Tag Archives: meiji

Japan in Days of Yore

I found an interesting book in the library a while ago that I’d like to introduce before I return it. It’s entitled Japan in Days of Yore and is from 1887.

There are several interesting tidbits about this book. First of all is the translator, Walter Dening: he’s a mathematician and missionary who was friends with Lafcardio Hearn. Second, what on earth is the random text that has been translated here, a samurai tale? Who knows.

The book contains a pull-out illustration at the beginning, an “old-fashioned” woodblock print that is in keeping with both the book’s content and its binding. Despite being a hardback book, the paper is bound in Japanese style, with pages printed on only one side and then folded in half, with the edges bound in the spine, instead of being single sheets printed on both sides. This means that each page edge is a fold, creating “double” pages that one can peek into (although there’s nothing printed on the inside).

This isn’t the only book in the Days of Yore series. There are at least five books, three of which are a three-volume life of Miyamoto Musashi. Japan in the days of yore definitely consists of epic samurai tales. The last volume I’ve found was published in 1906, but even then, the traditional Japanese-style paper binding persists even within Western hardback covers. It’s a fascinating combination of technology, American missionaries, ideas about tradition and past, and the persistence of Edo-period (1600-1867) fiction into the 20th century – even in translation.

Given the dates, these stories are some of the first Japanese literature translated into English. Yet they would have been considered light fiction, adventure stories. They’re not considered the great literature of Japan’s past, like The Tale of Genji (which was first translated by Kencho Suematsu in 1900, contemporaneous with Days of Yore). They’re not even generally read anymore: they’ve disappeared into the mass that is samurai tales from the Edo period, hundreds upon hundreds of titles – not to mention the massive amount of parodic fiction and love stories that also exist from this time. Edo literature is often skipped over these days, save for Ihara Saikaku (who only became part of the canon after these translations were published). We read Genji and Kawabata and Murakami Haruki instead. But at the turn of the 20th century, these stories are what Americans in Japan found worthy of translation and publication, and clearly Japanese publishers felt the same way. Days of Yore came out around the same time as Hearn’s translations of Ueda Akinari’s ghost stories, again from the Edo period. Samurai and ghosts: Japan of yore to American missionaries of the late 19th century, and Japanese translations of yore to us now.

pseudonymity and the bibliography

My research is on authorship, and specifically on varied practices of writing and ways that authorship is performed.

For my study – that is, late 19th-century Japan – the practice of using pseudonyms, multiple and various, is extremely common. It’s an issue that I consider quite a bit, and a practice that I personally find simultaneously playful and liberating. It’s the ultimate in creativity: creating not just a work but one’s authorship, and one’s authorial name, every time.

This does raise a practical issue, however, that leads me to think even more about the meaning and implications of using a pseudonym.

How does one create a bibliography of works written under pen names?

The easy version of the problem is this: I have a choice when making my master dissertation bibliography of citing works in a number of ways. I can cite them with that instance’s pen name, then the most commonly known pen or given name in brackets afterward. I can do the reverse. Or I can be troublesome and only cite the pen name. Then again, I could adopt the practice that is the current default – born of now attributing works solely to the most commonly known name rather than to the name originally on the work – that is to not bother with the original pen name, obscuring the original publication context entirely. I can pretend, for example, that Maihime was written by Mori Ogai, and not Mori Rintaro. This flies in the face of convention but is the only way that I can cite the work and remain consistent with the overarching argument that I make in my dissertation: that is, use of and attribution to specific, variable pen names matters, both for understanding context and also understanding the work itself. It goes without saying that this is crucial for understanding authorship itself.

But there is another issue, and it goes hand-in-hand with citing works by writers whose name does not follow Western convention of given name first, last name second. Of having two names at all. The issue comes in the form of citation managers.

I’ve been giving Zotero a go lately and quite enjoying it. But I find myself making constant workarounds because of most of my sources being by Japanese writers, and the writers of my primary sources not only being Japanese but also using pen names. My workaround is to treat the entire name as one single last name, so I can write it in the proper order and not have it wrangled back into “last name”, “first name” – both of those being not quite true here. For citing a Japanese writer, I’d want to retain the last name then given name order; for someone using a pen name, the issue is that no part of the name is a last or given name. It’s what I’d like to call an acquired name.

Mori Ogai is now the most commonly used name of the writer Mori Rintaro (Mori being the last name, Rintaro being his given name). Ogai is a shortened version of his early pen name Ogai Gyoshi. Ogai Gyoshi isn’t a false last plus given name. It’s always in the order Ogai Gyoshi, neither of them is a “real” name, and it is a phrase, not a name. It’s as though he’s using a word that happens to have a space in it.

