Place and the (Re)Formulation of Cultural Experience in 19th-Century Japan

AHA Session 13
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom B (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Marcia A. Yonemoto, University of Colorado at Boulder
Marcia A. Yonemoto, University of Colorado at Boulder

Session Abstract

Historians have yet to generate a compelling body of scholarship on how local communities responded to Japan’s Meiji Restoration (1868) and the frenzied modernization program that followed. While acknowledging the topic’s complexity, this panel aims to give focused coverage to the diverse nature of local experiences during the pre- and post-Restoration era. A local take on this period characterized by both strident continuities from the early modern Tokugawa period (1600-1867) and intense transformations during the Meiji period (1868-1912) illustrates how the peculiarities of place profoundly shaped the major historical transformations of the Restoration in ways that defy easy generalization. This attention to local diversity and the problem of place in history also allows for consideration of the complexity of spatial, temporal, and cultural scales in history. A local focus allows one to see how the international, national and local, the traditional and modern, as well as the native and Western mingled in curious, compelling, and often unique ways from place to place. Toyosawa’s paper on Japan’s natural hot springs shows how, over the course of a few decades, the state and a budding tourism industry were effective in reformulating cultural mores that in turn transformed (modernized) how hot springs served local communities. The “civilizing” process illustrated by Toyosawa introduces the broader transitions surrounding leisure and vacationing discussed by Brecher. The institutionalization of vacationing during the final decades of the 19th century, Brecher argues, was accomplished by resident Westerners and state initiatives that collectively touted prescribed vacationing practices as essential to good hygiene, health, and a moral lifestyle. The changing representations of hot springs, and the summer retreats and proto-resorts that emerged from the advent of modern vacationing both describe transformative pressures experienced by local communities, pressures that some locales successfully resisted. Ellefon’s study of the Danjiri Festival in Kishiwada lends important complexity to the panel by demonstrating how this city attenuated modernization while preserving its local identity through the festival. Despite the cost and trouble associated with this cultural competition among neighborhoods that fueled annual innovations and increases in expenditure, the excesses of the festival could not be reined in by local authorities of the late Tokugawa or Meiji years. Collectively, the panel’s three case studies make important contributions to our understanding of early Japanese experiences of modernity by exploring how local communities negotiated oppositional pressures to variously embrace and resist the Meiji modernization program.
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