Monday, October 27, 2014

Marginalia: A Bibliography (with Links) of English Materials Concerning E. H. Norman

E.H. Norman                                     John W. Dower

I just finished reading John W. Dower’s influential essay E. H. Norman, Japan and the Uses of History. Prof. Dower is an impressive scholar and nothing I can say here would encompass the range and impact of his scholarship, his stature among Japanese Studies academics, particularly in the field of postwar history and his distinguishing humanistic impulses that percolate inside the meticulously and impressively-researched books (which brought their author several achievements and rightfully merited awards). Among his numerous inspiring accomplishments, this one is probably the most exemplary: he has established a new standard of scrutiny for all historians of Japanese history under American Occupation. And to finally bring my pean to an end, I have to say that Prof. Dower’s scope has always been sweeping, controversial and decisive. I intend to review most of his books for this blog because I think that he’s one of the most significant historians in his field. My passion for Japanese history was kindled during my university years when I stumbled upon his magnum opus Embracing Defeat. I’ve also had the fortune to take his online course Visualizing Japan which he conducted in the company of the only man whom I consider his equal (a personal estimation): Prof. Andrew Gordon. I finished reading his collection of essays Japan in War & Peace last week so a review is bound to appear soon.

The positive evaluation from above applies to E. H. Norman as well. My estimation of Norman skyrocketed once I plunged into Origins of the Modern Japanese State - Selected Writings of E. H. Norman. This can be credited to the inspiring input from Prof. Dower’s famous (or infamous, depending on where you position yourself in the “modernization theory” debate) introduction. I will not dwell here on the contents of this fundamental essay; I’ll do so at a more appropriate time, after I’ve done more research. Henceforth, this entry concerns Prof. Dower and Norman only marginally. I merely wanted to share here a collection of articles which expand on the background and contents of Prof. Dower’s essay. I wanted to include bibliographical posts on various themes ever since I started this blog but I could never find the right moment or the right state of mind. The immeasurable excitement I felt after reading the introduction to Origins of the Modern Japanese State gave me the appropriate incentive. 

To make the post more inaugural I decided to add downloading links for the articles contained below. Although it’s not going to happen all the time, I’m planning to make this an occasional recurring practice in the interests of extending access to topics and evaluations that are worthy of a larger academic (or even leisure-practicing) audience. Before you go on however, you should mind the following observations:

Note 1: This entry is part of the bibliography which appears at the end of the book, in the subchapters entitled “Editorials, Reviews and Reports” and “English Materials Concerning E. H. Norman.” Unfortunately, due to inaccessibility some titles from the original couldn’t be included.

Note 2: The following titles all contain a positive evaluation of Norman’s scholarship. Some readers may see this as hagiography. I have no problems with this estimation. In a future post I’m planning to discuss a negative appraisal written by Prof. George Akita and a counter-response to this appraisal by Prof. Herbert P. Bix (who is esteemed in his own right). Prof. Dower already offers a balanced consideration by writing about the shortcomings of Norman’s work. These faults are pardonable and, on top of that, they are demonstrably overshadowed by Norman’s strengths as a pioneer in the field of Japanese Studies. It goes without saying that I support Prof. Dower’s position.  


Abosch, David. “Political Consciousness in Japan: A Retrospect on EH Norman.” Pacific Affairs 42.1 (1969): 25-31. (Download)

Harootunian, Harry D. “EH Norman and the Task for Japanese History.” Pacific Affairs 41.4 (1968): 545-552. (Download)

Maruyama, Masao. “An Affection for the Lesser Names: An Appreciation of E. Herbert Norman.” Pacific Affairs 30.3 (1957): 249-253. (Download)

Norman, E. Herbert. Japan's Emergence as a Modern State: Political and Economic Problems of the Meiji Period. New York: Institute of Pacific Relations, 1940. (Public Domain Link)

Norman, E. Herbert. “Mass Hysteria in Japan.” Far Eastern Survey 14.6 (1945): 65-70. (Download)

Norman, E. Herbert. “Militarists in the Japanese State.” Pacific Affairs 16.4 (1943): 475-481. (Download)

Norman, E. Herbert. Soldier and Peasant in Japan: The Origins of Conscription.” Pacific Affairs 16.1 (1943): 47-64. (Download)

Norman, E. Herbert. “Soldier and Peasant in Japan: The Origins of Conscription (Part II).” Pacific Affairs 16.2 (1943): 149-165. (Download)

Norman, E. Herbert. “The Genyosha: A Study in the Origins of Japanese Imperialism.” 17.3 (1944): 261-284. (Download)

Silberman, Bernard S. “EH Norman: Structure and Function in the Meiji State, A Reappraisal.” Pacific Affairs 41.4 (1968): 553-559. (Download)

Powles, Cyril. “EH Norman as Historian: A Canadian Perspective.” Pacific Affairs 50.4 (1977): 660-667. (Download)

Price, John. “EH Norman, Canada and Japan’s Postwar Constitution.” Pacific Affairs 74.3 (2001): 383-405. (Download)

