Heian JINGū in 1895.  Detail of Kawai Senrō’s  Daiyonkai naikoku kangyō hakurankai oyobi Heian jingū daigokuden no zu . Personal collection.

Heian JINGū in 1895.

Detail of Kawai Senrō’s Daiyonkai naikoku kangyō hakurankai oyobi Heian jingū daigokuden no zu. Personal collection.

Contact Information
Office: East Zone B-506

Ellen Van Goethem is Associate Professor of Japanese History and History of Ideas. She holds a Ph.D. in Oriental Languages and Cultures from Ghent University. After having taught at Ghent University (1999–2006) and Hosei University (2008–2011), she joined Kyushu University in 2011 to establish the IMAP in Japanese Humanities together with historian Jeff Kurashige and linguist Carey Benom and served as the program’s co-chair until her sabbatical in 2018–2019. In 2015, she co-founded the Journal of Asian Humanities at Kyushu University (JAH-Q) with Cynthea Bogel and Kubo Tomoyuki.

Van Goethem specializes in the history and archaeology of the Asuka, Nara, and early Heian periods. Her primary focus is on Kanmu Tennō (r. 781–806), on the layout of Japan’s ancient capital cities (kyūto), and on inscribed wooden tablets (mokkan). She has also published on site divination (geomancy, fengshui, shijin sōō) in premodern East Asia and on the influence of fengshui thought on contemporary Japanese architecture. Her current research, an institutional and social history of Heian Jingū, builds upon her earlier work. In this project, she investigates issues related to the reconstruction of long-lost buildings, the deification of emperors, the presence of Chinese cosmological symbolism in Shinto shrines, and changes in perceptions of Heian Jingū since its founding in the late nineteenth century.

Van Goethem teaches courses in premodern Japanese history, material culture, and thought; research methods and digital humanities; and East-West encounters.



Nagaoka, Japan’s Forgotten Capital (Brill Academic Publishers, 2008).

Articles and Chapters (select)

‘Animated City: Life Force, Guardians, and Contemporary Architecture in Kyoto,’ in Fabio Rambelli, ed. Spirits and Animism in Contemporary Japan: The Invisible Empire (Bloomsbury, 2019), 81–94. 

‘Heian Jingū: Monument or Shintō Shrine?,’ Journal of Religion in Japan 7:1 (2018): 1–26. 

‘Of Trees and Beasts: Site Selection in Premodern East Asia,’ Journal of Asian Humanities at Kyushu University (JAH-Q) 1 (2016): 1–7.

‘Interroger le paysage: À la recherche des quatre divinités protégeant les capitales japonaises de style chinois,’ in Benoit Jacquet, Philippe Bonnin and Masatsugu Nishida, eds., Dispositifs et notions de la spatialité japonaise (Presses Polytechniques Universitaires Romandes, 2014), 81–100.

‘The Four Directional Animals in East Asia: A Comparative Analysis,’ in Florian Reiter, ed., Feng Shui (Kan Yu) and Architecture (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 2011), 201–16.

Recent Invited Lectures and Conference Papers

‘Reconstructing a Palace and Building a Shrine: Emperor, Nation, and Imperial Cult’ (ICAS 11, July 2019)

‘The Others Within: Architecture, Activism, and Advertising at Heian Jingū’ (UCSB, February 2019)

‘Monument, Shrine, Power Spot: Heian Jingū’s Multi-Layered Signification’ (Columbia University, November 2018)

‘From Scale Model to Shrine: The Creation of Heian Jingū’ (UCLA, March 2017)

‘Buildings on the Move: Temple Construction and Capital Relocation in Ancient Japan’ (NYU Shanghai, April 2016)

Grants (select)

Reiterations of the Past: Reconstructions, Practices, and Places (2019–2022), 世界トップレベル研究者招へいプログラム「Progress 100」戦略的パートナーシップ構築型 [Kyushu University’s World Premier International Researcher Invitation Program (Progress 100), Strategic Partnership Acceleration]

Heian Jingu: The Creation of a New Shrine (2017–2020), QR プログラムつばさプロジェクト[Kyushu University Jump Research Program, Tsubasa Project], collaborators: Yuki Katō (Kyushu University) and Alice Tseng (Boston University)

Site Divination Practices in Premodern East Asia (2015–2019), 日本学術振興会科学研究費補助金 (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research) 若手研究A (Grant for Young Researchers A), grant no. 15H05376

日本古代・中世の敷地選定 [Site Selection in Ancient and Medieval Japan] (2011–2014), 日本学術振興会科学研究費補助金 (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research) 若手研究A (Grant for Young Researchers A), grant no. 23682001

Fellowships (select)

Visiting Fellow, East Asia Center, University of California, Santa Barbara (2018–2019)

Japan Foundation Japanese Studies Fellowship, Ritsumeikan University (2007–2008)

Canon Foundation in Europe Fellowship, Ritsumeikan University (2006–2007)

Translations (select, all with Thomas Daniell)

Igarashi Taro and Yamazaki Ryo, Architecture since 3.11: New Relationships between Society and Architects, Gakugei Shuppansha, 2014.

Rem Koolhaas, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, and Kayoko Ota, eds. Project Japan: Metabolism Talks, Taschen America, 2011.

Kaya Oku,The Architecture of Gerrit Th. Rietveld, Toto Shuppan, 2009.

Tadao Ando, Tadao Ando, 4 vols., Toto Shuppan, 2007–2010.

Keiichiro Sako and Hironori Matsubara, Realize: Emerging from China to the World 立脚中国展開世界, Gallery Ma, 2007.

Honeycomb Tube Architecture, Japan Architect, 2007.

Courses Taught (select)

Japan: A History to 1600

State and Authority in Ancient Japan

History and Archaeology of Tōdaiji

History and Classroom Technology

Experiencing Kyushu History and Culture in Situ

From Jōmon to Heian: (Why) Does It Matter Today?

World History since the 13th Century