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  • Images des Occidentaux dans le Japon de l'ère Meiji
  • Shion Kono
Images des Occidentaux dans le Japon de l'ère Meiji. By Hartmut O. Rotermund. Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose, 2005. 323 pages. Softcover €28.00.

In 1894, Japanese Foreign Minister Mutsu Munemitsu negotiated a long-anticipated revision of the Harris Treaty of 1858 and secured the removal of extraterritoriality clauses from the "unequal treaties" with Western nations. In exchange, it was agreed that foreigners would be allowed to live among the Japanese populace (as opposed to inside designated settlements, kyoryūchi), to travel freely, and to engage in business and religious activities. This "cohabitation on Japanese soil" (naichi zakkyo) provoked a fervent debate prior to its taking effect in 1899, involving not only politicians and scholars but also wide-ranging strata of the Japanese population. Some anticipated far-reaching cultural and societal changes and warned of the dangers; others were simply not sure what such unprecedented changes would bring.

Hartmut O. Rotermund's Images des Occidentaux dans le Japon de l'ère Meiji (Images of Westerners in Japan during the Meiji Era) focuses upon this naichi zakkyo debate in the late 1890s as a pivotal historical moment for understanding Japanese images of Westerners in the Meiji period. Previous Western-language scholarship on [End Page 492] images of Westerners in modern Japan has tended to cover earlier periods (the arrival of Perry and the Black Ships or the Japanese embassies to the United States and Europe in the first decade of Meiji) or later periods (the demonization of enemies before or during World War II). This study offers a comprehensive look at an era when images of Westerners first began to be discussed in the context of the everyday life of ordinary Japanese. There has been a growing interest in images of the Other in studies of modern Japan—The Iwakura Embassy, 1871-73 (Princeton University Press, 2002; a five-volume English translation of Kume Kunitake's record of the embassy) and the MIT OpenCourseWare Project "Black Ships & Samurai" (2004) immediately come to mind—and this work is an important and welcome addition to this body of literature.

Rotermund, professor at École Pratique des Hautes Études at the Sorbonne and author of several books on Japanese religion and popular beliefs, examines images of Westerners in an impressive array of primary sources, including political tracts, religious pamphlets (many by Buddhist priests), newspaper articles, popular songs, and cartoons. The diversity of these documents reveals that the prospect of naichi zakkyo triggered reactions from all sectors and strata of the Japanese population: even "three-year-old children had the terms of the treaty on their lips" according to one work of the time (p. 21). The discussion in some of the sources cited revolved around specific points of diplomatic and domestic policy. Skeptics, for example, often asked whether this change was really necessary for joining the "family of nations" and revising the unequal treaties. But others touched upon various aspects of Japanese life: economics, religion and ethics, education, hygiene, and family relations. Among the questions posed were: Would this change have positive economic effects (e.g., more investment from abroad) or negative ones (increased foreign ownership of Japanese land)? How would the large influx of Christians influence the Japanese population morally? Would the "purity of the nation" and the "spiritual body of the nation" (kokutai) be undermined as a result? Would women begin to act more "Western" (read "selfish")? The naichi zakkyo debate encompassed premonitions of a variety of consequences, and through it one can glimpse the fears and hopes of the Japanese as they anticipated coming into contact with foreigners on their own soil.

What makes Rotermund's study such a lively and vivid look at Meiji life are the diverse and numerous primary materials taken from popular sources, such as stories in the popular press (for example, the suicide of Kiyū, a courtesan of a foreigners-only brothel) and folk songs, as well as from philosophical and religious tracts. Cartoons and sketches by both Japanese and Western artists (including sketches by Bigot and Wirgman) complement these sources, adding a visual dimension to the analysis.

As the title suggests, Rotermund's...


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