Yamamura, Kozo. “EH Norman as an Economic Historian.” Pacific Affairs 42.1 (1969): 17-24. (Download)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Travelers' Tales: Three Eighteenth-Century Travel Journals by Harold Bolitho

Prof. Harold Bolitho’s essay Travelers’ Tales: Three Eighteenth-Century Travel Journals introduces the travel journal as a significant cultural artifact which, by its qualitative appeal and ubiquitous presence among the masses, was fundamental in laying the foundation for Japanese modernity. Modernity, a historically-loaded, complicated notion, took roots during the Tokugawa period, roughly between 1600 and 1868, when political power and cultural prestige started to concentrate around large urban centers which today are the famous, sprawling metropoles on every tourist’s ‘must-visit’ list. Prof. Bolitho’s cultured travelers by contrast sought to visit inaccessible, uninviting, far-off locations. They left behind a rich treasury of written records about difficult journeys, remote destinations and unexpected (and oftentimes whimsical and fanciful) encounters. These records were and still are of an exceptional literary quality, foreshadowing an unparalleled development on the Japanese literary stage, even surpassing the West at the time in both output and consumption. 

Furukawa Koshōken

The three protagonists of Prof. Bolitho’s article are Furukawa Koshōken (1726-1807), Tachibana Nankei (1753-1805) and Sugae Masumi (1754-1829). It is noteworthy to point out that these three travelers conducted their journeys in the eighteenth century, at a time when, in Prof. Bolitho’s words, “recreational travel came into its own.” This unexpected evolution was caused in great part by the introduction of the sankin kōtai (or ‘alternate attendance’) system in 1637, which required all daimyō to travel regularly from their residential domains — regardless how far they were located — to Edo (as Tokyo was known then), to maintain lodgings in the capital and to leave their wives and children behind upon their return home. As a result, the unprecedented development of the highway network took off. And even though the government sought to hamper free travel with a complicated checkpoint system including heavily-armed guard posts, signed documents, travel passes and bodily check-ups, the frequent movement of multitudes of samurai to Edo “led to the provision of facilities of a kind which could be used by all travelers, commoners as well as samurai — inns at which they could lodge, teahouses at which they could rest, porters and horses whose services they could use.” On the extensive precautions that the government officials instituted on its highways, Sugae was begrudgingly straightforward:

On going to get a pass from the local official, he noted that “On it was written who you were, where you came from, what kind of clothes you were wearing, whether or not you carried a short sword, what your destination was, and the fact that you had been checked at this barrier. Then you paid a sum of money as a fee…whereupon the official took you to the check-point, you handed in your pass at the barrier and you were then allowed through. All check-points are the same.

Despite tight government control, traveling was oftentimes a risky enterprise. The most notable danger were bandits that robbed and killed people although their incidence decreased significantly by the time our three protagonists embarked on their journeys. Bears were still a constant threat. The only important hazard, however, remained the general unsafeness of the relief and the means of transport. Nankei attempted to scale down these risks by developing five prohibitions or rules for a successful trip: “not to travel by sea, not to ford a river on foot, not to travel at night, not to eat strange food, and not to associate with low women.

Tachibana Nankei

Although of different ages, Koshōken, Nankei and Sugae share qualities and skills that overlap; more often than not, they have distinctive personalities although it is noteworthy to mention that the main attribute which unifies them is the exhaustive interest they took in recording every absorbing detail from their journeys to the various corners of Japan. They differed in motivation (it seems that Nankei was particularly interested in making a fortune from his writings, while Koshōken had a rigid Neo-Confucianist view in regard to money-handling) but this did not hamper their style or their enthusiasm to bring their experiences to audiences who couldn’t risk or afford to journey outside their village or city. Their written chronicles (Koshōken’s Saiyū zakki, Nankei’s Saiyūki and Tōyūki, and Sugae’s Yūranki) are still accessible today and they are popular among scholars of Japanese history as well as casual readers. Moreover, all three of them travelled (although not at the same time and it’s presumed that they never met) to the Tōhoku region, in the north-eastern part of Japan. Their descriptions of Tōhoku form the central point of Prof. Bolitho’s essay. Having lived in Sendai for a long period of time, these descriptions are of a personal interest to me, reason for which I am bringing this article to your attention.

