Could bushidô, or the Way of the Warrior, be the magic pill for curing her recent economic malaise and strengthening the spirit needed for her ongoing economic and cultural engagement with the larger world? If bushidô is understood to mean the cultivation of martial spirit, this question would undoubtedly puzzle, if not alarm, Japan’s Asian neighbors, who still retain vivid memories of her imperialistic aggression more than half a century ago. In the minds of many Asians, the positive qualities of bushidô—loyalty, justice, modesty, frugality, honor, etc.—will never outweigh its negative association with Japanese militarism. And if bushidô is synonymous with militarism, does not the re-embracing of bushidô as a core Japanese value signal Japan’s attempt at economic and cultural imperialism?
In his 2002 book Bushidô to gendai (The Way of the Warrior and Modernity), Professor Kasaya Kazuhiko of the International Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) at Kyoto re-evaluates the role of bushidô in Japan’s modernization and globalization, and stresses the positive side of bushidô: it is a willingness to share responsibility and to be practical in solving problems. This understanding of bushidô is derived from his historical study of the socio-political role played by the ruling samuraiclass in the Tokugawa period (1600-1867), who developed a pragmatic attitude towards the management of social and political organizations at a time of crisis. Unfortunately, the stereotypical understanding of bushidô as a collective martial spirit possessed by aggressive Japanese soldiers and businessmen has formed such a reified image of the Japanese mentality that it is often used anachronistically to explain Japanese militarism during WWII and her economic success in the postwar period.
This paper looks at several moments when this reified image was formed and perpetuated during and after WWII and shows how they have complicated what could have been a fruitful cultural dialogue between Japan and the non-Western world. Part of the difficulty lies in the highly American-centric process of Japan’s globalization, which has been built on a double Orientalist construction of Japan as a tamed and exotic Other to Westerners and as an advanced and equally exotic Other to Asians. Japan’s postwar economic success, situated in the Cold War structure, has paradoxically suspended her need to confront the issue of historical responsibility in Asia. The image of Japan as a potentially militaristic nation remains deeply etched in the minds of many Asians. Japan’s recent economic stagnation, concludes this paper, could be a blessing-in-disguise for it affords her a chance to escape from this Orientalist construction and to take a more active role in defining her place in the world. Surely Kasaya’s re-evaluation of the term bushidô is a promising first step towards finding a more pragmatic path towards Japan’s modernization and globalization in the new century.
2. “Japan at a Crossroads: A Historical Perspective”
Cary Shinji Takagaki, University of Western Ontario (ON)
Japan at the beginning of the 21st century may indeed need to implement change in the face of ten years of economic stagnation. However, it does not seem able to do so, despite the presence of a
popular prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who has promised to make fundamental reforms. Of
course, resistance to change is to be expected—there are always those who have much at stake in the status quo. But is the current situation unique, or can events in Japan’s history, when the country faced other such crossroads, shed some light on the present? Accordingly, this paper proposes
to examine how the Japanese have dealt with the need for change in the past.
In the 6th century Japan was encouraged by the King of Paekche, one of the three ancient
kingdoms of what are now the Korean peninsula, to accept Buddhism. The Soga clan was receptive to the new religion as it realized that with Buddhism would come the technological and cultural
achievements of China. However, the clan’s major rivals resisted change as it threatened their
positions of privilege at court. Perhaps a more well known crossroads in Japanese history
occurred during the Meiji era when the country underwent a period of intense change and modernization. Again, there was opposition to this movement, but due to the imperative of Western imperialist nations, change became inevitable. Similarly, radical changes in Japan’s social, political,
and economic systems came about in the aftermath of the Second World War.
These examples would suggest that Japan has been capable of extreme, and successful,
transformation when necessary. However, in contrast, when crises of authority and solvency
necessitated action during the Tokugawa period, none of the attempts at change (e.g., the Kyōhō
Reforms, the Kansei Reforms, the Tempō Reforms) had any lasting effect, and ultimately,
fundamental problems remained unresolved.
This paper will examine why Japan was often unable to make essential changes in domestic
aggressive foreign intervention), has played as an impetus for radical and meaningful change in
3. “The M-Word Strikes Back: Japan's Prewar Empire, Current Dilemmas, and the Allure of the Modern”
Bill Sewell, St. Mary’s University (NS)
Abstract: Despite the prolonged backlash against so-called "modernization theory," analyses incorporating transmutations of the word "modern" have returned to studies of Japan in a big way. While some address shared, internationally attuned visions of modernity, others aver critical postmodern approaches. As any cursory glance reveals that something modern was important to prewar Japanese, this paper seeks to find a useful middle ground between these various perspectives. What is more, this effort may prove also to be of contemporary relevance, as an examination of prewar conceptions of the modern offers insight into Japan's continuing national malaise.
