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Gender and Nation in Meiji Japan

Gender and Nation in Meiji Japan: Modernity, Loss, and the Doing of History

Jason G. Karlin
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Gender and Nation in Meiji Japan
    Book Description:

    Gender and Nation in Meiji Japan is a historical analysis of the discourses of nostalgia in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Japan. Through an analysis of the experience of rapid social change in Japan’s modernization, it argues that fads (ryūkō) and the desires they express are central to understanding Japanese modernity, conceptions of gender, and discourses of nationalism. In doing so, the author uncovers the myth of eternal return that lurks below the surface of Japanese history as an expression of the desire to find meaning amid the chaos and alienation of modern times. The Meiji period (1868–1912) was one of rapid change that hastened the process of forgetting: The state’s aggressive program of modernization required the repression of history and memory. However, repression merely produced new forms of desire seeking a return to the past, with the result that competing or alternative conceptions of the nation haunted the history of modern Japan. Rooted in the belief that the nation was a natural and organic entity that predated the rational, modern state, such conceptions often were responses to modernity that envisioned the nation in opposition to the modern state. What these visions of the nation shared was the ironic desire to overcome the modern condition by seeking the timeless past. While the condition of their repression was often linked to the modernizing policies of the Meiji state, the means for imagining the nation in opposition to the state required the construction of new symbols that claimed the authority of history and appealed to a rearticulated tradition. Through the idiom of gender and nation, new reified representations of continuity, timelessness, and history were fashioned to compensate for the unmooring of inherited practices from the shared locales of everyday life. This book examines the intellectual, social, and cultural factors that contributed to the rapid spread of Western tastes and styles, along with the backlash against Westernization that was expressed as a longing for the past. By focusing on the expressions of these desires in popular culture and media texts, it reveals how the conflation of mother, countryside, everyday life, and history structured representations to naturalize ideologies of gender and nationalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3827-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. Preface
    (pp. 1-6)
  5. INTRODUCTION Nationalism, Everyday Life, and the Myth of Eternal Return
    (pp. 7-18)

    After an initial period of euphoria, the establishment of the Meiji state in 1868 gave way to the sentiment that the revolution was a betrayal. At the root of this sense of betrayal was the contradiction between the elitism of the Meiji oligarchy and the expectation of popular political participation. E. H. Norman described the Meiji Restoration as an “incomplete revolution” owing to the persistence of “feudal remnants” that enabled the ruling class to manipulate the masses through traditional appeals.¹ In general, the susceptibility of the masses to manipulation by the state has been central to interpretations of the failure...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Competing Masculinities in Meiji Japan
    (pp. 19-71)

    As officials and leaders in the Japanese government traveled to the West in the Meiji period, they looked to the lifestyle of the European gentleman as a model of sophistication and style. They cultivated a concern for fashion, accomplishment of manners, and superiority in taste as an expression of refinement and civility. This genteel form of masculinity reconciled with their belief in civilization and progress and conformed to their desire to appear civilized in the eyes of the West. Nevertheless, their attempts to master the corporeal signs and social conventions of European bourgeois society made them the targets of derision...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Mythos of Masculinization: Narratives of Heroism and Historical Identity
    (pp. 72-120)

    Amid the modernization of Japan from the late nineteenth century, hero worship became an important ideological tool for molding adolescent boys into men who could serve the Japanese empire. In history, the figure of the hero is a cultural construct of idealized masculinity that arises within the context of a struggle over the gendered order. Since the meaning of gender is, as Judith Butler argues, always deferred as a kind of imitation for which there is no original, the maintenance of masculine values requires the relentless production of ideologies of gender to reinforce the subordination of women and the dominant...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Aestheticization of Everyday Life: Inventing the Modern Memory of Edo
    (pp. 121-176)

    The Meiji period was a time of intense social and cultural transformation. The acceleration of history and endless renewal of fashion created a sense of disjuncture and difference that allowed Meiji Japan to imagine itself as the victim of a deformative process of cultural loss and foreign invasion. Fashion is above all else a ritual of forgetting that celebrates novelty and obliviousness to the past.¹ Pierre Nora argues that a memorial consciousness emerges under just such conditions wherein society becomes deeply absorbed in its own transformation and renewal. According to Nora, this condition is “one that inherently values the new...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Lure of the Modern: Imagining the Temporal Spaces of City and Countryside
    (pp. 177-234)

    As new social practices were introduced into Japan during the early Meiji period, they disseminated unevenly from the cities to the countryside. While Western fashions were adopted initially among the elite, who had ties to the government and who were concerned about promoting Japan’s image as a civilized nation, they soon spread to members of the middle class, who embraced Westernization as a means of social mobility and distinction. The high cost of Western fashions limited their widespread appeal, but by the Taisho period (1912–1926) and the introduction of uniformed clothing in various work professions, Western fashion became increasingly...

  10. CONCLUSION Oedipus in Chains: Eternal Return and the Memory of the Epic Past
    (pp. 235-240)

    I began this book by considering how the Meiji Restoration had nurtured the sentiment that the revolution was incomplete. The calls to action that adhered around the notion of the “incomplete Restoration” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were (re)productive of the myth of the Meiji Restoration. For both the state and its critics, revolutionary action was legitimized by invoking the Restoration: the state pursued the modernization of all aspects of social life, denouncing customs and practices incompatible with its ideology of progress as backward and barbarous, while its opponents condemned the state for its decadence and superficiality arising from...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 241-282)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-302)
  13. Index
    (pp. 303-316)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 317-317)