So when I put some of Mori Rintaro’s writing into Zotero, I put in “Mori Rintaro” as the last name. Sometimes I just put in “Ogai” as the name, when he signs a piece that way. Occasionally it’s “Ogai Mori Rintaro” (this is, in fact, the author of Maihime – I made a shortcut above in my example). And then there are some pieces in which the last name in Zotero is “Ogai Gyoshi.”

I don’t know how to go about this any other way, but it’s less about me having be a little hacky to get it to do what I want, and much more of a constant reminder of our current (Western) assumptions about names, authorship, and naming conventions. It’s a reminder of how different the time and place that I study is, and how much more dynamic and, frankly, fun it was to write in the late 19th century in Japan than it is now, either here as an American or even in Japan. Names are taken a bit more seriously now, I’d argue, and more literally. It’s a little harder to play with one’s name, to make one up entirely for a one-off use, at this point – and I think it’s for the worse.

(Obviously, there are exceptions: musicians come immediately to mind. And it’s not as though writers do not adopt pen names now. But it’s not in the same way. And this, incidentally, is something I love about the early Internet – I’m referring to the nineties in particular. Fun with handles, fun with names, all pseudonymous, and all about fluid, multiple identity.)

Showa 40s vs 1970

I was listening to a podcast interview with a favorite author just now (Kakuta Mitsuyo if you’re wondering) and I came to a realization about Japanese and Western calendars. From Meiji onward, I have come to crave dates in Japanese reign years when using Japanese, crazy as it sounds – I want to ditch Western years altogether!

Why is this? Frankly, Western years take a mouthful to say and are much harder to pick up when you’re listening, especially if the speaker is talking quickly. 2009 becomes “the year two thousand nine.” Try 1999: “the year one thousand nine hundred ninety-nine!” Do you see the problem?

Well, many learners of Japanese hate the confusion of having a separate, less often used Japanese reckoning of years according to emperors’ reigns. The infamous Hirohito is known as the Showa emperor in Japan and the Showa period starts with his coronation in 1926. I was born in Showa 56 – 1981. Incidentally I know this because the high school where I taught my first year in Japan functioned on Japanese years and one needs to know one’s birthday! For most official forms, you are still expected to write your birthday in Japanese years. If you want to impress a functionary, learn this and write it proudly. They will be unnecessarily astounded.

In any case, the author was talking about her childhood and said “In the Showa 40s…” I actually sighed with relief! When the host breezed over that day’s date in Western years at the beginning of the podcast I had simply stopped listening, but Showa 40s – it just clicked. 1965-1975. It just makes sense to me somehow.

As you may know, I study the Meiji period (1868-1912). Specifically, it’s the Meiji 20s, or 1887-1897. I find myself writing dates as Meiji 20-something all the time. Why? I can’t explain it. It’s certainly in part because publication dates in the books I read are all in Meiji years – it was still the norm then to use Japanese years. But I can convert easily now from studying it for so long. So, why?

Really, it’s not me becoming accustomed to Japan. No normal Japanese person born after the Taisho period (1912-1926) would do such a thing. I think it’s much simpler: I am a nerd who studies literary history. It’s the sad truth. Well, a happy Heisei 23 to you all then!

(By the way, why no pre-Meiji reign years for me? They’re too short, numerous, and confusing. They sound the same. I just can’t take it. But if I studied early modern? I bet I’d be using Bunka-Bunsei like it’s 1821!)

Iseya Opens to Commemorate Ichiyo’s Death

If you were in the Tokyo area today and lucky enough to hear about or come across this shop in the Hongo 5-chome area (Bunkyo-ku), Iseya 伊勢屋質店 (a 19th-century dime store) was open just for today, to commemorate the anniversary of Higuchi Ichiyo’s 樋口一葉 death. From @frognalway, info and a photo if you follow the link:

伊勢屋質店の外観。一葉の命日(11/23)に年に1回の公開をしているんですって。

Ichiyo is one of the authors I study, and is the woman you’ll find on the current 5000 yen bill in Japan. She died in 1896 of tuberculosis, at the age of 24, and just as she began to climb to the heights of an amazing literary career.

The question always remains, would she have been as famous – or as widely accepted by all of her male fans, friends, and critics, who were the big shots of the Meiji literary world – if her life had been longer, forcing her into a category after all, or into choosing between marrying (and quitting) or writing (and not being the right kind of woman). But that is only a what-if; for her life was far too short, and difficult, and poor.

By the way, this shop is allegedly the setting for her most famous work, Takekurabe たけくらべ.