AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 115

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Session 115: Back to the Present: 140 Years of Japanese Studies

Organizer: Michael Emmerich, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Inspired by the theme of this year’s meeting, “70 Years of Asian Studies,” this panel will address the history of Japanese cultural studies itself, focusing on literature and performance. We turn the clock back another rotation, in fact, to consider the beginnings of Japanology in the 1870s and 1880s and the ways in which the sometimes troubling fruits of these earliest explorations remain relevant to the present. This panel takes as its subject, then, not only the first decades of Japanese studies as a field, but the relationship of the discourses that came into being in these years to future developments of the field. Our papers, examining anthologies, collections, essays, and translations that have received relatively little scholarly attention, or sometimes none at all, are intended very much as a history of the present. They are meant, too, to highlight the extent to which Japanese studies has always been a global field, rooted in the translingual, transnational circulation of books, objects, translations, and discourse. Michael Watson begins exactly 140 years ago, in 1871, tracing the history of Western reception of war tales. Michael Emmerich starts in 1878 with a French writer who initially confused Genji monogatari with Heike monogatari, then tracks the beginning of Genji monogatari discourse. Machiko Midorikawa’s paper forms a pair with Emmerich’s, examining the reaction of scholars in the 1920s to the negative assessments of earlier scholars. Finally, Rachel Payne examines a Victorian collector’s understanding of Noh masks.

Medieval Japanese War Tales and their Critical Reception in the West, 1871–1921
Michael G. Watson, Meiji Gakuin University, Japan

During the Meiji period, major works of the war tale genre (gunki monogatari) were introduced to Western readers by a series of publications in French, German, and English. Annotated translations of Heike monogatari and related works were included in monographs published in Geneva by Turrettini (1871) and Valenziani (1893), in the literary histories by Aston (1899) and Florenz (1906), and in the anthology of Revon (1910). Sadler completed his translation of Heike monogatari in 1921, fifty years after excerpts from that work first appeared in a Western language. The critical reception of the genre can be traced in the comments made by these scholars in their introductions and notes, in their choice of selections from the works, and in their translations. This paper examines the background to these pioneering works, identifying what primary texts were used by the translators, and considering how the availability of texts influenced their appreciation of the genre. We will focus on evaluative judgments concerning the relative qualities of two contrasting accounts of the twelfth-century Genpei War and the major account of the fourteenth-century conflicts. The early Western scholars recognized the narrative or literary qualities of Heike monogatari, but a number express a preference for what some describe as the “ornate” or poetic style of Genpei josuiki and Taiheiki. The paper will end by considering the extent to which their preferences were influenced by contemporary Japanese views of the works or by Western notions of genre and literary excellence.

In the Shadow of Giants: English Writings on Genji Monogatari in the 1920s
Machiko Midorikawa, Waseda University, Japan

In considering the reception of Genji monogatari among Westerners in the Meiji period, it is common to point to the derogatory comments by Basil Hall Chamberlain in Things Japanese (1890). His frequently reprinted handbook was widely read by English speakers for several decades. Yet as influential as his opinions were, they began to be questioned by those who could read the Japanese original, as well as by those who knew it through translation. Ultimately, Chamberlain himself came to acknowledge that his earlier evaluation had been too harsh and revised the references to Mursaki Shikibu’s work in the entry on “Literature” in his Sixth Edition (1939). It was Waley’s translation that prompted this conversion. This paper will look at two figures who contributed in a small way to a re-evaluation of Genji monogatari: Oswald White and J. Ingram Bryan. White published a translation of the Sakaki chapter in 1922, while Bryan included a discussion of Genji in a book meant for a popular English readership, The Literature of Japan (1929). Both works thus appeared in the period just before and during the publication of the six volumes of Waley’s translation (1925–1933). This paper will examine the biographical and cultural context of these two men and their writings.

This Tedious Japanese Scudéry: The Origins of Western Genji monogatari Discourse, 1878-2011
Michael Emmerich, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

In 1878, the French lawyer Georges Bousquet, who had been invited to Japan in 1872 to serve as legal advisor to the Meiji government, described Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji) as “cette ennuyeux roman de la Scudéry japonaise,” or “this tedious novel by the Scudéry of Japan.” This phrase, subtly misquoted by Basil Hall Chamberlain in Things Japanese, went on to become one of the most widely circulated appraisals of the tale, circulating for more than a century not only in French and English but also in German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish. Taking as a starting point the global peregrinations of this single misquotation, this paper considers the manner in which early discourse about Genji in Western languages, and by extension Japanology in general, established frameworks within which contemporary scholars continue, to an extent, to operate. I argue, in this case, that Bousquet’s misquoted dismissal of Genji ironically helped canonize the tale as a classic of world literature, which is how it is overwhelmingly read today. Focusing on a fragment of Genji discourse that originated a full half century before Arthur Waley’s translation The Tale of Genji (1925-1933) and preceded even Suematsu Kencho’s partial translation Genji Monogatari (1882), I highlight the fraught, fascinating initial efforts of European and American writers to deal with texts neither they nor any of their colleagues had read, or perhaps could have read.

Unmasking early Japanology: a Victorian collector’s assessment of Noh masks
Rachel Payne, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford houses one of the West’s largest and earliest Noh mask collections. The 52 masks were donated to the University of Oxford in 1884 by Lieutenant-General Pitt Rivers, a keen ethnologist and proponent of social darwinism. The Museum also owns a copy of the original documentation dating from the masks’ transfer to England. On the basis of this information, the collection was identified as having been displayed in the Kyoto Exhibition of 1879 by the iemoto of the Kongo Noh school. This is corroborated by Kongo memoirs, which record the family assembling masks for display and sale in response to interest from a western collector. The document also records the character types, estimated ages and cultural background of the individual masks, and ends with a short but intriguing assessment of the masks’ artistic quality and the social ‘elevation’ of the figures they represent. My paper will analyse this document in the search for clues to the manner in which the Kongo owner’s initial description of their masks was interpreted by a Victorian collector clearly unfamiliar with both the factual details and the aesthetics of Noh drama. This will highlight some of the major linguistic, philosophical and cultural issues that shaped early western engagement with and interpretation of Japanese culture.