Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture

Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture

by Donald H. Shively (Editor)


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Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture by Donald H. Shively

Essays on the Iwakura Embassy, the realistic painter Takahashi Yuichi, the educational system, and music, show how the Japanese went about borrowing from the West in the first decades after the Restoration: the formulation of strategies for modernizing and the adaptation of Western models to Meiji culture. In the second half of the volume, the darker side, the pathology of modernization, is seen. The adjustment of the individual and the effects of progressive modernization on culture in an increasingly complex, twentieth-century society are recurring themes. They are illustrated with particular intensity in the experience of such writers as Natsume Soseki and Kobayashi Hideo, in the thought of Nishida Kitaro, and in the millenarian aspects of the new religions.

Originally published in 1971.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691617183
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 03/08/2015
Series: Studies in the Modernization of Japan Series
Pages: 712
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.70(d)

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Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture

By Donald H. Shively


Copyright © 1971 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-03072-2


On the Nature of Western Progress: The Journal of the Iwakura Embassy


With the Iwakura Mission, Japan made an important step toward joining the modern world. In November 1871, Iwakura Tomomi, Ito Hirobumi, Kido Takayoshi, and Okubo Toshimichi set out with nearly a hundred other Japanese to visit the United States and Europe in an attempt to begin preliminary discussions for revision of the unequal treaties and at the same time to find out as much as they could about their great adversary and model, the West. When they returned in September 1873, they had made little ostensible progress toward revising the treaties, which persisted until 1899, but they had learned about the West. They had learned enough to realize that drastic political, judicial, and social reforms along Western lines, in addition to technological innovation and knowledge of international law, were necessary before Japan could hope to negotiate on an equal footing with the West. And they had begun to realize the enormity of the task that faced them as they recognized the practical problems and the dangers involved in transplanting Western civilization to Japanese soil. They saw more clearly than ever before that Japan could not compete with the wealth and power of the West.

In the meantime, of course, the "caretaker" government left behind, including Saigo Takamori of Satsuma, Itagaki Taisuke of Tosa, and Okuma Shigenobu of Hizen, despite a pledge to make no major innovations while the embassy was away, had confidently proceeded with plans for the invasion of Korea. In the controversy that ensued upon the mission's return, the envoys' experiences during nearly two years abroad had a decisive influence. In October 1873, after lengthy debates that shook the entire government, the plans for a Korean invasion were abandoned in favor of internal reform, and Saigo, Itagaki, and several others resigned their posts to organize opposition to the government. A significant turn in Meiji government policy had occurred, largely as a result of what the embassy had learned abroad. Moreover, since members of the embassy were to wield great political power through the next decades of Meiji, it was largely they who determined the course of Japan's rapid modernization.

That the Iwakura Mission was one significant factor in the development of modern Japan is unquestionable. The Taisho and Showa statesman Makino Nobuaki (second son of Okubo), who went along on the mission as a student and was himself strongly influenced by the experience, remarked in his memoirs, "Together with the abolition of the han, dispatching the Iwakura Mission to America and Europe must be cited as the most important of the events that built the foundation of our state after the Restoration." Even allowing for a certain measure of subjective bias in such a statement, it is nonetheless curious that an event thus appraised should have received so little attention from historians. The Iwakura Mission has been examined only rarely, except within the context of Japanese diplomatic history. This relative neglect is particularly surprising and regrettable since the embassy produced such a massive official report, the Tokumei zenken taishi Bei-O kairan jikki (Journal of the Envoy Extraordinary Ambassador Plenipotentiary's Travels through America and Europe) (five volumes, 1878), a minute record of impressions and reactions which amounts, in fact, to a thorough and systematic assessment of the West. Coming as it did at a crucial moment in Japanese history, this assessment was of considerable importance in setting the patterns of reform policy in early Meiji. The report is important, too, because it reflects the outlook of the embassy members, among whom were included so many of the very leaders of the Meiji state. If, as this writer feels, the Jikki provides significant insights into the nature of this all-important elite's experience abroad, their attitudes toward modernization, and their reassessment of their own tradition, then study of the work in terms of intellectual and cultural history is long overdue.

Moreover, the work is significant in its own right, as an "enlightenment document" articulating the new preoccupations and expectations of the times. In this respect it is no less impressive than its more celebrated counterparts, Fukuzawa Yukichi's Bummeiron no gairyaku (An Outline of Civilization) (1876), and Taguchi Ukichi's Nihon kaika shoshi (A Short History of Japan's Enlightenment) (1877-82). In a sense, the Jikki is but one link, though a vital one, in a long tradition of learning from abroad. It is another specific illumination of the more positive phase of that acceptance-rejection pattern typical of Japan's cross-cultural relations.

