Brown cover with a picture of woman caught by a big black bird


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


328 pages, 6x9 inch




April 30, 2014



Published by

University of Hawaii Press

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Gender and Nation in Meiji Japan

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Gender and Nation in Meiji Japan is an 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 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.

(Written by Jason G. Karlin, Associate Professor, Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies / 2017)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Nationalism, Everyday Life, and the Myth of Eternal Return
Chapter 1: Competing Masculinities in Meiji Japan
               Clothes Make the Man
               Caricaturing the State
               The Vice of Frivolity and Extravagance
               Authenticating Masculinity
               Neckties and High Collars
               Barbarism, Adventure, and Imperialism
               Fashioning Civilization
Chapter 2: The Mythos of Masculinization: Narratives of Heroism and Historical Identity
               The Hero as the Agent of Order
               Adventure Novels, Heroes, and Imperialism
               Torture the Women!
               From Boys to Men      
               Oshikawa Shunrō and the Creation of Hypermasculine Heroes
               Iconic Heroes in History
               Nationalism, Vigilante Justice, and the Politics of Direct Action
Chapter 3: The Aestheticization of Everyday Life: Inventing the Modern Memory of Edo
               The Measure of Loyalty
               The Memory of Righteous Resistance and the Ghosts of Edo
               Kobayashi Kiyochika in the Autumn of Edo
               Narrating the History of Edo
               The Tricentennial Celebration of Edo
               History amid the Ruins
               The Genroku Boom and the Commercialization of Edo
               The Eroticization of the Past
               The Culture of Everyday Life
Chapter 4: The Lure of the Modern: Imagining the Temporal Spaces of City and Countryside
               Mass Culture, Moral Panic, and Nostalgia
               The Rural Exodus
               Degenerate Schoolgirls and the Awakening of Female Desire
               The Monstrous City
               The Light of the Home
               Yanagita Kunio, Fads, and the Homogenization of Tastes
Conclusion: Oedipus in Chains: Eternal Return and the Memory of the Epic Past

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