- The Islamic Middle East and Japan: Perceptions, Aspirations, and the Birth of Intra-Asian Modernity
This collection, edited by Reneé Worringer, is a welcome contribution to a growing body of scholarship interested in how modernization connected Japan and the Islamic Middle East. Focusing primarily on interactions between the Ottoman Empire, Iran, and Japan, the six articles in this volume raise two key questions: how was the East/West binary imagined in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and how can historians "re-present" that binary (2)? The collection makes clear that the encounter between the Islamic Middle East and Japan took place within a framework provided by the East/West binary and the modernizing project. As such, the perceived Japanese success in modernizing while retaining a cultural heritage shaped much of the Ottoman and Iranian infatuation with Japan. That success, at the same time, placed Japan in a position to replicate and reinforce the conceits of Western modernity. As Worringer points out, "The resilience of deeply embedded ontological notions of East and West are apparent in this period of Asian anti-colonialism in full bloom" (8).
Hideaki Sugita begins by examining travel literature produced by the first Japanese mission to Iran in 1880 and by modern Iranian travelers to Japan in 1897 and 1903. In each case, the image produced of the other reflected the anxieties and aspirations held by the observer. Japanese envoys, for example, cast Iran as a negative example for Japanese modernization. Iranian travelers also interpreted Japan through the prism of modernity and civilization. The well-traveled and Western-oriented merchant appraised Japan much as a European traveler would. The Iranian statesmen who visited Japan in 1903, by contrast, internalized the conceptual framework deployed by the oligarchs who led Japan's program of modernization and hoped to apply it to Iran. Just as Iran provided a negative example for the Japanese envoys, the Iranian statesmen took Japan to be a positive example for Iranian aspirations.
Michael Penn introduces the little-known story of the Ottoman frigate Ertuğrul visiting Japan in 1890 and examines Japanese views of their Ottoman guests. The Ottoman mission arrived in the context of Rokumeikan diplomacy, an effort on the part of Japanese elites to demonstrate their mastery of Western civilization represented by the lavish parties held at the Rokumeikan mansion. The Ertuğrul mission, therefore, provided an occasion for the Japanese to prove their "civilization" to a Western audience. The tragedies of a cholera epidemic aboard the Ertuğrul and its subsequent shipwreck further allowed the Japanese to demonstrate, via charity, their civilization. Penn notes, however, that an incipient form of pan-Asianism was also evident in Japanese responses to the Ertuğrul mission, challenging the East/West binary by emphasizing how Ottoman Turkey faced a domineering West, just as Japan did. At the popular level, however, the Ottoman visitors were viewed primarily as foreign and, in response to the cholera epidemic, potentially contaminating. Ultimately, Penn argues, the Ottomans provided the Japanese an opportunity to see "only themselves" (56).
The constitutional or "Young Turk" revolution of 1908, Handan Nezİr Akmeşe demonstrates, involved a militarist nationalism inspired by Japanese success in the Russo-Japanese War. As they recast the role of the military in politics and society, Ottoman officers invoked a Japanese modernization rooted in the military institution. They believed the Japanese defeated Russia by combining in the military "indigenous moral values with imitation of Western technical improvements" (66). This Japanese model, Akmeşe emphasizes, provided the Ottoman officers a means to imagine a Turkish nationalism at the core of their reformist agenda. Thus Ottoman discussions stressed the dual themes of modernization and the revival of "the traditional and moral values that had guaranteed the strength of Turks" (76).
Worringer picks up Akmeşe's discussion, but draws the reader's attention to the use of Japanese images among the provincial Arab middle class in the Ottoman Empire prior to and following the revolution of 1908...