Long (and more interesting) version

As I would say it’s quite clear given the title of this website, I’m Jonathan Lopez-Vera (Barcelona, 1977). And I am, as it happens to us all, many different things depending on the area we are talking about, but since this website is dedicated only to my professional field, let’s say I’m a historian. But nobody works on all History, obviously, so I work on Japanese History. Wait, since this is the long version and whoever wants only the basic stuff is free to just scroll down a little and read the short version, I’m going to spend a little time and start from the beginning.

The one on the left is the same edition I read the first time, borrowed from a friend, at that time it was in half of the Catalan houses, because it was given as a present by a well-known bank, the one on the right is the one I bought a few years later… although I always wanted to have the other one and I ended up buying it one day at a used book market.

I always loved studying, from a very young age, I was the typical smart-ass kid, so happy with having to do homework, I always finished my summer homework during the first week of vacation, even my mother used to tell me to go out to play, and do the summer homework in September, just like everyone else. And I was quite good at studying, because since I liked it, I was good at it, and since I was good at it, I liked it, so I got very good grades. On the other hand, I was not the typical asocial nerd you see in movies, I never had any problem interacting with others, and in high school I was a punk-metalhead who you would never say –because of your prejudices!– enjoyed studying so much. And apart from what I had to study for school, I used to study other subjects, and I usually became obsessed with some specific topic for a few months, right now the mission to the moon of the Apollo 11 comes to mind, for example. Then, when I was about thirteen years old, back in 1990, there was this show called Shōgun on TV, an amazing series that I recommend to everyone, it’s quite easy to find on the Internet… you don’t need to buy the “30th anniversary special edition” like I did. It had a huge impact on me, the story, the historical moment, the clothes, the buildings, the language, the swords, everything. When I heard it was based on a novel, I got a copy and just devoured it. As usual, the book was much better than the movie, especially in its historical and political part, with all these ins and outs and these plots that Toranaga and the other lords were involved in. Its historical veracity is arguable, I know, since despite being based on real facts –changing the names of the characters– they take many historical licenses to make the story more interesting. It’s ok, we’re talking about fiction, so it does not have to be true nor does it pretend to be true, and still it is a great approximation to the era it portrays. From that moment on, I began to devour all the information about Japan that fell into my hands… and I remind you, in case someone has forgotten it, that in 1990 we didn’t have the Internet yet, so I had to work hard to access some information. Other obsessive topics had come and gone, but this crush on Japan lasted and lasted… and it ended up becoming chronic, I guess.

Meanwhile, I kept getting good grades in high school and all my teachers told me I should go to university, but… I always say that this age at which you are supposed to go to university is the worst age to go to university, and in my case, in that moment I wasn’t seduced by this idea of going to university, because I though that the degrees I liked had no career opportunities, and I didn’t like those that had them. Besides, I wanted to be a rock’n’roll star, not a college student. I play bass since I was seventeen and I spent a good time with this band I had, we did some important things, like publishing three albums, playing all over Europe and even Japan –my first trip there–, or signing for Warner Music. In short, I did not go to university… although I always remember this History professor I had back then who told me that, sooner or later, I would end up going to university. But what I did back then was having some small jobs as a telephone operator for a company of this new device called “cell phone”, for example, so I was mainly trying to find what to do with my life until musical stardom arrived. So then I studied Graphic Design, and that led me to work in that sector for more than a decade. Meanwhile, I never stopped studying Japanese history, Japanese culture, and also Japanese language for five years in a language academy… but I did all this simply as a hobby, just like some people build miniatures or watches birds with binoculars. However, there came a time when I started to be so tired of my job, and it coincided with a moment when I got so disenchanted with the idea of being in a band taking it seriously and not just as something to have fun with… I don’t know… maybe it was all about midlife crisis because I had turned thirty. Anyway, I decided to take a leap of faith into the void and see if there was a net at the bottom or if I just crashed into the ground.

Although the faculty is called Faculty of Translation and Interpretation, it is also where the Degree in East Asian Studies is taught, so I spent four years studying here.
I came to the Ciutadella campus of Universitat Pompeu Fabra to do the Master in World History, I was supposed to be here only one year… but I ended up liking it and decided to stay a little longer.

I had been contemplating the possibility of studying something related to Japan at the university for a while, and there was a degree in East Asian Studies that was what then they called a “second cycle”, that is, you had to have at least two years of another degree to then be able to do the two years of this one. So, I considered the idea of doing two years of Humanities as an online degree, while maintaining my job, and then moving on to that degree, not online anymore but in person. And while I was hesitating about whether to dare or not, the news came out that this “second cycle degree” was going to evolve into a “normal” four-year degree. Then I knew I had to do it, and I had to do it in its first year. So, I decided to take a huge turn on my professional life… with the invaluable unconditional support of my partner, who could have told me I was crazy for thinking considering that strange idea, in a time that did not encourage work ventures. I went to Japan for some months to improve my knowledge of the language –which in my case is a tool and not a goal by itself– and I started studying that new degree, the Degree in East Asian Studies, at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. The syllabus included areas such as Society, Anthropology, Economics, Politics, Geography, Literature and others, but I focused mainly on its History. My objective was to learn as much as possible in order to become a professor and researcher of Japanese History in the university. During the degree I already worked during a year as a teaching assistant and it was most interesting. In another year, I also worked at the Centre d’Estudis i Recerca sobre Àsia Oriental, directed by professor Sean Golden, who also advised my Degree Dissertation, called “La Embajada Keichō (1613-1620) (The Keichō Embassy (1613-1620))”. Eventually, I finished the degree with an “Extraordinary Degree Award”. After this, I did a Master in World History at Universitat Pompeu Fabra –where I was also an assistant teacher in a Modern History course–, with a Master’s Thesis under the title “Hideyoshi visto desde Castilla. Las relaciones entre Castilla y Japón a través de los documentos castellanos, 1592-1599 (Hideyoshi as seen from Castile. The relations between Castile and Japan through the Castilian documents, 1592-1599)”, advised by professor Josep Maria Delgado and qualified with 10 points and Honors.

