphson, Edward Kamens and Stacie Matsumoto, eds.), Nachrichten der Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens (NOAG) 77: 181-182, 252-4, 2007.09.
3. Ellen Van Goethem, Capital and Countryside in Japan, 300-1180: Japanese Historians Interpreted in English (Joan R. Piggott, ed.), The Journal of Asian Studies 68: 3, 988-90, 2009.07.
1. Ellen Van Goethem, Of Trees and Beasts: Site Selection in Premodern East Asia, Journal of Asian Humanities at Kyushu University (JAH-Q), 1, 2016.03.
2. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, “Feng Shui Symbolism in Japan: The Four Divine Beasts” , Asien- und Afrikastudien der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 2013.11.
3. Ellen Van Goethem, The Four Divine Beasts -- Asuka Through European Eyes, 国際飛鳥学講演会報告書2012, 25-32, 2012.11.
4. Ellen Van Goethem, The Four Directional Animals in East Asia: A Comparative Analysis, Asien- und Afrika-Studien der Humboldt Universitat zu Berlin, 38, 201-216, 2011.11.
5. Ellen Van Goethem, Pleasing the Four Gods: Shijin sōō (四神相応), Site Selection and Site Adaptation, Cultural Crossroads, Proceedings of the 26th International SAHANZ Conference, CD-rom, 2009.07.
6. Ellen Van Goethem, Shijin sōō and the Site Selection Process of Chinese-style Capitals in Japan, Conference proceedings CD of the 4th International Conference on Scientific Feng Shui & Built Environment 2009, Sustainability and Operability, CD-rom, 2009.02.
7. Ellen Van Goethem, The Status of Descendants of the Baekje Kingdom during Emperor Kanmu’s Reign, Korea Journal, 47, 2, 136-159, 2007.07.
8. Ellen Van Goethem, Influence of Chinese Philosophical Thought on the Construction of Nagaokakyō, Japan's Forgotten Capital, International Conference on East Asian Architectural Culture, Kyoto 2006 – Reassessing East Asia in the Light of Urban and Architectural History, II, 435-444, 2006.12.
9. Ellen Van Goethem, Tracing Feng Shui in Ancient Japanese Capital Cities – Case-study: Nagaokakyō, Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Scientific Feng Shui and Built Environment, 2006.10.
10. Ellen Van Goethem, The Construction of the Nagaoka Palace and Capital – Mokkan 木簡 as a Historical Source, Nachrichten der Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens (NOAG), 76, 179-180, 143-74, 2006.09.
1. VAN GOETHEM ELLEN, Animated City: Life Force, Guardians, and Contemporary Architecture in Kyoto, Invisible Empire: Spirits and Animism in Contemporary Japan, 2017.02.25.
2. VAN GOETHEM ELLEN, From Scale Model to Shrine: The Creation of Heian Jingū, Invited lecture at the Asian Languages & Cultures Department Department, UCLA, 2017.03.02.
3. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Heian Jingu: Civic Shrine, Exhibition Pavilion, Imperial Shrine?, Workshop: "The Creation of a National Culture in Japan’s Modern Period: Architecture, Art, and Place", 2016.12.14.
4. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Buildings on the Move: Temple Construction and Capital Relocation in Ancient Japan, MOVING OBJECTS: AUTHORSHIP, OWNERSHIP AND EXPERIENCE IN BUDDHIST MATERIAL CULTURE, 2016.04.29, [URL].
5. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Of Trees and Beasts: Site Selection in Premodern East Asia, The Third Conference of East Asian Environmental History (EAEH), 2015.10.25, [URL].
6. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Foreign Beliefs in ‘Native’ Settings: Fengshui Elements in Shinto Shrines, ICAS (International Convention of Asia Scholars), 2015.07.09.
7. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Fengshui Protection: The Four Mythical Beasts and Shinto Shrines, アジア伝統科学国際ワークショップ2015  古今の宇宙観, 2015.06.19.
8. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Adopting and adapting the paradigm: Gridiron cities in Japan, International Institute for Asian Studies, 2013.11.12, [URL].
9. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Written, Used, Discarded, and Unintentionally Preserved: Writings on Wood in Ancient Japan, Hamburg University, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, 2013.11.15.
10. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, “Heiankyō: Guardian Deities and Geomantic Theories”, 2013.09.28.
11. Comparative Research on the Four Divine Beasts in East Asia: Capitals, Residences, and Trees.
12. The Four Divine Beasts: Asuka as Seen Through European Eyes.
13. In this presentation, a number of inscribed wooden tablets (mokkan 木簡) are presented to illustrate how their discovery has deepened our understanding of specific aspects of the Nagaokakyo era. Prior to the discovery of these wooden tablets, only a limited number of written sources contemporaneous to the Nagaoka capital’s existence were available to scholars. In the four decades since the discovery of the first inscribed wooden tablet in the remains of the former capital, this vast body of written evidence has also proved to be a valuable addition to the archaeological record of the Nagaoka capital..
14. , [URL].
Membership in Academic Society
  • Center for International Japanese Studies, Hosei University
Other Educational Activities
  • 2016.01, Guest lecture in EACS4A: East Asian Traditions: Pre-Modern at the University of California, Santa Barbara (Course instructors: Fabio Rambelli and Xiaorong Li, undergraduate, enrolment 244 students).