Session 8: Room 11-311
Individual Papers on Japanese Culture and History

Chair: Michael Watson, Meiji Gakuin University

1) Erin Brightwell, Princeton University
The Phantasm China of “Kara monogatari”

Kara monogatari, “China Tales,” is a collection of short stories tentatively attributed to Fujiwara no Shigenori and dated to the late twelfth century.  A work consisting exclusively (or nearly so) of Chinese tales imported and reconfigured, it is an invaluable tool in reconstructing the attitude towards China and things Chinese held by the Japanese intelligentsia of the day.  As a starting point, the present study explores the implications of Shigenori’s transportation and re-presentation of these narratives across linguistic, cultural, and temporal boundaries.

It has been suggested that Shigenori’s very identification of an “essential China” as one that is defined through its literary legacy is an act of approbation.  This paper, however, proposes that evaluating his active re-presentation of China against a backdrop of regional and international socio-historical events and intellectual currents yields a markedly different reading.  Shigenori’s selection and re-crafting of his “Chinese tales” form a new composite narrative of China, one fraught with tensions and ambiguities that span boundaries of chronology and culture.  This paper will examine what Kara monogatari reveals about the attitudes of the producers and consumers of this medieval Japanese myth of China and consider its larger implications for the issue of the negotiation of an early medieval Japanese literary-cultural identity vis-à-vis constructed image(s) of China.

2) Blai Guarne, Stanford University
Narrating Japan: From “la Triomphante” to The Garden of Kanashima

The paper presents an ongoing research on the Orientalist representation of Japan. In a previous analytical phase, the project studied the exotic and extravagant characterization of Japan in the travel literature of Pierre Loti (Madame Chrysanthème 1887, Japoneries d'automne 1889, La Troisième jeunesse de Madame Prune 1905) and the fiction works of Pierre Boulle (Le Pont de la rivière Kwaï 1952, Le Planète des singes 1963, Le Jardin de Kanashima 1964). The cultural research of these works revealed a narrative tradition that represents Japan in the essential language of paradox, as a cultural oxymoron in its antagonistic tension with the West. The paper focuses on the analysis of this representational tradition that shapes the idea of Japan through an ambivalent and menacing gaze between mimesis and mimicry, copy and parody. From a cultural perspective, the paper indentifies in this gaze the Western fear and fascination emerged historically in the colonial encounter with the Other. Ultimately, the purpose of the paper is to reach a better understanding of the political and ideological dimensions involved in the stereotypical representation of Japan as a powerful and lasting image in the Western imagination.

3) Csaba Olah, The University of Tokyo
Diplomatical Documents in Medieval Japan (Fifteenth to Sixteenth Centuries): Form, Content and Writing

The research on medieval Japanese diplomatical documents has been mostly focused on letters between Korea and Japan, and the “vassal letters” (biao) written by the “King of Japan” to the Chinese emperor. Only letters, which were exchanged on the state level, so far were been examined, while letters written by official Japanese envoys during their stay in China were completely neglected. In this paper, I will examine the form and content of the latter type of letters, which are extant in Japanese diaries compiled during diplomatical missions in China in the Muromachi Period (Jinshin nyūminki, Shotoshū) and in a collection of diplomatical documents (Ikoku shukkei). I will also make some remarks on the writing process of these letters and compare their characteristics with the letters exchanged on the state level (kokusho). Through the comparison we may conclude as follows. Content of the letters issued by the “King of Japan” to the Chinese emperor is formal. They are written in a very literary style with a lot of quotation from Chinese classics and typical set phrases, while the content of letters written by Japanese envoys in China is rather practical and their style is very simple. The writing process of the former is accordingly very long because of the complicated style required by the Ming court, but the writing process of the latter is very short. Both the letters of the “King of Japan” and the letters of Japanese envoys are written in the style of Chinese official documents (gongwen).

