Samurai and Gentlemen: The Anglophone Japan Corpus and New Avenues into Orientalism (Part I)

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Abstract

The article as a whole seeks to explore new ways of looking at the literature of intercultural encounter using ideas of culture shock, cultural adaptation and narrative theory. It also demonstrates the importance of Anglophone literature about Japan to the understanding of how writers from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries sought to engage with people from other ethnic groups. From the 1850s, when Japan ended its policy of national isolation, until the beginning of World War II, the literary marketplace was flooded with numerous English-language texts which dealt with almost every aspect of Japanese life, covering subjects as diverse as art and design, botany, geology, women's rights, war, public health, theatre, linguistics and religion. However, despite the size of this Anglophone Japan corpus, only well-known texts such as Isabella Bird's Unbeaten Tracks in Japan and the works of Lafcadio Hearn have attracted substantial in-depth analysis. One reason for the neglect of the field is that previous decades of scholars regarded this literature as too ephemeral to be worth studying. Another may be that conventional Saidian frameworks for interpreting the literature of cultural encounter fail to provide a satisfactory understanding of relationships between westerners and the Japanese. However, this resistance to Saidian interpretation means that the Anglophone Japan corpus is ideal for testing alternative readings of cross-cultural literature. This, the first section of the article, presents a brief overview of Anglophone literature on Japan, and investigates some of the new strategies being put forward for interpreting these texts. The second part of the article will follow on by presenting a case study of one theme which dominated discussions of Japan in the early twentieth century: the figure of the samurai and the idea of ‘Bushidō’ (the ‘way of the samurai’). By undertaking this analysis, I demonstrate how ideas of culture shock and narrative psychology can be used to give a more nuanced understanding of the personal and social motives behind the literature of intercultural encounter.

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