Organizer: Robert Eskildsen, Stanford University
Chair: M. William Steele, International Christian University
Discussant: Henry D. Smith II, Columbia University
Japanese woodblock prints, although visually compelling, have only sporadically been tapped for the historical and sociological insights they can provide, and have remained a tantalizing but under exploited source of information. The three papers of this panel pose different questions about Japan during the waning decades of the Tokugawa period, and look for answers by tapping these sources. To one degree or another they all attempt to assess aspects of commoner thought: what commoners were interested in, how access to information shaped their thought, and how political circumstances impinged upon it. In effect, the papers address questions of the political and intellectual importance of visual information by examining the circumstances of its creation, transmission and manipulation.
Robert Eskildsen's paper looks at where images of foreigners came from and how they were used, suggesting that questions of production and consumption may help us understand how much access commoners had to information about the world, but that we also need to consider the effect of Tokugawa diplomatic relations in shaping how people understood the information they saw. Tetsunori Iwashita's paper describes how commoners sought out and used information more aggressively in the bakumatsu period. He stresses diversity of experience: commoners collected information through different routes and came to different conclusions about it. Moreover, woodblock prints evidenced an increasing popular interest in politics-years before Perry's arrival-which he reads as a sign of the increasing political sophistication of commoners. M. William Steele's paper, which shares a similar concern with the political views of commoners, asks whether the anti foreignism of the 1860s has been overstated. The attitude toward foreigners seen in Yokohama prints, and the prints' vast commercial success, suggest the need to examine how deeply commoners shared the xenophobia of political activists who demanded the expulsion of foreigners.
Collectively, the papers explore a different corpus of information than is found in traditional sources, and consequently propose different understandings of bakumatsu Japan. Examining visual images as sources of information permits the panelists to explore the knowledge and attitudes of the non elite in an age before newspapers, and it provides different avenues for approaching intellectual and political history, avenues which are not bounded by the sources of the elite.
Robert Eskildsen, Stanford University
The formula for how foreigners were represented in Japanese commercial art changed around the middle of the nineteenth century. The Opium War had already begun to heighten commoner interest in the foreign world, but the Perry expedition cataclysmically altered the visual images Japanese people associated with foreignness. The arrival of the American squadron inspired the production of many kawaraban, and the subsequent political disarray of the government and flurried reaction of the Edo populace provided the topics for numerous satirical prints. Where images of foreigners had previously been confined largely to Nagasaki prints or to the pages of encyclopedic compendia which featured descriptions of peoples of the world, now they could be found in woodblock prints and kawaraban produced and distributed in Edo, Japan's largest and most influential information market. Because so many prints were produced, and could be bought and sold so cheaply, more Japanese than ever before were exposed to information about the world outside of Japan.
By changing the way that information about foreigners was produced and consumed, the unregulated contact with foreigners in the 1850s precipitated an infusion of new information about the world into Japan. Nevertheless, much of the information in commercial art continued to derive from sources predating Perry's arrival, sometimes by as much as two centuries. Access to new information about the world by no means translated automatically into new or better-informed images of foreigners.
This paper will trace the origins of several key visual images of foreigners to their seventeenth and early eighteenth century roots, and will show how in the middle of the nineteenth century, Japanese artists unabashedly mixed new information about the world with old. New information tended to be mediated by popular understandings of Japan's diplomatic relations, and this limited the extent to which it replaced outdated information. Instead, the information was often simply mixed, producing odd and occasionally quite surprising juxtapositions.
Tetsunori Iwashita, Aoyama Gakuin University
In the sixth month of Kaei 3 (1850) Utagawa Kuniyoshi published a satirical print entitled "Kitaina meii nanbyo ryoji" (Treatment of Difficult Illnesses by Well-Known Strange Physicians), which quickly became an enormous popular success. The information in the print itself, and external information which helped viewers understand it, traveled throughout Edo and beyond. For example, Tsuboi Shinryo, a physician trained in Dutch-style medicine, sent a copy of the print and a letter explaining it to his brother in Takaoka, in present day Toyama Prefecture. The Fujiokaya nikki, the source most typically used to explain the print, offers a different explanation. A comparison of these explanations shows that information about political affairs traveled through different routes among the commoners, and reflected different views of political authority.
Most studies in bakumatsu political history have used sources stressing the viewpoint of the political authorities, but it is also essential to understand the activities of commoners. Commoners made increasingly vigorous efforts to collect, analyze and use information, which created a new way of thought among them. The different reactions to Kuniyoshi's print provide a case in point. My research shows that Tsuboi got most of his information from a route created through his activities as a physician. His reaction to the print shows a concern for a physician's perception of the personages involved, but it also includes information from the point of view of the ruling class. By contrast, the information in the Fujiokaya nikki is much more sensitive to political information, gossip or scandal, especially regarding the political activities of bakufu officials.
The print was therefore interpreted as a political map in the Kuniyoshi style, which commoners might accept with a minimum of political commentary, or it could be interpreted more trenchantly as a source of political news and gossip. The print is an important historical source because it shows how commoners identified the location of everyday political authority and mapped the political world, indicating that commoners were developing a more involved way of thinking about political authority.
M. William Steele, International Christian University
The cry of "expel the barbarian" is often associated with the movement which led to the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Beginning in the late 1850s, especially after the opening of Yokohama in 1859, foreigners were assassinated, legations were torched, and foreign ships were fired upon. The presence of foreign fiends desecrated the purity of Japan.
Around the same time, ukiyo e woodblock print artists were busy turning out works of art featuring foreign themes, most often showing the foreigner as friend. Sadahide and other artists attempted to satisfy popular curiosity about things foreign: where foreigners came from and what they looked like, what clothes they wore, what food they ate, what games they played. Between 1860 and 1864, the peak of the so called expulsion movement, an impressive number of woodblock prints, perhaps over 600 prints in lots of anywhere between 500 and 2,000 copies, were produced and sold in Edo and its hinterland.
This paper will examine representations of foreigners in bakumatsu Japan. Particular emphasis will be given to commoner views of foreigners: the views of Edo townsmen and farmers in areas close to Edo. Visual representations, such as Yokohama e and kawaraban will form the prime documentary evidence, but other sources, particularly commoner diaries, will also be used. The paper seeks to address the following questions: 1) Has the story of expulsion been over-emphasized? and if so, 2) how does evidence of friendship toward foreigners fit into explanations of the Meiji Restoration and Japan's Westernization/ modernization process in general?
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