Monday, August 10, 2009

Maeda Ai's "The Panorama of Enlightenment"

This just in from Tunisia-based German orientalist and biblical commentator Johann Weiß:
In his chapter "The Panorama of Enlightenment," Maeda Ai focuses his attention on the city of Tokyo in the early years of the Meiji period (1868-1912), the era of so-called bunmei kaika, or "civilization and enlightenment."

Maeda critically examines Hattori Bushō’s text New Tales of Tokyo Prosperity (1874), which includes a series of detailed descriptions of the leading new sights and Western-style institutions of Tokyo.

In the new Meiji Tokyo, the city of water and shadows that was Edo gives way in Hattori’s work to a city of land-based transportation and artificial lighting. Hattori's conception of the city is, above all, rooted purely in material things.

Maeda then compares Hattori’s text with an earlier work from the 1830s by Terakado Seiken, called Tales of Edo Prosperity, which served as a model for Hattori’s text and for Kobayashi Kiyochika’s colour woodblock series, Famous Views of Tokyo (1876-1881).

1. Hattori’s New Tales of Tokyo Prosperity vs. Kobayashi’s Famous Views of Tokyo

a. The First National Bank

The first national bank was built by Mitsui in July 1882 and became a one of Tokyo's most popular new sights overnight. It was constructed in an eclectic style, in which the lower two stories featured a Western-style veranda, while on top was mounted a three-story tower in the manner of a Japanese castle.

In Kobayashi’s print, we can see the building of the First National Bank in the background, behind Kaiun Bridge. One can see the upper (Japanese) part very clearly, while the lower (Western) part is almost completely hidden by the Kaiun Bridge. On the foreground, we see a woman, seen from the back with umbrella in hand, about to cross the bridge.
The print appears as a whole and is perceived directly.

Hattori describes the same building. However, as Maeda points out, his description is presented in parts, each separated from the whole into contrasting pairs through the use of the parallel phrasing of classical Chinese. Maeda observes that the paired phrases are chosen with almost no concern at all for the spatial relationships among the separate parts of the building or for the system of meaning that unifies them.

The parallel structure typically used by Hattori consists of the pairing of a thing with a metaphor, e.g. “carved rails” with “court lady” and “glass” with “angel”. In each case, the superiority of the various things that serve as symbols of “enlightenment” is affirmed by comparison with objects form the past.

On the one hand, this is, according to Maeda, an innocent expression of the astonishment and admiration of the Japanese with Western ‘enlightenment,’ but at the same time it signifies a strategy whereby the foreign objects that had so relentlessly invaded their field of vision were familiarized by incorporating them into the world of classical kanbun rhetoric.

The order of random objects like ‘stone walls,’ ‘iron columns,’ ‘copper tiles,’ and ‘white plaster,’ which have no meaning in and of themselves, is interwoven within an order of metaphor that links them to the associations of such concrete terms as ‘Dragon Palace,’ ‘celestial maiden,’ ‘Chinese Palace,’ and ‘court lady.’
The description appears in separated parts.

b. Shinbashi Station

In Kobayashi’s depiction of Shinbashi Station, designed in classical style, we see the modern building embedded in the urban space. This object of “enlightenment” has been relativized by nature, by rain and darkness, in a manner reminiscent of the spaces of Edo. Kobayashi’s Famous Views of Tokyo are always full of rich memories of Edo, the city of water.

Hattori’s description of the same building is curt and prosaic. He emphasizes the raw material of stone and thus stresses the functional character of the building.
2. Terakado’s Tales of Edo Prosperity and Gesshin’s Illustration of the Famous Places of Edo

a. Terakado Seiken: Tales of Edo Prosperity (1832-1836)

Terakado’s Tales of Edo Prosperity initiated the “tales of prosperity” genre. It was similar to the French ‘panorama literature’ in the way diverse vignettes of the city were composed by the use of both ‘anecdotal form’ and ‘informational base.’

The ‘tales of prosperity’ style developed a method of composition by which urban space was first segmented into diverse elements, each of which was then constituted as a scene combining landscape and figures with the use of linear perspective.

Tales of Edo Prosperity seeks to decode the overall space of Edo as a complex tapestry of paired meanings: sacred and profane, everyday and non-everyday, prosperity and poverty, city and suburb, main street and back alley.

It opens with chapters on ‘Sumo,’ ‘Yoshiwara,’ and ‘Theatres.’ This was not a random order, but rather reflects the assertion, that “nothing more signals the great peace of Edo’s prosperity than the four-hour sumo matches, the three theatres, and the brothels of the Five Streets of the Yoshiware.”

These akusho or ‘bad places’ were not a sort of other world separate from normal urban space. Though these ‘non-everyday’ spaces of the theatre and brothel were located on the peripheries of the normal world, they were not thought to be of ‘another world’; rather, they were included within the realm of Edo daily life.