Sugae Masumi

Anyone who is familiar with the history of the Tōhoku region will know that it has always been isolated from the rest of Japan, politically, economically as well as culturally. The long and bitter winter gave this part of Japan a notorious fame for its harsh and dangerous living conditions. The mountainous terrain unfavorable to cultivation forced the region into famine on more than one occasion. Capricious weather impacted negatively the insufficient crops, and these were often failing. Generally, the people lived in abject poverty. (As a side-note, it is worth mentioning that the misfortunes of the inhabitants of Tōhoku following the 1905-1906 famine was used by extremist right-wingers as a motivational point for domestic unrest and support for empire expansion.) When Tachibana Nankei came to Tōhoku the Tenmei famine was far from over, rather it seemed to have reached its peak. He recorded the following:

“I came to Ōshū [i.e. Tōhoku] at the beginning of 1786,” he wrote, “believing that the region would by now be amply supplied with food. But the famine of 1783 was a hundred times worse than we had heard in Kyoto. Many were dying of hunger, the Nambu-Tsugaru region was a wasteland. Such sights I had never seen,” Nankei continued, describing bodies, or portions thereof, left by the roadside. “In the course of a morning I would see the remains of perhaps five people, and in the afternoon another fourteen or fifteen; then the next day I would see twenty-three, and the day after fifty or sixty. Thereafter I became accustomed to seeing them, and felt no particular unease.”

Sugae also wrote of his encounter with a beggar from the famine-ridden area who claimed to have eaten horse flesh and even indulged in cannibalism, preferring ears and noses over the rest of the human body. The poverty and backwardness of the region bothered all three travelers. Koshōken blamed the daimyōs of Sendai and Akita for the miserable conditions of the populace:

“In the world today,” he wrote, “demons are those who, lost in selfishness, kill people and take their money. Or they are rulers who govern badly, and who when their peasants are in difficulties because their money has been unlawfully taken from them, and come to complain, will accuse them of rebellion and have them killed. These too are demons, whether in the past or in the present…”

 The travelers had very different approaches regarding the Tōhoku people. For example, Sugae displayed in his writings a detached, almost ethnographic sensitivity. He described everything he saw without passing any sort of moral judgement. Here’s an observation which is exemplary of his neutral attitude; on seeing the traditional face covering of the Shōnai area he remarked the following:

“It is the custom in this province,” he wrote, in his usual emphatic way, “to place something called a domokko on the head, and on top of that to affix a turban, and then to wind a three-foot long strip of cloth called a tenno around the jaw and the cranium, leaving only the eyes visible.” 

In contrast, according to Bolitho, Nankei made blatant racist remarks whenever he witnessed a custom that didn’t prefigure in his definition of ‘normal.’ He was particularly stuck on the allegedly non-Japanese ethnic background of the Tōhoku inhabitants: 

“In ancient times,” [he wrote], “…Oshu…was in part dominated by the Ezo (i.e., the Ainu). Furthermore, the barbarians would appear to have lived here until comparatively recently, for there are many barbarous names among the place-names of the Nanbu and Tsugaru regions…Even now in areas such as Uten the customs are very like this of the Ezo, and the people of Tsugaru are disliked because they are thought to be of Ezo stock…For this reason manners and culture are still undeveloped…In ancient times the Nanbu, Tsugaru, and Akita region was inhabited by barbarians. Only in the past two hundred years has it become so thoroughly part of Japan, so people say.”

Moving away from bleak topics, it is important to add that all three writers enjoyed the natural beauty of Tōhoku, particularly the scenery at Matsushima, a tourist magnet even to the present day. Many exhilarating encounters were recorded here:

In Nankei’s case, nothing could spoil the experience for him, not even an unfortunate encounter with a group of Zen priests, “quite unlike priests in their deportment, laughing at the top of their voices, and summoning four or five geisha from the town in the early evening, drinking sake and eating meat,” and to compound their crimes further, speaking in Tōhoku accents. After viewing the panorama of pine-covered islands from a temple on Tomiyama, he was reluctant to leave, and when he did so, “came down feeling as though I had just parted from an old friend.” Koshōken similarly was full of anticipation, and was not disappointed — “on seeing these islands scattered on the surface of the sea we were struck dumb, having no words with which to frame poems.”

I would like to conclude by recording the last lines of Prof. Bolitho’s article, lines which were written down by Koshōken at the end of his journeys. For me Koshōken was the more interesting fellow of the three travelers, mostly due to his comical dislike of all Japanese religions (whether indigenous Shinto or Buddhist sects, they were all equally scorned by Koshōken) and his acerbic critiques of daimyōs who failed in their duty to maintain their fiefs in a sustainable if not prosperous state. Koshōken was an old man by the time he wrote the following:

“Although I am in my sixties, I am still vigorous. I have traveled many hundreds of miles in the north-east in the company of the inspectors, my nerves chilled by steep-sided mountains, my eyes amazed by the turbulent billows of mighty oceans, my travel-fatigue dispelled by noble vistas. Now, seeing my humble abode, I drenched my sleeves.”

Work cited:

Pictures were borrowed from here, here and here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

New Publication: Inventing the Way of the Samurai - Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushidō in Modern Japan

Inventing the Way of the Samurai examines the development of the 'way of the samurai' - bushidō - which is popularly viewed as a defining element of the Japanese national character and even the 'soul of Japan'. Rather than a continuation of ancient traditions, however, bushidō developed from a search for identity during Japan's modernization in the late nineteenth century. The former samurai class were widely viewed as a relic of a bygone age in the 1880s, and the first significant discussions of bushidō at the end of the decade were strongly influenced by contemporary European ideals of gentlemen and chivalry. At the same time, Japanese thinkers increasingly looked to their own traditions in search of sources of national identity, and this process accelerated as national confidence grew with military victories over China and Russia.

