18th Century Japan: Culture and Society

18th Century Japan: Culture and Society

18th Century Japan: Culture and Society

18th Century Japan: Culture and Society

Synopsis

The period of Japanese history before the advent of industrialisation and modernism is of tremendous interest. The essays in this collection show a fascination with the social context behind the development of aesthetics, drama, language, art and philosophy, whether it be the world of the pleasure quarters or the Shogun's court.

Excerpt

Japan enjoyed many benefits from the long peace of the Tokugawa era. Earthquake, fire and famine occasionally took their toll, but by 1750 civil war was a distant memory. Literature, poetry and the arts flourished on a scale never seen before among the military class, let alone among the prosperous merchants and artisans of the great urban centres like Edo, Kyoto and Osaka. The outside world was a distant curiosity, but already through the Dutch, Korean and Chinese traders of Nagasaki foreign culture was seeping in, despite strict controls on personal contact and deep official hostility to the 'evil sect', as Christianity was termed. Literate, free, self-confident and complacent, urban Japan was able to turn in upon itself and savour to the full all aspects of its native tradition, selectively stimulated and fertilised by benign influences from overseas.

The result was a cultural flowering that even in its twilight stage took Europe by storm in the mid-nineteenth century. Whistler's Westminster Bridge, Monet's gardens, Van Gogh's copies of Japanese prints, Toulouse Lautrec's theatre posters are a few of the more famous examples of Japonisme which swept Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century. Later, Nō drama, Kabuki, architecture, ceramics and textiles too would serve as a stimulus to 'modern' European arts. Japan was to borrow much from the West after the opening of the country in the 1850s, but it was by no means a one-way exchange. In fact, particularly in relation to the arts, Tokugawa Japan did more to stimulate the outside world than vice versa. It certainly gained in technology, but until late in the nineteenth century owed little to the West in matters of aesthetics.

Even so, Meiji bureaucrats after 1868, in seeking to justify their . . .

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