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Monday, August 25, 2008

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Alberik Rotaru

Sorry, but I have rarely read such a nonsensical metaphor, even in as bad metaphor rich an environment as this, in either my first or second lives. Meiji/Showa Japan was not a modern state, except in the sense that say, Iraq before the First Gulf War was a modern state. Let us turn to the shopping list of modernity: 'constitution, parliamentary politics, meritocratic bureaucracy, and universal public education'.

The Meiji constitution was a personal grant by the emperor (actually by the coalition of feudal and court elites around the throne) and revocable by him at will. The parliamentary politics of the Diet were at all times under control of the elites who actually controlled the throne and were easily shunted aside by the militarists in the 1930s without the slightest difficulty. The meritocratic bureaucracy was a patronage system for the same elites that controlled the emperor and bureaucratic inputs into state policy were invariably overruled by those elites. Universal public education was an achievement of sorts, one also shared with Saddam, that served to inculcate the ideology of the ruling elites as much as anything else.

Finally, this allegedly modern state managed to provoke one of the most spectacular military defeats in human history by assuming the image of modernity it presented to the world was a reality.

The thesis of this paper is amazing. It sets up an entirely ahistroric claim that the Meiji Restoration created a modern state and fails to address the sad fact that it is precisely the cultivation of the 'artistic second life' that led to the supreme moment of folly in Japan's history. The people who launched the Pacific War spent their spare time happily producing haiku and participating in tea ceremonies, indeed the production of a last haiku was a required duty of pilots about to fly kamikaze missions.

Second Life is an admirable and brilliant space. Any resemblance to a modernised Japan that did not exist before 1945 is accidental at best.

Hamlet Au

I'm not sure if I see the relationship between Tokugawa arts culture and the rise of belligerent Japanese nationalism 100-200 later, which seems to be more attributable to a perverted, reactionary restoration of Bushido codes and Shinto beliefs that are contrary to what she's describing in this paper.

Talia Tokugawa

Wow a whole post all about me :D
(or possibly the other 48 Tokugawa in Secondlife http://slnamewatch.com/last_name_Tokugawa.html }

Zaphod

I found this article quite upsetting, and after thinking about why I felt that way, I have decided because it is another self-serving rewriting of the history books.

While there is much to admire about Japan and the Japanese people - there is also much to be wary of. In particular their constant attempts to rewrite modern history in their favour and to ignore or refuse to face up to anything dark or unpleasant in their recent past.

My grandfather fought against them in the second world war and as he used to tell me: "the difference between the Germans and the Japanese is that every German knows about Auswitch but no Japanese knows about Nanking".

I think modern Japan owes more to the American administration (after the war) than anything else. While the subculture of poets described do appear to have some similarities with our virtual worlds, to then go on and say that it then influenced the rise of modern peaceful Japan is (another) appalling rewriting of the history books.

Argent Bury

Interesting thesis, and I can see where one could draw parallels. Edo period Japan had a huge participatory arts culture, as well as a more conventional entertainment industry. This is what happens when you have lots of idle samurai drawing stipends and working pointless bureaucratic jobs - all that cognitive surplus either goes into partying, whoring in the Yoshiwara, dueling in the street, watching kabuki, and reading novels, or it goes into the creation of art. Sounds familiar.

Now I won't deny the power art holds to inspire and broaden our horizons. The Shogunate certainly didn't, nor did post-Meiji governments. Edo period ukiyo-e prints had to be approved by censors (look in the corner of a lot of prints and you'll see their approval stamps along with the artists seal). Certain Kabuki and Bunraku plays were forbidden from being performed for fear of upsetting public morals. Some of Chikamatsu Monzaemon's plays about love suicides were followed by waves of - surprise surprise - love suicides. So, no doubt that art influenced people's daily lives.

However I'm not so sure about this participatory art culture easing the transition into the Meiji period. That was more a matter of a few high-level people getting some crazy new ideas from overseas, implementing them, and most of the people below them simply doing what they were told. A *lot* of these changes were "top-down", and I don't think it really mattered whether the people below composed haiku or not, it mattered that they followed orders from above.

There *was* a fascination with new things and new fads at least as strong as the fear of the foreign, though. Once Western dress became available, you had guys wearing bowlers together with their hakama. So, rather than a desire to create I think simple faddishness and a craving for "the new" was a big part of the acceptance of cultural changes you see as you move into the modern age.

So, I guess while I agree with her initial observations I'm wary of her conclusions. Very enlightening though, and thanks for posting about it.

Alberik Rotaru

The Tokugawa period moved directly and somewhat bloodily into the Meiji Restoration. There was no 100-200 year gap. The Meiji Restoration happened in 1868 and the Pacific War began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937.

The Pacific War, was at least in part, a result of the kind of political structures adopted at the time of the Meij Restoration, a constitution based on that of Prussia which left the emperor a free hand in military decisions, an extraordinarily weak parliament, and entrenched aristocracy that merged some elements of the Tokugawa military aristocracy with the old court nobility. Moreover, the advocates of the Pacific War were themselves deeply involved in the same secondary arts culture as their Tokugawa predecessors.

However, the real weakness in the paper, is its central thesis and that does not rise or fall on the Pacific War. Quite simply the icons of modernity identified in the paper, did not happen or were purely formal. Moreover, an oppositional arts culture was also prevalent thought the Qing period in China, and does not seem to have given rise to even the limited indices of modernity described by the paper. Ditto British India where India did go onto develop the same list and Pakistan did not. Ditto the former Soviet Union. It would seem possessing an oppositional arts culture or a secondary arts culture, may effect many things but it certainly does not guarantee the creation of modernity.

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