Inventing the Way of the Samurai considers the people, events, and writings that drove the rapid growth of bushidō, which came to emphasize martial virtues and absolute loyalty to the emperor. In the early twentieth century, bushidōbecame a core subject in civilian and military education, and was a key ideological pillar supporting the imperial state until its collapse in 1945. The close identification of bushidō with Japanese militarism meant that it was rejected immediately after the war, but different interpretations of bushidō were soon revived by both Japanese and foreign commentators seeking to explain Japan's past, present, and future. This volume further explores the factors behind the resurgence of bushidō, which has proven resilient through 130 years of dramatic social, political, and cultural change.


New Publication: Kyoto - An Urban History of Japan's Premodern Capital

Kyoto was Japan’s political and cultural capital for more than a millennium before the dawn of the modern era. Until about the fifteenth century, it was also among the world’s largest cities and, as the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, it was a place where the political, artistic, and religious currents of Asia coalesced and flourished. Despite these and many other traits that make Kyoto a place of both Japanese and world historical significance, the physical appearance of the premodern city remains largely unknown. Through a synthesis of textual, pictorial, and archeological sources, this work attempts to shed light on Kyoto’s premodern urban landscape with the aim of opening up new ways of thinking about key aspects of premodern Japanese history. 

The book begins with an examination of Kyoto’s highly idealized urban plan (adapted from Chinese models in the eighth century) and the reasons behind its eventual failure. The formation of the suburbs of Kamigyō and Shimogyō is compared to the creation of large exurban temple-palace complexes by retired emperors from the late eleventh century. Each, it is argued, was a material manifestation of the advancement of privatized power that inspired a medieval discourse aimed at excluding “outsiders.” By examining this discourse, a case is made that medieval power holders, despite growing autonomy, continued to see the emperor and classical state system as the ultimate sources of political legitimacy. This sentiment was shared by the leaders of the Ashikaga shogunate, who established their headquarters in Kyoto in 1336. The narrative examines how these warrior leaders interacted with the capital’s urban landscape, revealing a surprising degree of deference to classical building protocols and urban codes. Remaining chapters look at the dramatic changes that took place during the Age of Warring States (1467–1580s) and Kyoto’s postwar revitalization under the leadership of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Nobunaga’s construction of Nijō Castle in 1569 transformed Kyoto’s fundamental character and, as Japan’s first castle town, it set an example soon replicated throughout the archipelago. In closing, the book explores how Hideyoshi—like so many before him, yet with much greater zeal—used monumentalism to co-opt and leverage the authority of Kyoto’s traditional institutions. 

Richly illustrated with original maps and diagrams, Kyoto is a panoramic examination of space and architecture spanning eight centuries. It narrates a history of Japan’s premodern capital relevant to the fields of institutional history, material culture, art and architectural history, religion, and urban planning. Students and scholars of Japan will be introduced to new ways of thinking about old historical problems while readers interested in the cities and architecture of East Asia and beyond will benefit from a novel approach that synthesizes a wide variety of sources.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Marginalia: Beef

                   I was preparing to examine an article by Prof. Harold Bolitho when I stumbled upon this particular precious item which I thought would be an appropriate fit among the marginalia already included on this website. My discovery involves a 'dispute' between two giants in the field of Japanese Studies. The conflict took place in the pages of Monumenta Nipponica, a journal published by Sophia University in Tokyo. In the 1980 spring issue, Prof. Bolitho reviewed unfavourably the anthology of essays edited by Tetsuo Najita and Irwin Scheiner Japanese Thought in the Tokugawa Period 1600-1868: Methods and Metaphors and he singled out Prof. Harootunian's article as the most unsatisfactory of the bunch. Here's the original review.

                   Professor Harootunian responded to Prof. Bolitho's criticism in the Autumn issue of the same publication. As the readers will see, the retort is heavily worded and it shows the author's clear irritation. Finally, in the pages of the same issue, Prof. Bolitho was offered the opportunity of rebuttal. At first I thought that I'm witnessing a case of the old adversarial divide which haunts the Japanese Studies academia and which was instigated by the now decades-old contentious debate over the 'modernisation theory.' To summarise the issue, it suffices to say that the divide was initiated (and is being kept ongoing) by the separation between Marxist-based historical approach to the study of Japanese history (the kind conducted in the English-speaking world by E. H. Norman, John W. Dower and, according to the statements included above, Harold Bolitho) and the practitioners of non-Marxist scholarship (like Marius B. Jansen). A better overview of this debate can be found in this London Review of Books article. I was amused and somewhat pleased to discover that the dispute between Prof. Bolitho and Prof. Harootunian was sparked by a simple case of irremediable displeasure with a bad review. Here's how the 'correspondence' between the two scholars concluded.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