The Iwakura Embassy was the first official diplomatic mission abroad since the Meiji Restoration. It was the first Japanese mission designed according to the principles of Western diplomacy. It was perhaps the first mission in world history to include such a large proportion of a country's leadership, sent abroad for an extended period at a time of national crisis. But it was not an entirely new idea. Some of the Bakumatsu missions (in 1862 and 1867, for example) had engaged in cultural inquiry of a similar nature, although much more limited in scope. In contrast to the narrow perspectives of these earlier missions, the Iwakura Mission was planned in an atmosphere of flexibility and receptivity to change. There was now the firm intention of applying what they learned from the West to the problems of Japan. There was a pre-departure aura of confidence that this examination of the West would reveal the ultimate sources of Western power and wealth. There was, too, a sense of a final closing in on the West that would enable prompt achievement of equality in all areas.

The Meiji government had been committed from the outset to rational, deliberate reform in all spheres. Some administrative, legal, economic, and social reforms had been carried out by 1871, but most of what had been done since the Restoration had been haphazard, the result of policy based on stopgap solutions to daily problems. Guiding principles and a long-range program were needed, and these the Iwakura Mission was intended to provide — a philosophy and a blueprint for modernization, based on a definitive "empirical" exposure of the West's secrets of success.

The specific objectives of the mission, as set forth in a letter from Prime Minister Sanjo Sanetomi to Foreign Minister lwakura in October 1871, were threefold. First, it was to be a mission of friendship to the governments of the fifteen countries with which Japan had official diplomatic relations. Second, the ambassadors were to begin treaty revision negotiations with the foreign heads of government themselves, although just how far the Japanese envoys were authorized to negotiate was a matter of considerable controversy. Third and most important, the mission was to be a learning expedition.

The composition of the group was determined accordingly. At the top were the ambassador and vice-ambassadors, all of whom had experience in foreign affairs and some knowledge of the West and were chosen from among the real leaders of the government. Below them were commissioners, experts in various fields and taken mainly from the ministries. Under the commissioners were numerous assistants, secretaries, and translators, the ablest young members of the bureaucracy. Finally, about half the group was made up of students. The mission was headed by Iwakura, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was promoted at the time to Minister of the Right. He held the title Envoy Extraordinary Ambassador Plenipotentiary (tokumei zenken taishi), the highest in the series of ranks created in 1871 to correspond with Western diplomatic ranks. There were four vice-ambassadors (fuku zenken taishi): Okubo, Minister of Finance; Kido, a member of the Council of State; Ito, Vice-Minister of Industry; and Yamaguchi Naoyoshi, an Assistant Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs. The list of commissioners (rijikan) included Sasaki Takamori, Vice-Minister of Justice; Tanaka Fujimaro, an official in the Ministry of Education; Yamada Akiyoshi, Lieutenant General in the Imperial Army; and seven others.

All members of the embassy, including the ambassadors, were to take part in the study of Western institutions and culture, but it was the responsibility of the commissioners and their assistants and secretaries to compile the official reports to be submitted to the government upon the mission's return. Vice-Ambassador Kido, for instance, took personal charge of law and government, and he supervised the work of Tanaka Fujimaro and First Secretary Ga Noriyuki from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a study of American legal and administrative procedures.

In addition to nine major cities in the United States, members of the embassy traveled to England and Scotland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland. They had intended to go to Spain and Portugal, but were prevented from doing so by the Spanish Civil War. They did not all travel together but broke up into smaller groups according to interest and specialty, and the groups of ten went their own ways, some visiting iron mines, for example, while others investigated the public school systems. Some of them went to special exhibitions, notably the International Exhibition in Vienna, which Iwakura and Ito attended in 1873 to see the modern products and recent inventions displayed. It was the Iwakura Embassy, too, that made the first contacts with the eminent German scholars Rudolph von Gneist and Lorenz von Stein, whose political thought was later to be so influential with the Meiji government elite.

The results of the Iwakura Embassy's prodigious cooperative efforts are meticulously recorded in the mission's only published official report, the Jikki mentioned above. A superficial scanning of the Jikki's approximately two thousand pages might suggest little more than a wearisome travelogue of America and Europe, with some hurried glances at Africa and Asia. Naturally, a substantial portion of the work consists of schedules, statistics, and descriptions of landmarks and industrial processes. The physical descriptions and the pictures, which abound, no doubt made the West come alive for those who had to content themselves with secondhand accounts. But the Jikki undertakes much more than a travelogue of Western exotica. It is actually a presentation on several levels. One of these, of course, is the day-by-day, almost hour-by-hour, account of the embassy's travels per se. Another is the seemingly endless recitation of facts and figures. Still another is the interpretive commentary woven throughout all five volumes, as reflective asides accompanying banal observations on bridge lengths or bread baking. This commentary is then expanded and more carefully organized and presented as reflective essays in the last volume. While this last level is obviously the most interesting, the statistics should not be neglected altogether, since they provide a sort of quantitative counterpoint, a valuable support for the generalizations.

The Jikki is the work of many minds though the product of a single brush. It was written by the embassy's diarist, Kume Kunitake, who served as Iwakura's chief secretary. Kume continued research and study after the embassy's return to Japan, and before completing the Jikki, which was not published until October 1878, he apparently consulted with many of the specialists assigned to specific topics abroad, several of whom had compiled their own reports. The Jikki is therefore the collective expression of various points of view, though it is doubtless imprinted with the stamp of the author's personality.

