Nibei Foundation Japan Study Club
“Beautiful Landscape of Meiji Japan: True Birth of Japanese Identity as a Modern Nation”
Presenter: Dr. Nobuko Toyosawa, USC, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Teaching courses in Japanese History
December 8, 2009 at Terasaki Foundation Laboratory Building, West Los Angeles
Japan Study Club Lecture Note is complied by Cultural News
Dr. Toyosawa came to America from Japan in 1994 and graduated from the University of Illinois with a MA and PhD. She is presently a postdoctoral teaching fellow at the University of Southern California.
Her endeavor to pursue her education in Japanese literature and history came about when she was an international student. Many other students asked her questions about Japan and things Japanese which made her more aware of what it meant to be Japanese.
She was particularly interested in the Meiji period as a time when the Japanese became much aware of its national essence and identity at the wake of Western imperialism.
She studied Shiga Shigeta, a famous Japanese geographer and journalist who was born in 1863 and died in 1927. Shiga graduated from Sapporo Agricultural College in 1884 with a degree in Agriculture. He taught geography and traveled extensively as a publicist.
He is famous for the Journal Nihonjin, published by Seikyosha. He was particularly
interested in the population problem; possible governmental solutions; farming abroad in South America; and the American promotion in regard to immigration.
Due to Shiga’s worldly travels, he even nicknamed the Kiso River the “Japan-Rhine.” He wrote poetry as “Arise Ye Sons of Yamato’s Land.” As he was born in the early 1860’s, this coincided with the beginning of the Meiji Period which began in 1868.
Shiga wrote a famous book called On the Landscape of Japan in 1894. It was so popular that it went through 15 editions with only minor changes in some of the editions. On the front cover of the book is Mt. Iwaki in Mutsu Province. Mt. Iwaki was also referred to as “Tsugaru Fuji.” The book tells of what it is to be Japanese. In the beginning of the book is a Map of Japan inserted. Even though in some respects Shiga was against the then government policy, his book still had great appeal.
In 1868 came the Meiji Restoration. This was a great change in Japanese politics, policy and culture. Prior to the coming of Commodore Perry and his “black ships” in 1853, Japan was very isolated. During the Tokugawa period, Japan was quite nationalistic and there was only mainly Dutch and Chinese traders concentrated in Nagasaki.
At this time, Japan had only small “junk” ships. This is why when Perry came into Yokohama, Japan was terrified. Japan then knew she could not longer remain isolated from the rest of the world. In 1854, the Tokugawa Shogunate concluded a treaty that opened up Japan to the world and trade. Perry also carried his “Gospel of God.”
Dr. Toyosawa showed the audience numerous woodblock prints throughout her presentation as they were the common art form during the Tokugawa and Meiji periods. She showed some prints depicting the “black ships” with the faces of demons on the ship.
In 1868, with the last shogunate, the power went back to the Emperor. Woodblock prints were shown that depicted the Emperor to be in charge of the Japanese Army.
This reinforced the connection between the Emperor and Shintoism. The “Grand Festival at Yasukuni Shrine” woodblock print showed the Emperor as head of the military. This was to promote the image of the emperor as the commander in chief of the army.
An 1890 woodblock print showed the desire to promulgate the constitution. The Japanese were shown wearing Western clothes to let the world know that Japan was now becoming a world power.
Another print showed shown at this time was that of the Imperial Diet of Japan. This was to further enhance the nationalistic spirit of Japan as an identifiable nation, state and entity.
In 1888, Shiga became more vocal against the Meiji government with its emphasis on western learning. Shiga felt it was paramount to preserve the national “essence” of Japan. His wish was for Japan to “obtain the heart of the Yamato.”
He declared that this was accomplished by concentrating on three main focal points. The first was beauty or bi; the second was elegance or shoosha; and the third was sublimity or tattoo.
Shiga went on to say that there were also four factors that make Japan landscape so beautiful. The first factor was the variety of climate and the influence of ocean currents. The second factor was the variety of steam, vapor and mist. The third factor was the abundance of volcanoes. The fourth and last factor was the effects of severe water erosion.
Shiga went on to say that these factors gave rise to many of Japan’s beautiful and scenic places. Examples of such places were View of Rock Gate in Mt. Myogi, Gumma Prefecture; View of Mt. Komagatake in Hokkaido; View of a Mud Pillar in Fukui Prefecture; and View of Mt. Akanadake in Hokkaido.
The above views were said to be the product of Japan’s location and geographic conditions. He lists the following as important geographic components: active volcanoes; dormant volcanoes; new volcanic rock; granite; warm oceanic currents; frigid oceanic currents; and the five ports.
Such conditions also give rise to Japan’s numerous plants and animals which further promote and enhance the beauty of the Japanese landscape.
Shiga’s book is also fascinating as it not only contains geographic issues, but it also contains Japanese poetry called haiku. Many of themes of these poems center around nature; for example, passages referring to mist, rain and morning dew.
Shiga has a geographic background, and yet he also has a great appreciation for beauty and aesthetics. He believed that it is not enough to just look at landscape, but to somehow explain its beauty in more concrete aesthetic terms. He also used Chinese classical vocabulary in his book.
Dr. Michael Marra, a professor of Japanese literature and aesthetics at UCLA, was asked to add some comments regarding Shiga and his book, On the Landscape of Japan. Dr. Marra explained that the book is very difficult with its numerous languages and especially its many quotes in Chinese.
He went on to say that the representation of space before and after Shiga is quite remarkable. He added that Shiga gave Japan a new perspective in its conceptualization of beauty; not politically, but aesthetically. Prior to Shiga, there was no concrete concept of beauty itself. Along this vain, Dr. Marra concluded that Shiga had made a major aesthetic contribution to Japan.
At the end of the lecture presentation, some questions were taken from the audience.
Question: Where did Shiga get his learning and mentoring?
Answer: In Japan, in Hokkaido where he studied geography; possibly under an American professor.
Question: Who was Shiga’s audience?
Answer: Many books were bought and circulated, but not all were necessarily read. Some parts were quite difficult to comprehend, but it also contained basic geographic material, pictures of beautiful landscape, poetry in Japanese, English and Chinese and a map of Japan. This book, therefore, had widespread appeal.
Question: How did Shiga travel?
Answer: He had a connection with the Navy. In the 1870’s, Japan also started sending people to study in Europe. More were sent in the following two decades. In Shiga’s case, he went to Germany to work. Upon his return to Japan, he concluded that Japan had the most beautiful landscape of all.
At the end of the lecture, the audience had a greater appreciation of the landscape of Meiji Japan, as well as what is the essence of what make Japan terrain truly beautiful.