East Meets East: The Soejima Mission to China, 1873 by Wayne C. McWilliams

Soejima Taneomi, 1872

Wayne C. McWilliams’ article East Meets East - The Soejima Mission to China, 1873 takes a close look at the personality of Japanese Foreign Minister Soejima Taneomi (1828-1905) during the high point of his career, which was the 1873 trip to China where he managed to secure an audience with the emperor, an almost-impossible accomplishment at the time. The author also makes the strong argument that the real significant outcome of Soejima’s trip planted the seeds of Japanese expansionism. Under the disguise of necessitating a diplomatic interchange with the Chinese government on matters regarding Formosa (as Taiwan was known back then) and Korea, the new Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary ordained by the fledgling Meiji government sought to

…lay the diplomatic groundwork for an ambitious program of Japanese expansion in Asia. This program included the assertion of the Japanese claim to the Ryukyu Islands, the conquest of Korea, and the sending of a military expedition to Formosa with the design of annexing a part, if not the whole, of that island.

The official reason behind the mission to China as given by the Japanese government ostensibly included an incident in which a group of shipwrecked Ryukyu islanders were massacred by the aboriginal tribesmen of southern Formosa. In addition, the tensional relations with Korea who wouldn’t recognize the legitimacy of the newly-installed Meiji Emperor at the helm of the country’s leadership was taken as an affront by the Japanese statesmen, many of whom called for punitive armed conflict. 

As I showed in a previous post, the Koreans had enjoyed positive relations with the Tokugawa regime. Significant cultural and trading exchanges between Japan and Korea took place from the early 1600s until 1811 (in this interval, Korea sent twelve diplomatic missions to Japan but there were no missions in the reverse direction). When the bakufu government fell in the aftermath of the Meiji revolution, the Korean government refused to officially admit the legitimacy of the new Emperor as the head of state not only because they had lost their Tokugawa allies but also because, at the time, it was regarded that only the Chinese Emperor had the unique distinction of even being allowed to use the title of ‘Emperor’. This was a prevalent view coming from China across most Asian nations who, along with Korea, were paying tributaries to China in exchange for military defense, political recognition and a certain degree of autonomy. McWilliams argues that Soejima “made it his purpose to render preposterous China’s long-held posture of world supremacy and to undermine or eliminate the vestiges of Chinese condescension toward his own country.” It is noteworthy to mention here that the Tokugawa regime also rejected the Chinese-centered order and refused to pay tribute to China, a point that was specially emphasized during the Korean missions to Edo. Andrew Gordon reminds us that during their ambassadorial visits,

The Koreans were treated with a certain respect. They were not expected to prostrate themselves or to convey symbolic servitude, as they were in visits to the Chinese court. They interacted more or less as equals…

Despite their close historical bond, by the time the Meiji Restoration took off, relations between Japan and Korea soured. Meiji statesmen, encouraged by their advances in science and military which came with the opening of Japan to the West, became more hawkish and confident that the superiority of their forces would prevail in an open conflict against Korea a conflict which was seen as inevitable due to Korea’s continued refusal to establish treaty relations and the affront brought against the Meiji Emperor. They sought to prove this by engaging in a course of action that strived to clarify Japan’s national boundaries and to counterbalance the regional influence of Western countries which imposed on Japan strict, disadvantageous treaties. This course of action was brought to a favorable conclusion by Soejima. His reception by the Chinese Emperor before all other world delegates in 1873, the falsely implied, unwritten consent by the Chinese that Japan can invade and occupy Formosa, the skillful political manipulation which saw the removal of Chinese involvement from Korean foreign policy — these were but a few successes that propelled Soejima to a position of historical eminence. In the author’s own words, Soejima’s political adroitness

…set the tone for future Japanese relations with China, and like the Iwakura mission that visited the major capitals in the West, his embassy effectively proclaimed to the rest of the world, both East and West, that Japan was ready and able to take its place as a proud and independent member of the community of nations. In joining — indeed, in leading — the representatives of the Western powers in the successful quest for an audience with the Chinese Emperor, Soejima was in effect declaring Japan’s new identity; no longer was Japan to be identified together with China as a tradition-bound, exclusive and isolationist Asian country beyond the pale of modern international intercourse. Instead, Japan would line up with the nations of the modern West and challenge its reluctant Asian neighbors to abandon the closed world of the past for brave new world.