Tales of Edo Prosperity seeks to decode the overall space of Edo as a complex tapestry of paired meanings: sacred and profane, everyday and non-everyday, prosperity and poverty, city and suburb, main street and back alley.

b. Saitō Gesshin: Illustration of the Famous Places of Edo (1834-36)

A key motif of Saitō Gesshin's Illustrations of the Famous Places of Edo was to constantly reread the space of the Edo ‘system’ as the space of myth. It is an immense symbol-space in which countless gods, buddhas, and tutelary spirits extend their protecting arms out to Edo Castle towering in the centre.

*Illustration of the Famous Places of Edo sees prosperity to be a symbolic space under the protection of gods and buddhas encircling the central starting point of Edo Castle.
*Tales of Edo Prosperity seeks out the roots of prosperity in places like Yoshiwara and the theatre district.
*Illustration of the Famous Places of Edo sees prosperity as a symbolic space under the protection of gods and buddhas.

The Author

Maeda Ai (1931–1987) was a renowned Japanese literary and cultural critic. He taught at Rikkyō University. His many books include the three-volume The Space of Tokyo: 1868-1930 (1986), The World of Higuchi Ichiyō (1978), Meiji as Phantasm (1978), and The Creation of the Modern Reader (1973). Naoki Sakai of Cornell University has this to say about him:
Despite the lamentably premature death of Maeda Ai in 1987, his works have left an incontrovertible mark on the study of early modern and modern Japanese literature. Adopting liberally from phenomenological hermeneutics, cultural anthropology, structural semiotics and marxist literary studies, Maeda invented new ways of inquiring into the historicity of ‘literature’ and articulated the scope of literary studies to other domains in the human and social sciences, thereby leading a number of young scholars of Japan in the United States in the direction of what would be generally recognized as ‘cultural studies.’ In the fields of trans-Pacific Japanese studies, it is no exaggeration to say that Maeda accomplished something comparable to what Raymond Williams did in the English-speaking world.


Anonymous said...

Johann Weiß,

Yeah! That country rustic Hattori Busho sucks! Why he's all metonymy, no metaphor. (Although you seem to be implying the opposite here, Mr. Weiß.)

-Caroline Strauß

Anonymous said...

I agree, Caroline. Maeda Ai is right when he says that Busho's writings are a "betrayal of literature." Harsh words, indeed.

Busho's effort to decipher the city as a text signifies at a deeper level the failure of early Meiji literature, so that one of the first tasks of the modern novel was to discover ways to provide some sort of human meaning in urban space. An example might be Tsubouchi Shoyo's novel Tousei shosei katagi, 1885-6.


Anonymous said...

Did you guys know that the Tokyo Shin-hanjoki which Johann mentioned included sex service info, advertisements for call-girls, prostitutes' addresses, etc?

-Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director

Anonymous said...

I agree with Maeda's assessment of Hattori Busho's Tokyo Shinhanjouki-- it sucks.

It's just a showcase of things- tatemono, norimono, shinamono, misemono- which are supposed to stand in for the lofty ideals of bunmei kaika. Reminds me that Meiji fad of putting the word bunka in front of all the new appliances, etc: bunka nabe, etc.

I should also add that in 1872 many new Western- and pseudo-Western-style buildings appeared, in addition to the First National Bank. For example, there was Shinbashi eki, Tsukiji Telegraph Office, and other granite, brick, glass and iron meisho.

Gone were the days of play and gatherings at brothels, theaters, picnic sites; now people merely consume things, relate only with things. O how I long for the good old days, when there were places to gather and communicate, when these "networks of information" symbolized by newspapers and telegraph weren't yet forced down our throats!

Now we're left with only a limitless supply of commidities, the herbrification of our economy, and a new money-grubbing risshin shusse ethic that seems to have made zombies of us all.


Anonymous said...


Do I sense an anti-modern sentiment in your comment?


Anonymous said...

commidities? What's a commidity?
-josh landers

Anonymous said...

Fingerslip. I meant "commodity." Got a little worked up while writing.


Anonymous said...

I miss the waters of Edo, too, Caliban! I hope this shitty land-based modern metropolis sinks into the sea!

-Jacqueline Chau

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the summary! Here are my random notes from the book:

examines hattori bushou's text New Tales Tokyo Prosperity (toukyou shinhanjouki, 1874), about new Western buildings, written in kanbun.focuses on early bunkakaika meiji years (1868-1912).

city of water and shadows (Edo) gives way to land-based transportation and artificial lighting (compare with Tanizaki's description). new meiji city rooted in material things, objects.

maeda compares bushou's text with earlier work of 1830s by Terakado Seiken, Tales of Edo Prosperity (edo hanjouki, 1832-6, and before that other Edo guidebooks, beginning with Asai Ryoui`s Edo meishoki), which served as model for bushou and for Kobayashi Kiyochika's color woodblook series, Famous Views of Tokyo (Toukyou meisho zu, 1876-1881).

