Orientations in Japanese Cultural History


Spring 2002

Jackson, Jr.



Towards a Japanese Postmodern

The problem of the modern has to be understood first.


Japanese Term Years Covered Japanese Historical Periods English Translation
Kinsei  1600-1868 Tokugawa or Edo Early Modern
Kindai 1868-1925 Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1925) periods Modern
Gendai 1925- Showa (1925-1989)

Heisei (1989-       )
in Japanese History
Sakoku [Closing the Nation]

This term was actually coined in the late nineteenth-century
and was not used by those who imposed the policy. Sakoku was the cumulative
result of five Edicts issued between 1633-1639, forbidding Japanese 
to go abroad, Japanese abroad to return, and forbidding foreign powers
entry into Japan. It was mostly aimed at the spread of Christianity and
the political influence that afforded Spain and Portugal. Throughout the
years of Sakoku [1639-1854) the Japanese still maintaned limited contact
with Dutch, Chinese, and Korean traders. The Dutch were kept under permanent
house arrest on the island of Deshima in the port of Nagasaki. Chinese
and Koreans chiefly had access only through Tsushima.
Treaty of Kanagawa


The U. S. navy, under Commodore Perry essentially bullied
Japan into ending sakoku. The Treaty of Kanagawa, signed in March, 1854,
gave the U.S. right of access to the ports Hakodate and Shimoda, and empowered
it to establish a consolidate in Shimoda in 1855 [more about the latter
condition later. See Harootunian, „America’s Japan/Japan’s Japan“

 Treaty signed between US Commodore Perry and Roju
Abe Masahiro of Edo shogunate in March 1854 at Kanagawa near Tokyo. It
forced Japan to give up 200 year old national seclusion policy (Sakoku).
The main provisions are the opening of 2 harbors, Hakodate and Shimoda,
for American ships and an establishment of US consulate in the latter town.
Kanagawa being now completely absorbed by Yokoham City, you can call it
„Treaty of Yokohama“.
Meiji Restoration 1868

 Loyalists to the Tokugawa shogunate protested the
lifting of Sakoku. Battles ensued, but in January 1868 the Tokugawa regimes
was brought down. The Emperor was „restored“ to power and placed in 
a new capital, Edo, renamed Tokyo.
Meiji Period 1868-1912
Sainen Rebellion (1877) Rebellion
led by one of the proponents of the Meiji Restoration, Saigo Takamori,
who had earlier campaigned for the colonization of Korea. Takamori committed
suicide when Rebellion failed.
Sino-Japanese War. (1894-1895) Japan
goes to war with China over Korea. China withdraws from Korea into Manchuria
and makes great concessions – gives Taiwan to Japan.
Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).
Japan makes surprise attack on Port Arthur 1904. Russia returns the Sakhalin’s
to Japan and gives them Southern Manchuria.
General Nogi and Junshi

(1849-1912) A military man at the dawn of the Meiji,
was among the warriors who brought down the Tokugawa Shogunate. He studied
military science in Germany, and was active in the Sino-Japanese war. He
captured Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese war. After the Meiji emperor
died, Nogi and his wife committed ritual suicide, known as junshi, „to
follow one’s lord in death.“ This shocked the Japanese and embarassed them
and raised questions about Japanese relation to the „modern“ world. This
junshi inspired Natsume Soseki’s novel, Kokoro.
Taisho (1912-1925)
Showa (1925-1989)
The Ni-Ni-Roku incident. [February 26, 1936). This
was a planned insurrection in which 1400 soldiers were to assassinate certain
politicians, industrialists, and others, as part of a coup that would make
the Emperor the head of a military that would rule the country. Many of
the targets were killed or injured but not all. The soldiers were rounded
up, many committed seppuku, others executed. The scholar/philosopher, Kita
Ikki, who had planned the incident was arrested and executed within days.

This incident figures prominently in Mishima’s short
story, Yukoku („Patriotism“) and the film adaptation he made of it. It
is also in the background of IN the Realm of the Senses (Oshima
Nagisa) and is the concluding moment of Elegy
to Violence
(Suzuki Seijun 1966).
December 1941 Pearl Harbor
6, 1945 Hiroshima
9, 1945 Nagasaki
15, 1945
. Emperor surrenders on the Radio.
Potsdam Accord
Occupation by U. S. 1945-1952.

Emperor declares himself to be human and  a symbol
for the Japanese nation.Tours the countryside on McArthur’s Orders

Japan not allowed to raise or maintain army. Only Self-Defense
Force allowed.
Okinawa remains U.S.-occupied 
1950 The Korean War. Japan
becomes important base for U.S.
1960 ANPO – Renewal of U. S.- Japan Security Treaty
– Widely protested.
1965 Japan hosts the Olympics in Tokyo
November 1970 Mishima Yukio and
his private army takeover the headquarters of the Japan Self-Defense Forces.
Mishima and his lover commit ritual suicide while reporters Mishima invited
make it a media circus.
Important Characteristics
of Japanese Culture
The Writing System. Japanese Texts.

Koreans in Japanese court bring Buddhism and writing
to Japan, c. 6th-7th centuries BCE. A system of writing devised using Chinese
characters for every syllable of the Japanese sentence. First book, Kojiki
712. Manyoshu, a collection of poems in 10 volumes is also written in this
system. Extremely difficult to read. Eventually a cursive syllabary is
developed, hiragana, and a second one, katakana. Today hiragana is used
for native Japanese words and grammatical particles and endings; katakana
is used for foreign words, onomopoeia, and in telegrams. Chinese characters
retained today with a very complex system of multiple readings assigned
to each character. In the classical period of Japan (7th-14th Centuries)
the men at court wrote in Classical Chinese. The court ladies wrote in
the Japanese vernacular in the phonetic kana script and founded Japanese

The native religion of Japan is animistic and invests
in the divine (kami) in the phenomenal world. It had no name until
the introduction of Buddhism. Buddhism was called, Butsudo, 
„the way of the Buddha“; By analogy, „the way of the kami“ became
In the Tokugawa period, Confucianism was adopted as the State religion,
primarily as a means of controlling the populace.

Kokugaku. „National Learning“ A
scholarly movement that began in the seventeenth century, it was meant
to re-institute the value of Japanese culture in opposition to the Chinese
culture of Confucianism that had been imposed. In part the study of the
Kojiki and the Manyoshu were undertaken in order to restore their accessibility.
How one read Manyogana had been forgotten. It had to be decoded. Important
Kokugaku scholars include Kamo no Mabuchi (1697-1769) and Motoori Norinaga

Important works include Kamo no Mabuchi’s New Interpretation
of the Tales of Genji
and Norinaga’s Kojiki-Den (in 1798).

Bushido. The Way of the Samurai.
Check out The
Virtual Museum of Japanese Chivalry
by clicking THIS.

I don’t actually consider this important in itself or
even something that  deserves to be called a „thought system.“ But
its effects and affects are definitely important, and this is why I include
it here.

To Study
Guide One: Moments in the Conceptual History of the „Postmodern“
. I.

To Study Guide Two:
Focusing Japan

To Project
Muse- linked Articles on Postmodernism
. NOTE USE ONLY Internet Explorer
to open this page.

To the Film
Screenings Schedules

To the Resources.

Postmodern Japan

Spring 2002

Jackson, Jr.