Some significant points I learned from reading McWilliams’ article:
  • Taking his cue from Commodore Perry’s arrival to Japan almost two decades earlier, Soejima’s diplomacy was correctly viewed as gunboat diplomacy as his envoy was deliberately escorted by Japan’s modern naval boats completely manned by Japanese military attaches and sailors. This colossal technology contrasted with the undeveloped Chinese navy and conveyed a striking, threatening message; 
  • Thirty years before the Russo-Japanese War, Soejima was building good relations with Russian representatives, such as Grand Duke Alexis. He apparently liked to socialize and entertain the Russians more than the rest of the Western diplomats present in Peking. By cultivating his friendship with General Vlangaly, he confirmed Russian neutrality in the event of a Japanese invasion of Korea and he was able to settle the boundaries of the Sakhalin Island (also known as Karafuto). These ties of friendship were completely dispelled when Japan, at the height of its assertiveness, started the Russo-Japanese War under the motive of liberating Korea from Western colonialism;
  • The Chinese held in contempt the adoption of Western customs by the Japanese. Soejima’s assertive proclamations that Japan had gained military supremacy and secured the consultation of Western generals like Charles William LeGendre were not regarded favorably by the Peking government who emphasized China’s stolid traditionalism as a superior vehicle for dealing with foreign powers;
  • The Chinese persisted in their view that the Emperor is the Son of Heaven without peer on earth, despite the fact that they were forced to enter into treaty relations with the West. The Chinese rejection of global politics was encompassed by the sovereign’s refusal to meet and conduct political negotiations with delegates from other nations, even while these occupied and controlled large portions of China. Soejima took the Chinese at task for showing servitude to Western powers;  
  • Soejima, an astute master of Confucianist texts, was able to quote at length from the classics and to offer interpretations that favored his position. For example, he drew from T’ang dynasty history “to illustrate his point that China, by its stubborn persistence in the Middle Kingdom myth and its arrogant and condescending attitude to foreign countries, was not following the way of the ancient sages”;
  • Soejima refused to follow Chinese protocol in regard to the audience ceremony. This was probably  the biggest stumbling block that prevented him from securing an earlier audience. He, just like the Western delegates, “was not willing to accept the humiliating form of etiquette that was demanded by the Chinese” nor did he have “any intention of performing the kowtow, the traditional form of ritual obeisance consisting of three bows followed by nine kneelings before the Chinese Emperor.” When he was finally received by the emperor on 29 June 1873 Soejima, dressed in Western attire and carrying a sword (to the chagrin of the Chinese statesmen) performed three bows sans the kowtows;
  • In the most controversial move of his visit — details which are highly debated to this day — Soejima acquired China’s assurance that it won’t intervene in the eventuality of a Japanese invasion of Korea, regardless of the latter’s status as a tributary. This agreement, which suspiciously does not appear in any written Chinese record, also included the provision that China won’t continue any claims of sovereignty over the Ryukyus and Formosa and that China would consent to a Japanese expeditionary force to suppress the unruly Formosa aborigines. 

       McWilliams takes a firm position on Soejima’s accomplishments over this last point. He addresses the ambassador’s success in the following way:

The failure of the Chinese government to make its position clear to the Japanese and to allow them to leave China without further questioning on these matters has generally been attributed to its ineptitude and lack of experience in diplomacy. But it may just as reasonably be argued that they were victimized by Soejima’s shrewd and deceptive diplomatic tactics. Soejima purposely obscured these important issues by placing pressure on the Chinese about the audience issue. The Korean and Formosan questions were dealt with in a covert manner so as to disguise their gravity.

Whatever the case may be, Soejima’s plan to see the Japanese Empire expand into Korea didn’t take fruition due to the seikanron dispute from October 1873, when members of the Meiji government voted against this course of action. The expedition into Formosa took place on April 1874 and this can be easily considered a victory for Soejima. The kokken gaikō policy, meaning the “defending, asserting and expanding the national sovereignty of Japan” took root and flourished under his leadership. His greatest accomplishment however was securing his position as the first representative of a foreign power to be received by the Chinese Emperor in almost eighty years, an event which had momentous implications for the future Empire of Japan and for Asia in general.

Works cited: 

Pictures were taken from McWilliams' article.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The First European Description of Japan, 1585: A Critical English-language Edition of Striking Contrasts in the Customs of Europe and Japan by Luis Frois, S.J.

Written records of first encounters with Japan are a dime a dozen. They range from detailed, vivid and compelling ones (see Kaempfer’s The History of Japan: Together with a Description of the Kingdom of Siam, 1690-92, Edward J. Morse’s Japan Day by Day, 1877, 1878-1879, 1882-1883) to colorless, mundane ones (see Mrs. Hugh Fraser’s A Diplomat’s Wife in Japan and Sir Rutherford Alcock’s The Capital of the Tycoon: A Narrative of a Three Years’ Residence in Japan). Despite the varying appeal of the subject matter, the possibilities explored by these narratives have created a need to search more rigorously for the historical conditions and experiences that transpired when foreigners came in contact with Japan for the first time, as these events were numerous, exciting and momentous for everyone involved. I’m pleased to say that the first English translation of Luis Frois’ Striking Contrasts in the Customs of Europe and Japan falls in the former category I just mentioned. The translators and editors of this fascinating book allow the reader to discover in Luis Frois’ animated and insightful observations of 16th century Japan a country and a people that are as complex and cultured as the Europeans who, at the time, were deeply entangled (with various degrees of success) in  expeditions to conquer, civilize and Christianize all the ‘barbarian,’ heathen lands of the barely explored Asiatic regions. The astonishing quality of this book is that it gives a balanced, fair-minded evaluation of Japanese mores and customs by a Jesuit priest at the height of Christian missionary zeal around the globe. 

