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  • Okakura Kakuzō and India:The Trajectory of Modern National Consciousness and Pan-Asian Ideology Across Borders
  • Inaga Shigemi (bio)
    Translated by Kevin Singleton (bio)

This paper focuses on Okakura Kakuzō (1863-1913), alias Tenshin, and his immediate historical contexts.1 I shall argue the following two points. First, that The Ideals of the East (Tōyō no risō, 1903), one of the most pronounced manifestations of Asian self-expression during the early twentieth century, was cultivated within the diasporic environment that characterized Okakura's life. Second, that the conceptualization of "Eastern Art" (Tōyō bijutsu)2 as a means of expressing the cultural identity of a modern Asia was intrinsically predicated on a departure from a narrowly defined nation-state consciousness. What lies behind the notion of "Asia is one" (hitotsu no Ajia)- that is to say, of Asia (Tōyō) as a cultural concept, and furthermore of the fictive framework that is "the East" (Tōyō) along with its fabrication and actualization—without which a notion of a universal history of world art would be inconceivable, is the border-crossing inscribed in Okakura's life. Recognizing this forces us radically to reexamine, from an Asian perspective, the simplistic praise of diaspora and orientation toward border-crossing in the tenor of recent scholarship on modernism.

As recent scholarship has made clear, the formation of the history of modern art in Japan was intimately related to the establishment of the Meiji state.3 If we broaden our purview to extend from the latter half of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century, we see that various Asian ethnic groups, under the colonial domination of Western imperial powers, "invented" or reestablished a national or cultural identity in order to resist "the West." This identity was also pursued as an objective of the state. The framework of "Eastern art history" (Tōyō bijutsushi) was likewise an idea or notion that emerged in unison with such movements. One case worth reexamining from an international perspective is that of Okakura, who has not been given sufficient attention by Japanese historians in this context, until recently. During the period of Japan's overseas expansionism in the 1940s, the writings of "Tenshin" (especially the seditious text The [End Page 39] Awakening of the East [1901-2], first published in Japanese translation in 1938 as Tōyō no kakusei) were appropriated by the militaristic ideology of the time and mobilized as propaganda for the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Satō Nobue and especially Asano Akira were representative of this interpretation in the footsteps of Yasuda Yōjūrō, who headed the Nihon Roman-ha (Japan Romantic School). Perhaps in reconsideration of or reaction to this, until the late 1960s, studies of "Okakura Tenshin" were premised on postwar values and trapped in a form of argumentation that decried his Asianism through a retroactive reading of his works. Herein, we can descry an atmosphere in which postwar Japanese intellectuals, in order to demonstrate their own innocence, felt obliged to declare "Tenshin" guilty of this or that crime.

If we turn our gaze abroad, we see in the Anglophone world that The Book of Tea (1906) is still available today in paperback editions and that excerpts from it are occasionally included in anthologies of art theory. To take a contrasting example from a different region, in the Francophone world, though French translations of The Ideals of the East and The Awakening of Japan appear in a single volume in 1917 and The Book of Tea appeared in 1922, few French intellectuals or even art historians today, with the exception of Japan specialists, know Okakura Kakuzō's name. However, this paper neither seeks grounding in the "people's history" (minshūshi) perspective, as represented by the work of the historian Irokawa Daikichi, which would reevaluate "Tenshin" as the expounder of an aesthetic pan-Asianism; nor, on the other hand, does it complacently label "Tenshin" as a pernicious ultra-nationalistic thinker, along the lines of recent postcolonial critiques in North America, which could be considered an extension of the critique of modern Japanese thought initiated by the art historian Miyakawa Torao and the cultural critic Takeuchi Yoshimi.

Rather, this...