CULTURE AND HISTORY
Yukishi yo no omokage
[trans. Remnants of Days Past]
Heibonsha (Heibonsha Library), 2005. 606 pp. ¥1,900. ISBN 978-4-582-76552-6.
Also published in: Chinese (simplified characters) and English
These early accounts by foreign visitors have been often regarded negatively by Japanese intellectuals. They thought that the writings were unrealistic in the manner criticized in Edward Said’s Orientalism or that they romanticized a premodern past that deserved to be rejected. Nonetheless, having carefully read through many accounts, Watanabe insists that their appraisals were not without foundation, illustrating his argument with many examples of the charms of Japan’s Lost World.
A picture emerges of “good old days” when even poor people led cheerful and emotionally satisfying lives, women showed surprisingly liberated attitudes toward sexuality, and children were treasured and well looked after. While naturally there might be some idealization here, there is a greater sense of surprise at a first encounter with a different culture. This valuable work offers a new perspective for considering modernization in Japan. (NM)
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