The book consists of 600 numbered brief couplets divided among fourteen different chapters which range from Children, their upbringing and customs to Drama, farces, dancing, singing, and musical instruments. Amid these chapters one can find Temples and things related to worship and religion, Japanese eating and drinking habits and Construction of houses, roads and gardens. The assortment of topics seems limitless. No cultural or social detail is spared as one can see from the chapters on Japanese books and writing and Women, their persons and dress. But what stands out above and beyond Luis Frois’ original writing is the meticulous work that the editors of this edition have poured into annotating and explaining each couplet. These annotations and explanations make up the bulk of the book. The editorial thoroughness shines in the identification of the historical background of all of Frois’ assertions; it is also present in the exhaustive research that went into locating the exactness of his pronouncements regarding both European and Japanese people. The editors also take the time to correct any inaccuracies and misconceptions which Frois inserted in his work as a result of poor judgement, although these are hard to come by and seem to be unintentional rather than the outcome of explicit prejudice. To give you an example, one particular couplet makes reference to the application of makeup:

15. Women in Europe think it unattractive for their face powder and makeup to be noticeable; women in Japan think the more layers of white powder applied, the more genteel.

The editors then proceed to give an accurate overview of the circumstances surrounding Frois’ observation:

Cosmetics as well as jewelry were popular in Europe, although the Church frowned on make up, “Because, to give oneself over to the arts of the toilet pertains to a harlot, and not to a woman who is truly good.” Certainly Japanese women, on formal occasions, out-did their European counterparts in the foundation department, as the prolific playwright Saikaku has a female character apply two hundred layers of powder… The Japanese from time immemorial have valued white skin, especially for women. Still, it would be wrong to identity Japanese women in masse with heavy make-up. The Spanish merchant Avila Giron, writing a couple decades after Frois, noted that it was primarily married women, “as a mark of honor,” who were accustomed to putting on a little powder and a touch of color on their lips, to hide the dye that came off on their lips when they stained their teeth black.

The rest of the book is structured in the same way. Each couplet is followed by paragraphs of interesting contextual information which develop Frois’ assertions beyond their intended use. But before I go into greater detail about the motives behind the Tratado (as the compilation of couplets is known in its original Portuguese) I should address one very important question: who was Luis Frois? The book’s Introduction clarifies this issue in a very engaging way. 

Frois was born in Lisbon in 1532 and became a Jesuit friar at the age of sixteen. Before he headed out to Japan, Frois built up his missionary experience by traveling to the west coast of Africa and to India. Living in these foreign lands and coming into contact with non-European cultures would prove invaluable to Frois’ work in the Tratado. In 1553 he met with Francis Xavier (1506-1552), the priest who started the first Jesuit mission to Japan. After being ordained as a priest in 1561, Frois was sent to Japan to continue the mission’s work. He arrived in 1563 at a time when many powerful daimyos from Kyushu had already been converted to Christianity and the Portuguese silk and gun trade was in high demand, facilitating baptism and increasing foreigners’ access inside Japan. Frois spent a few years in Kyushu learning the Japanese language then he departed for Kyoto where a number of daimyos had already become Christian. After Oda Nobunaga marched into Kyoto in the fall of 1568, Frois retook his residence in the capital after being forced earlier to flee due to violent domestic disputes. Nobunaga was friendly towards Frois whom he allowed to proselytize within his domain undisturbed. By the time Frois died in 1597 the Jesuit order had gained 150,000 Japanese converts and had established around 200 churches. Frois’ Tratado played no small part in the accomplishment of these feats.

The Tratado was written at the request of Alessandro Valignano (1539-1606), “father visitor” who came to Japan in 1579 to perform an inspection of the Jesuit mission. At the time the mission was undergoing internal decline. Recent Japanese converts were quitting as fast as orders came from the superiors. Valignano also recognized in the racism perpetuated by Jesuit friars towards the converts  whom they viewed as inferior due to their “strange” customs and whom they forbade to become priests or members of the Jesuit order  another factor for the mission’s downturn. Adding to this inopportune environment was Valignano’s gloomy pronouncement that “Japan is not a place which can be controlled by foreigners, for the Japanese are neither so weak nor so stupid a race as to permit this, and the King of Spain neither had nor ever could have any power of jurisdiction here.” He then went on to observe that “there is no alternative to relying on training the natives in the way they should go and subsequently leaving them to manage the churches themselves.” In order for this to be achieved, new strategies had to be employed: European Jesuits had to behave like Japanese, religious texts had to be translated into the native language and the Japanese had to be inducted into higher orders so that they could go and disseminate the religion themselves. Valignano quickly recognized in Frois’ mastering of the Japanese language a unique opportunity. He commissioned Frois to write an explanatory text that could function as a guide for missionaries who wanted to come to Japan and proselytize. Valignano was of the opinion that cultural and social understanding — an early forerunner to present-day “soft power” diplomacy — would benefit the church better. Thus the Tratado saw the light of day.