At the same time, while studying the degree, in the summer of 2011, I launched the website with the intention of making the Japanese History known to anyone who was interested in it. On the one hand, it turned out that there was not much offer on the network for Spanish-speakers and Catalan-speakers –well, yes, there is always Wikipedia, but … we all know what happens with Wikipedia, especially the Spanish version– and on the other, I also felt like doing it for myself, as another way of studying this subject. And it turned out to be one of the best ideas I have ever had, because it has been and it still is very useful both for the objectives with which I started it and for many other things that have happened during these years because of this website. Apart from this, in October 2012 and together with fellow Jordi Serrano, we launched a project in which we had been working for one year, a university academic journal of studies on East Asia. This journal, called Asiadémica, is published twice a year, can be downloaded completely free from its website, and we have already published more than ten issues.

So, I finished the Master and from October 2014 to July 2019 I did a PhD in History also at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, with a Doctoral Thesis advised by the professors Joan-Pau Rubiés (UPF) and Asami Masakazu (Keiō University, Tokyo), to whom I am greatly grateful. The Thesis is entitled “Toyotomi Hideyoshi y Europa. Contactos entre el gobierno japonés y los portugueses y castellanos en el Japón de finales del siglo XVI (Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Europe. Contacts between the Japanese government and the Portuguese and Castilians in Japan at the end of the 16th century)” and, after five years of hard work, it allowed me to become a Doctor, with a beautiful cum laude added to it. In addition, from February 2015 to February 2018 I worked as teaching and research staff in the Department of Humanities and the Institut Universitari d’Història Jaume Vicens Vives, and I am a member of the ECERM (Ethnographies, Cultural Encounters and Religious Missions) and GRIMSE (Grup de Recerca en Imperis, Metròpolis i Societats Extraeuropees (Research Group on Empires, Metropolises, and Extra-European Societies)) research groups. For two years I have taught the Introduction to History seminars in the Degree of Political Science in this same university and, in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years, I taught my own subject called Contemporary History, Culture, Society and Thought of Japan in the Master in Culture and Business in East Asia of Universitat de Barcelona. I am currently an associate professor at Pompeu Fabra University, where I teach the subject Modern and Contemporary History of Asia, of the Degree in Humanities, and I do several online courses for Espai Daruma and Casa Asia. I have participated in congresses and I have given conferences in Catalonia and in the rest of the Spanish State, but also in countries such as Japan, France, Romania, Panama or Cuba, but hey, all this is already in the CV section.

In mid-2014, I was contacted by a publishing house to ask me to write a book about the history of the samurai, so I spent a lot of time researching this topic. Eventually there were some issues with this publisher and I decided not to continue working with them and instead knock on the door of who I think is the best Spanish publishing house specialized in books about Japan right now, Satori, so I told them that I had this project halfway and it turned out they were interested. Working with them has been very easy, the book is called Historia de los samuráis, and it was published on May 16, 2016. In mid-2018 the American publisher Tuttle Publishing, specialized in books about East Asia, became interested as well, and we all agreed to translate this book into English. In this case it’s called A History of the Samurai, and it was published in June 2020. And less than a year later, in March 2021, it has been republished in Spanish, this time by Alianza Editorial, by which it will be able to reach a much wider audience.

Within the broad field of Japanese History, I am particularly interested in the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods, they seem to me to be the most interesting –and difficult– periods, with aspects such as the arrival of the first Europeans to Japan –Portuguese, Castilian, Dutch and English– with their firearms and religion, or the unification of the country by those three giants called Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. I also find other topics especially interesting, such as the transition from aristocratic Japan of the Heian court to the establishment of the shōgunate as a government structure with the arrival of the end of the twelfth century, and all that entailed. The topic of the samurai, obviously inevitable when talking about Japanese History since they ruled the country for seven centuries, had been appearing again and again on my way right from the beginning, and it is the one I used to be most asked about in interviews, comments or messages, and the one that I have been most asked to speak about in presentations or lectures for a general audience, even before publishing the book on this subject.

And that’s more or less everything, I have warned before starting that it would be long, for the record. But as I understand that almost everything I have told here may be unimportant if what you want is the basic information, I include it below. Best regards!

(March 2021)

Short (and to the point) version

This is the website of Jonathan López-Vera (Barcelona, 1977), Doctor of History (Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Master in World History (UPF), and graduate in East Asian Studies (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona). Specialist in Japanese History, author of the website, the book Historia de los samuráis (Satori, 2016; Alianza, 2021) / A History of the Samurai (Tuttle, 2020), and co-editor of the journal Asiadémica. Member of the ECERM and GRIMSE research groups. Associate professor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. CV here.