4) Richard Reitan, Franklin and Marshall College
Regulating the Social Mind: Psychology and the Appropriation of Spirit in Meiji Japan

The idea of “spirit” is crucial to views on modern Japanese culture, signifying for some Japan’s revolt against the West to embrace its enduring traditions, for others, an invention of tradition as part of the production of narratives of identity. But the marked attention to “spirit” during the mid-Meiji period (1868–1912) reflects not merely a turning away from “the West” to embrace or invent past tradition. Even as Japan reacted against Western thought, it drew heavily upon Western conceptions of spirit in the formation of its own. I focus on Japan’s engagement with nineteenth-century German psychology and the idea of the “social mind.” Meiji psychologists drew upon the German notion of Volksgeist (folk-mind/folk-spirit) to assert the mind or spirit of the Japanese folk (minzoku-shin/minzoku-seishin). They mapped the space of “minzoku-shin” by defining Ainu, colonized peoples, etc. as kokumin (subjects of the state) rather than minzoku (Japanese folk). Regulating the Japanese folk-mind took the shape of a psychologically-informed pedagogy aiming to instill patriotic loyalty to the state and to drive dangerous social forces (Christianity, socialism) “below the threshold of social consciousness.” While German theories of psychology, pedagogy and mind provided valuable formulas for thinking and regulating the folk-mind, they were laden with Christian and orientalist content which had to be edited out. I argue, then, that German Psychology, divested of its Christian and orientalist content, played an important role in the production and regulation of the “social mind” in Meiji Japan, and in making the idea of the “Japanese spirit” thinkable.

5) Daniel Schley, Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo
Sacral Kingship in Medieval Japan

In the context of the theological-political government since the Taika Reform of 645 and during the Nara period the emperors of Japan are an example of what is known as divine or sacral kingship. Even after they lost their real political power during the dissolution process of the centralised Nara period government the office itself remained throughout the Japanese history. Many historians and especially supporters of the Emperor system (tennōsei) find a reason for this enormous stability in the emperors ritual and religious authority. The actual loss of political power is seen to be compensated by religious authority. With that authority the emperor remained a crucial part in legitimating those who came into power, e.g. the Shoguns. But is that interpretation really adequate for the medieval period in Japanese History? Some scholars have doubted this mainstream narrative in recent times, like Satō Hiroo. The other question is whether this kind of religious authority is already enough to fulfil the requirements for sacral kingship. What are sufficient and necessary conditions for sacral kingship in general and when are we justified to characterise the medieval emperors of Japan as such? In my paper I would like to take a closer look on present theories of sacral kingship and show some challenging new views concerning the sacredness of the medieval emperors in Japan. 

6) Jin-Rong Shieh, Fu Jen Catholic University
Gilded Kamakura: Old Japan as the New Frontiers for the American Scions

After the Civil War, the first cluster of a native intellectual generation arose in America. During the "Gilded Age" coined by Mark Twain, young scions of the New England Brahmins were pursuing for a remotely new place out of spiritual needs or adventurous satisfactions. A critical mass of them chose Japan as their destination. The opening of Old Japan serves as a new frontier for the imagination of these connoisseurs, scientists and travelers. That the Gilded Age corresponds almost year for year to the Meiji Era already proposes an interesting platform to undergo comparative studies.

My paper thus embarks on a cross-road representation of three Americans' journey to Japan. Henry Brooks Adams (1838–1918), the expected political scion of the Adams family, traveled to Japan in 1886. A dimly short impression of Kamakura surprisingly resonates throughout his later classic The Education of Henry Adams (1907). The less known Charles Appleton Longfellow (1844–1893), the eldest son of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, also wandered over Japan for two years (1871–1873). This wave of exploring Old Japan sees its peak as Percival Lowell (1855–1916), a virtuoso from the Boston Lowell Family, visited Japan three times from 1883 to 1893. After returning to America, his pioneering interest in Mars also finds roots in his sojourn in Japan.

The American scions' interest in Old Japan paves the way for a rising self-awareness of national identity. A close re-look at their cross-national writings helps to recapitulate the early phase of the Japanese-American relationship from a perspective still much less discussed.