The lens of the prewar Japanese empire provides an often forgotten but a particularly useful vantage point from which to survey broad changes in Japanese society. Before the Manchurian Incident of September 18, 1931, most of those involved in upholding the Japanese empire defined modernity in a manner similar to that of Europeans and North Americans. After the Japanese seizure of Manchuria and the creation of the puppet state of Manchukuo, however, a critical mass of Japanese began defining the modern anew, incorporating concepts drawn from the Soviet Union, Germany, and Italy, as well as from Japan itself. While many are aware that key aspects of this new imperial modernity eventually went on to become standard operating procedure in prewar and wartime Japan, it is often not as well known that some of these aspects played central roles in postwar Japan. Indeed, after the war, many Japanese remained consistently proud of their accomplishments in the empire precisely because of their modern features and, by extension, what developed in Japan.
This suggests that at the least, contemporary reform efforts may be frustrated by the fact that some political and bureaucratic arrangements are older and more embedded than some may realize. What this also suggests, however, is that if postwar Japanese society can be considered as embodying yet another definition of modernity, then it may be that current dilemmas can only be overcome through the creation of yet another. That is to say, the nature of postwar Japanese national identity needs revisiting. This will require a deeper reconsideration of the values of contemporary society, including what it means to be modern.
4. “Children, Media and ‘Japan at the Crossroads’”
Owen Griffiths, Mount Allison University (NB)
In the history of modern Japan, no phrase has had more resonance than “Wareware wa kiro ni tatsu” (“We stand at the crossroads”). From the early Meiji period, through the Russo-Japanese War era, and, most powerfully, following Japan’s defeat in the Pacific War, the rhetoric of “standing at a crossroads” has dominated much of the discussion and debate surrounding Japanese identity and Japan’s place in the world. Now, almost sixty years after the Pacific War, Japan’s decade-long economic woes have led many inside and outside Japan to again raise the issue of “the turning point” or “the crossroads.” Seen from this perspective, modern Japanese history appears as a thematically continuous era defined by a ubiquitous “crisis consciousness” (kiki ishiki), of which “the crossroad” and the “turning point” are the most common expressions.
This paper analyzes how the rhetoric of “Japan at a crossroads” has been represented through the print media from early Taisho to mid-Showa (1915-1937). However, rather than focusing on adult consumers as the targets of political and social messages, this study examines how the media represented issues of nation, crisis, and subjecthood/citizenship to boys and girls through children’s magazines.
The manner in which the world of children was constructed by adults effectively lays bare the adult world itself, its aspirations, its fears, and its uneasy relationship to radical change and the concept of the crossroads itself. As one of the principle structures of Japanese modernity, the print media was an important agent of informal education and socialization, related to, but independent of, formal education in the classroom and non-formal education in the home.
In the early Taisho era two emergent trends can be seen that provide relevance for the study of children’s print media. One was the explosion of children’s magazines and literature in the early 1920s, which suggests a recognition of children as independent consumers on the part of publishers. Another was the growing awareness in official circles of children as both the future of the nation-state and a as potentially subversive force within the state. Both of these trends suggest that adult perceptions of children and childhood were changing in tandem with larger concerns about the nature of Japanese identity and Japan’s role in the world. By utilizing the media as a public vehicle of dissemination, with children as its target audience, this study therefore connects the “problematic” of Japanese modernity with the construction of childhood and national identity, both of which are concomitants of modernity itself.
5. “Women’s Education in the Changing Meiji World”
Febe D. Pamonag, University of Alberta (AB)
One bright day in November 1871, five Japanese girls were summoned for an audience with the Empress to receive the mandate to go and study abroad. For the first time ever, the Empress granted audience to the daughters of samurai, and the significance of this occasion was not lost on Tsuda Umeko, the youngest of the five girls. Tsuda viewed it as evidence of the Empress’s personal interest in women’s education, and a harbinger of a “new era” in Japan. Indeed, the Meiji era is a crucial period in Japanese history. Government officials sought to modernize the country in order to rectify Japan’s unequal position vis-a-vis the Western powers, and women, as well as men were envisioned to play an important role in this national endeavor. The royal mandate the Empress gave the five girls, which was, according to Tsuda, “to go abroad to study for the good of our countrywomen,” was symbolic of the Meiji government’s recognition that women had something to contribute to nation-building.
My paper examines the Meiji government’s education policy on women. What kind of education did Meiji government officials promote for women? How far and for what reasons should women be educated? Drawing on official government regulations, private correspondence, speeches and lectures of national government officials, especially those from the Education Ministry, and local school authorities, as well as personal accounts of teachers and students, this paper argues that since the early decades of the Meiji era, the government already recognized the importance of women’s education as a vital instrument for nation-building. Furthermore, in the 1890s, many deemed it necessary to educate women because educated mothers were vital for Japan’s quest to become a great power. Meiji government officials advanced a gendered rhetoric on women’s education, which unlike the Tokugawa times, reified women’s roles as wives and mothers, although it also limited the nature and extent of women’s education.
My paper contributes to our understanding of how the Meiji government, through its promotion of women’s education, coped with the demands of a changing nineteenth-century Japan. Women’s education was not only a vehicle to modernize the country, but it was also a symbol of Japan’s modernized state. Finally, by examining Meiji education policy, my paper also contributes to the history of female education in Meiji Japan.