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

By Joshua A. Fogel | Go to book overview

THREE
Kangaku Travelers in the Meiji Period: China as Ailing Organism

People who claim to be interested in Kangaku and who know nothing of China except model Chinese essays and Selected Tang Poetry should just disappear altogether from Japan.

-- Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, 1921

Once travel to China became legal and access became regularized, there was no dearth of travelers. To transform the desire to travel into a reality, though, still required funds, leisure time, and, through the end of the Meiji period, a fair measure of hardiness. For all the considerable domestic movement of its own population, China was still not set up for large numbers of foreign visitors. Early travelers relied heavily on Japanese consulates or the small number of resident Japanese businessmen. By the turn of the century, though, there were already a goodly number of Japanese inns, restaurants, and baths available to those unadventurous or shy Japanese who were not yet ready to try a local inn or other native facility.

As might be expected, many travelers in the Meiji period who subsequently composed travelogues came from a group of scholars trained in the ways of Kangaku or "Chinese learning." Not all were professional teachers; for some, composition in literary Chinese (Kanbun) was an avocation. Whatever their personal backgrounds, they were all part of the first generation since the opening decades of the Tokugawa period in the early seventeenth century who actually had the opportunity to see China in the flesh.

The disjunction pointed out earlier between an intellectual, even emotional sense of what China once was and how it appeared in the here and now struck this group of travelers more sharply than subsequent ones. Probably because their idea of China "of the past" was so rich in textual reference and because they were familiar well in advance of departure with dozens, if not hundreds, of sights they wished to visit, the Kangaku scholars were on the

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