Hattori Bushou (1842-1908): New Tales of Tokyo Prosperity (1874) vs. Kobayashi Kiyochika's Famous Views of Tokyo

a. the first national bank-- built by Mitsui in 1872, eclectic style (lower part Western; top 3-story castle style). japanese parts emphasized; western aspects diminished; dark foreboding mood; print appears as a whole and is perceived directly

Bushou describes the building only in parts (using classical Chinese technique of parallel phrasing) with no concern for the whole, or for meaning. superiority of things associated with englitment evident in metaphors

b. Shinbashi station

Kiyochika- classical style, shinbashi station embedded in urban space. object of englitment relativized by nature, rain and darkness, in Edo style. Edo water and shadows still a part of Kiyochika's vision.

Bushou emphasizes raw stone, function of building. prosaic.

Seiken's Tales of Edo Prosperity and Gesshin's Illustration of the Famous Places of Edo

Terakado Seiken- Tales of Edo Prosperity (1832-36)

started the style of "tales of prosperity." similar to French "panorama literature", vignettes, anecdotes, informational base.
developed style of segmenting urban space into diverse elements. decode the overall space of Edo-- sacred and profane, everyday non-everday, prosperity and poverty, city and suburb, main street and back alley.

sumo, yoshiwara, theatres-- the symbols of Edo's prosperity. akusho hinichijou places (an essential part of the normal life)

Saitou Gesshin- Illustration of the Famous Places of Edo (1834-36)

rereading Edo as place of myth, symbols. gods, buddhas, protective spirits protect Edo castle in center.


Henri Lefebvre's 3d model for understanding modern space-- the symbolic (monuments, ideologies, institutions), the paradigmatic (city-country, inner-outer, other opposites), the syntagmatic (linkages, transportation, roads, phones; this is focus of New Tales of Tokyo Prosperity, first two relegated to background)

Edo Hanjouki- emphasizes alternating life rhythms of hare (play and festivity) and ke (ordinary)

Tokyo Shinhanjoki-- Hattori Busho:

jinrikisha replaces palanquins, barbers replace topknot salesmen. old evils vs. enlightenment; front vs. back; play vs. daily life. focus on efficiency
akusho dissipated- sumo, Yoshiwara, theaters (the main topics from Edo Hanjouki) not important in Tokyo Shinhanjoki.

category of transportation becomes prominent. main axis Shinbashi eki to Ginza becomes organizing principle.

Transfer from culture to civilization- schools, bunmei kaika, rissin shusse

land-based tokyo, neglects canals and alleys

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Whoever wrote that last comment, please stop. That makes no sense. We don't want your junk notes.

-ßally ßuzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director

Anonymous said...

Shinbashi: This is a station with a president. This country has 31 stations and its capital city is Shinbashi, one of the great stations of the world. In our year period Kansei 3 (1965) this country determined that it would no longer be the possession of Edo and it became a new independent station. The people are by nature clever and deeply righteous; they obey laws and do not commit crimes. Moreover, there is no distinction between inferiors and superiors or between rich and poor. They choose wise persons as station officials whose term of office is limited to four stops. After four stops another leader will be chosen through popular debate.

Sally Shinbashi, Beholdmyswarthyface Station Master

Anonymous said...

I was just reading your email to Brett and the news just showed Japan and the rest of the areas that had the earthquakes, etc. How scarry! Are you ok, they said they felt it on the bullet. Oh my, now I am going to look up Lake Kawaguchi link. Let me know when you post the pics. All my love mom

Beholdmyswarthyface said...


Coronado sounds nice. Wish i could be instantly transported there for just a day or two.
The school trip to Lake Kawaguchi was a success. It was more work than fun, though, as most of the time was spent given presentations in a lecture hall.
But at night there was a nomikai, and a piano concert (which i participated in), and a rock n roll concert (which I also participated in).
The pictures from the event should be arriving shortly. I'll send you the link.

Also, look at this picture of Lake Kawaguchi, which is right at the foot of Mount Fuji. It was cloudy, though, so I never got to see the mountain. Here's what it's supposed to look like though:

Enjoy Coronado.
Your son, Beholdmyswarthyface

Beholdmyswarthyface said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Beholdmyswarthyface and Mother of Beholdmyswarthyface,

Please refrain from using the comment section of this collaborative blog for personal correspondence. This is a public forum.

Considering this a warning.

Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Maeda Ai is talking about post-Meiji "reification" without using the word.

-Sarah Frampton