Kume Kunitake was particularly well suited to the task of compiling such a work. He was born in Saga in 1839, and his formative years were spent in the midst of the innovations and experiments in industrial enterprise, armaments, and shipbuilding for which that han was known. Saga, of course, was the home of Nagasaki, where there was a considerable European population, as well as a famous center for Western studies. Closely associated with the progressive daimyo of Saga, Kume was at the very center of the intellectually exciting han atmosphere. Later he was to study in Edo at the Shoheiko, the official Bakufu Confucian school which had its beginnings in the seventeenth century under Hayashi Razan. Thus he had a foothold in both the new Japan and the old. Shortly after the Restoration, he became a clerk in the Meiji government bureaucracy. His specialty was law, and while abroad he conducted a study of the French constitutional system in addition to preparing the Jikki.

In a sense, the Jikki is a kind of culmination of the in-process examination of Western civilization, examination which was formally concluded with the drafting of the Meiji Constitution in 1889 but continued on many other levels throughout the Meiji period. The work is, as Marius Jansen characterizes it, "the last and the greatest of the documents filed by Japanese learning missions."

One basic theme pervades the Jikki: the implicit question, What is the nature of the West, and how are its wealth, power, and enlightenment to be accounted for? In other words, How did the West get that way? Most important of all was the complementary question, How could Japan get that way? It is the Jikki's proposed answers to these questions, and some of the implications of the answers, which will concern me here. A detailed analysis of such an expansive work, however, is beyond the scope of this paper. I hope simply to give a general picture of what the Jikki is like and to indicate in broad terms its attitudes toward the West and modernization. I have relied heavily on direct quotation to convey the flavor of the work.

The Jikki sees all the nations of the West as engaged in a struggle for wealth and power. This struggle takes the form of a vast race for progress, with enormous expenditure of natural and human resources on all sides. It is true that there are variations in approach, and varying degrees of success, but the ends are always the same: to get ahead in the world. Any country that refuses to compete, or is too late in starting, will in the end be overwhelmed by its most powerful opponents. Thus all are forced into furious participation, and as history proceeds the present unevenness of development among Western nations will level off somewhat. Even Africa and Asia are passively involved in the struggle. Lethargic and backward themselves, they are victims of Western colonialism. This constant competition is the West's "warfare of peacetime."

The Jikki does not view "Euro-America" (Bei-O) indiscriminately as an undifferentiated whole. Much is made of regional and national differences. According to the Jikki, Europe can be divided into broad geographical areas based on relative enlightenment. "Setting out from Paris, the farther east one goes, the shallower civilization gradually becomes" (IV, 1-2). Russia is the farthest east and the least advanced, having begun her transformation into a modern state only some twenty years ago. Her resources are rich, but because of inadequate technology she has not yet been able to utilize them profitably, and she is still dominated commercially by the English and the Germans. When she develops sophisticated industrial techniques, she will become a nation to be feared. Hungary, only now beginning to emerge into the modern world, might offer instructive parallels for Japan.

In evaluating the contemporary condition of Hungary there are many things which should be considered carefully by Japan as she advances toward enlightenment. ... In Hungary only agriculture is respected, and a mere subsistence level is maintained [among the people]. When one reflects on it, however, the great nations of the present who were in the same state before the nineteenth century are many. ... The various nations who today are delayed in their enlightenment will be deeply impressed by studying the circumstances of Hungary, (IV, 460)


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Table of Contents

  • Frontmatter, pg. i
  • Contents, pg. v
  • List of Illustrations, pg. vii
  • Foreword, pg. ix
  • Editor's Preface, pg. xiii
  • Introduction, pg. 3
  • CHAPTER I. On the Nature of Western Progress: The Journal of the Iwakura Embassy, pg. 7
  • CHAPTER II .Westernization and Japanization: The Early Meiji Transformation of Education, pg. 35
  • CHAPTER III. The Japanization of the Middle Meiji, pg. 77
  • CHAPTER IV. The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and Its Cultural Effects in Japan, pg. 121
  • Introduction, pg. 179
  • CHAPTER V. Western-Style Painting in the Early Meiji Period and Its Critics, pg. 181
  • CHAPTER VI. The Formation of Realism in Meiji Painting: The Artistic Career of Takahashi Yuichi, pg. 221
  • CHAPTER VII. The Modern Music of Meiji Japan, pg. 257
  • Introduction, pg. 303
  • CHAPTER VIII. Natsume Sōseki and the Psychological Novel, pg. 305
  • CHAPTER IX. Toson and the Autobiographical Novel, pg. 347
  • CHAPTER X. Masaoka Shiki and Tanka Reform, pg. 379
  • CHAPTER XI. Kobayashi Hideo, pg. 419
  • CHAPTER XII. Fukuda Tsuneari: Modernization and Shingeki, pg. 463
  • Introduction, pg. 503
  • CHAPTER XIII. Nishida Kitarō: The Early Years, pg. 507
  • CHAPTER XIV. Millenarian Aspects of the New Religions in Japan, pg. 563
  • CHAPTER XV. Levels of Speech (keigo) and the Japanese Linguistic Response to Modernization, pg. 601
  • Index, pg. 673

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