Nationalists and patriots

From Masao Miyoshi's Accomplices of Silence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974):

The dominant literary school [when Natsume Sōseki published Light and Darkness], for instance, was that of the "Naturalists," having as their spokesemen writers like Tayama Katei (1871-1930), Shimazaki Tōson (1872-1934), Kunikida Doppo (1871-1908), Tokuda Shūsei (1871-1943), and Masamune Hakuchō (1879-1962). But their actual works are far from "naturalistic" as we understand the term. Although they professed a debt to Zola and Maupassant, the influence is apparent only in their subject matter, which is usually restricted to the shady side of life. Otherwise, their techniques and assumptions are about as conventional and moralistic as those of any other group of writers at the time. Tayama Katai's The Quilt (Futon, 1907), commonly considered the best example of Naturalism, is the story of a middle-aged writer's suppressed love for his beautiful disciple. The most famous scene, almost embarrassing to read nowadays, occurs at the end where the hero buries his face in the girl's bedding after she leaves him for a younger man. But the story was shocking enough to Meiji readers, and it was at once ranked with Germinal and Une Vie.

The "Naturalism" of these writers consists then of little more than their misuse of the imported term, and before long in fact their manifestos pretty much disappear from the literary scene. There is one feature of their works that stands out, and that is their markedly personal and confessional quality. Soon to develop into a genre called shi-shōsetsu (I-novel), these works require that literature be "truthful." To simplify a bit, telling the truth here means one, accuracy in recording; two, honesty in disclosure; and three, sincerity in confession. According to this recipe, the writer, in recording his own life, must present it in the worst light possible, but to do this, he must first have a "disreputable" life to write about — something of a problem, given the typical puritanic restrictions of Japanese life. Thus the adventures of these "bohemians" are pretty tame stuff, confined for the most part to the purchase of a willing lady for an evening. (pp 72-73)

Miyoshi's book is still a great read, not in small part thanks to his willingness to pass searing judgments of this sort. (This is normally the spot reserved for a token hand-wring about overreliance on one critic's opinions, but it's 2014 now; cautious, just-the-facts historiography of the Japanese novel's early development should not be difficult to find.) Oddly, a contemporary review is available online here, for anyone interested.

Next, a magnificently dry summary of the middle path from Alistair D. Swale's The Meiji Restoration: Monarchism, Mass Communication and Conservative Revolution (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009):

Finally, it is perhaps needful to further emphasize what this reformation of the worldview [i.e. the early stages of the Meiji Restoration] did not entail. It was not a democratic revolution. It was not a blanket conversion to Western ways of living and seeing the world. It was not a rejection of traditional authority altogether but rather a redefinition. Eventually, it would become apparent to a broad stratum of Japanese society that it was actually possible to cut your hair in the Western style and not lose all sense of Japaneseness or patriotism. It was equally still possible to retain one's disdain for foreigners; however, one would no longer go out of one's way to kill them. (p 55)

I enjoyed Swale's book a lot, and although I'd be out of my depth attempting a serious evaluation of its arguments, I applaud his stated aim of bringing some recent Japanese scholarship on the matter to the attention of the English-speaking world.

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