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  • Plucking Chrysanthemums: Narushima Ryūhoku and Sinitic Literary Traditions in Modern Japan by Matthew Fraleigh
  • Seth Jacobowitz
Plucking Chrysanthemums: Narushima Ryūhoku and Sinitic Literary Traditions in Modern Japan by Matthew Fraleigh. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2016. Pp. x + 486. $65.00 cloth.

Matthew Fraleigh's Plucking Chrysanthemums: Narushima Ryūhoku and Sinitic Literary Traditions in Modern Japan constitutes a major contribution to the study of changing modalities in poetry and prose in Japan composed according to longstanding Sinitic practice. Fraleigh's meticulously researched biography of Narushima Ryūhoku 成島柳北 (1837–1884) tracks one of the pivotal figures in the transitions of mid-nineteenth-century Japan who, over a thirty-year period, served as shogunal tutor, poet, scholar, military officer, licensed-quarter aficionado, social critic, newspaper editor, essayist, school principal, and world traveler. The book is also invaluable for its substantial introduction clarifying the terminology for forms of literary production that have long been confusingly characterized as "Chinese," "Sino-Japanese," "Chinese-style," and so forth. Fraleigh's preference for "Sinitic" and its variants—such as "Sinosphere" in English-language scholarship advanced by Joshua Fogel and others—offers an elegant solution for affirming vital connections to Chinese cultural tradition, while also avoiding a facile conflation of culture with modern national and colonial boundaries.1 [End Page 328]

Fraleigh demonstrates that it would be a disservice to regard Narushima merely as representative of a particular genre or corpus of literature: he was also closely involved in the upheavals that contributed to the changes in political regime from Tokugawa to Meiji. Although Narushima was forced to professionally reinvent himself time and again, his consistent use of Sinitic poetry and prose manifests the style's endurance, and even brief renaissance, in the new typographic print culture and burgeoning fields of journalism and modern literature until his death in 1884. Fraleigh's investigation of these Sinitic practices—that were renamed kanshibun 漢詩文—captures the final florescence of once-dominant forms of Chinese literacy and learning in Japan before their long, slow slide into permanent decline.

Plucking Chrysanthemums is complemented by Fraleigh's companion volume of translation, New Chronicles of Yanagibashi and Diary of a Journey to the West, which was awarded the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Literature in 2011–2012.2 This publication followed his translation of Maeda Ai's 前田愛 (1931–1987) "Ryūhoku in Paris."3 Collectively these publications establish Fraleigh as the preeminent scholar of Narushima and modern kanshibun in English. Narushima is largely overlooked in the field of modern Japanese literature, not least due to the difficulty for contemporary readers to appreciate Sinitic literary forms. It is fair to say that many scholars of post-1890s Japanese literature know Narushima best from Maeda's work of the 1970s–1980s. In Plucking Chrysanthemums, Fraleigh cites foundational contributions to Ryūhoku studies. He also expands upon and, where necessary, corrects Maeda's interpretations through recourse to more recent Japanese scholarship and his own analyses. For instance, Fraleigh reports Hino Tatsuo's 日野龍夫 (1940–2003) declaration in 2001 that he and Maeda were "spectacularly wrong" to have concluded that Narushima was simply an aesthete who renounced any further attachment to public service in his final years (p. 315). Fraleigh also documents the rediscovery by Inui Teruo 乾輝雄 (1899–1975) and [End Page 329] Yamamoto Yoshiaki 山本芳明 (b. 1955) of nearly one hundred columns that Narushima published in the Yomiuri shinbun 読売新聞. These columns reveal that "Ryūhoku remained a committed cultural commentator and a trenchant critic of the Meiji government right until his death" (p. 315) and that he supported the Freedom and People's Rights Movement (Jiyū minken undō 自由民権運動). As this rediscovery indicates, the book provides to the reader a heightened understanding of how scholarly consensus on Narushima has evolved over time.

This revised understanding of Narushima as a politically engaged cultural critic, poet, and erstwhile statesman is central to Fraleigh's project. Fraleigh astutely opens his study with Charles Lanman's contemporaneous portrait of Narushima in Leading Men of Japan, published in 1883 (p. 1). Narushima was certainly in good company in the fifty-man lineup alongside Emperor Meiji, the leaders of the Iwakura 岩倉 Mission (1871–1873) such as...


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