Returning now to the book under review, it is noteworthy to mention that there hasn’t been an English translation of Frois’ text until this Routledge edition. The Tradado was translated into Japanese, Chinese, German, French and Spanish. The Japanese edition is particularly popular with the readers, having reached half a dozen printings. I would like here to state my agreement with the editors about the scholarly significance of this book being finally translated into English. This is not only an important document for any historian who wants to learn more about the depths of interaction between Japan and Europe in the 16th century: it also allows us to see Christianity as more than a menacing threat or terror that sought to convert new people and appropriate new riches at any cost and by any violent method. In Frois’ couplets one senses a profound respect and curiosity towards the baffling foreign customs of the Japanese, a people whose culture and social practice could not be more different from their European counterparts. On the whole, Frois’ observations never descend into fantasy. It is this particular factor which distinguishes Frois from other writers who have experienced their first contact with Japan. As a counterpoint, I would like to point out that during his first expedition to Japan, Commodore Matthew Perry learned about the country from a book entitled Japan and the Japanese. In John Dower’s words, this book 

…paired synopses of prior writings with a selection of illustrations that revealed how odd and exotic the little-known [Japanese] heathen still remained in the imagination of Westerners. These thoroughly fanciful graphics conjured up a world of bizarre religious icons commingled with sturdy men and women wearing Chinese-style robes, holding large and stiff fan-shaped implements, even promenading with folded umbrella-like tents draped over their heads and carried from behind by an attendant.

I have included some of these “fanciful” depictions below. 

During Perry’s time, quite a few accounts “dwelling on the persecution of Christians and inhospitable treatment meted out to castaways, spoke derisively of a land that had regressed ‘intro barbarism and idolatry.’” Idolatry bothered Frois as well. His discomfort and irritation with Buddhist monks pours from every couplet contained in the chapter Concerning the bonzes and their customs. The harsh, disparaging views towards Buddhism show us a different side of Frois, one that’s antithetical with the rest of his assessments. His intolerance however could be excused by the historical circumstances in which Jesuit missionaries found themselves competing against Buddhist monks for converts on unfavorable terms. Also, the institutional, authoritarian closed-mindedness regarding other denominations which was communicated by the Church in Rome did not help Frois’ discernment between bad and good Buddhists. Here are some of his most unkind remarks:

2. Among us, one subsequently professes vows to be pure of soul and chaste of body; the bonzes profess vows to all manner of inner filth and all the nefarious sins of flesh.

3. Among us, a vow of poverty is made to God and worldly riches are shunned; the bonzes fleece their followers and seek countless ways to increase their wealth.

16. Our religious focus their principal efforts on interior purity and cleanliness; the bonzes keep their dwellings, gardens and temples extremely clean, but keep their souls abominable.

17. Among us, we are keen to avoid deceit, hypocrisy and adulation; the bonzes of Japan live off these and consider them an extremely powerful means of making a livelihood.

While some of these observation were occasionally true when concerning individuals, Frois was being dishonest in portraying the various Buddhist sects as a monolith. Buddhism was split into many dissimilar movements as was Christianity after the Protestant Reformation. His inspiration in writing negatively about the local religious traditions could also be traced to a letter written by Francis Xavier in 1552 in which he wrote the following:

…our greatest enemies are the bonzes, because we expose their falsehoods…they used to make the people believe that it is impossible for persons in general to keep those five commandments [abstaining from sex, theft or lying, homicide, killing and eating any creature or drinking wine]…and that, therefore, they would observe them for the people, on the condition of the people giving them maintenance and honor. They give their word that if anyone goes down into hell he will be delivered by their intervention and labor. We, on the contrary, proved to the people that in hell there is no redemption, and that no one can be rescued from it by the bonzes and bonzesses.

Regardless of his inadequacy in portraying Japanese religious matters fairly and unbiasedly, Frois’ observations remain generally clean of prejudice. His Tratado successfully achieves what it sets out to do: introduce Japanese culture to a European audience. This is done methodically and satisfactorily by employing equal terms of comparison and contrast. In the 16th century, when means of transport were undeveloped and inaccessible, one could only fantasize about faraway lands and strange people and customs as the ones captured in Frois’ description of Japan. Sadly, the Tratado’s limited circulation and its inaccessible text had to wait a long time to be discovered and an even longer time to be published into English. I’m thrilled to announce that this current edition rectifies all the previous shortcomings. 

Works cited: 

Fróis, Luís. The First European Description of Japan, 1585: A Critical English-language Edition of Striking Contrasts in the Customs of Europe and Japan by Luis Frois, SJ. Eds. Richard K. Danford, Robin Gill, and Daniel T. Reff. 2014.

Dower, John W. "Black Ships & Samurai: Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan (1853–1854)." Visualizing Cultures, http://ocw. mit. edu/ans7870/21f/21f 27.

Credit for the pictures from Japan and the Japanese goes to Visualizing Cultures Website, developed by MIT.