The Literature of Travel in the Japanese Rediscovery of China, 1862-1945

By Joshua A. Fogel | Go to book overview

ONE
Travel in the Context of East Asia

Chief Minister Chao of Japan departed the imperial capital,
Circling round magical Penghu Island on a long sea voyage over a
narrow strip of water.
He will never reach his clear moon, for he sank into the deep blue
sea.
White clouds of sadness fill Cangwu Mountain.

--poem by Li Bo upon hearing news of the "death" of Abe no Nakamaro1

Travel and travel writing form traditions that go back many centuries in East Asia, traditions as old as those of Europe and elsewhere in the world. Like their Western counterparts, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean travelers over the centuries have penned countless travelogues, both domestic and foreign, and these fit into a wide assortment of genres. And, like its Western counterpart, the East Asian travel narrative as a genre tails off into various other forms including diaries, fiction, guidebooks, and more.

As people of an island country, acutely aware of their separation from the mainland, the Japanese have long had an ambiguous relationship to cultural artifacts from China and Korea. Although Japan is separated from the Asian mainland by little more than a hundred miles (between western Kyūshū and southern Korea), it was only many centuries after the first contacts that one could make the voyage without an ever-present fear of disaster.

Japan's ambivalent attitude toward continental culture can best be seen as an oscillation between reverence and reaction. One era's wide adoption of Sinic political and cultural institutions (such as in the Nara period, 710-94, the early Heian era, 794-1185, and the first century or more of the Tokugawa period, 1603-1868) was usually followed by a rejection of the overwhelming influence of Sinic forms and a turn inward toward native institutions and cultural forms (as occurred during the later Heian period and the middle to late years of the Tokugawa era). Korea and Vietnam, both (like Japan) part of

-13-

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