The decade between the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War (1894-1905) has been characterized as a time of a major aesthetic transition: not only in poetry traditional patterns of the representation of nature were eroding and had to give way to new forms, but especially in prose the depiction of landscape and nature became a key factor in the process of literary modernization. The sheer number of books taking up the topic (geographical descriptions, travel guides and last but not least literary works), which sometimes even became bestsellers, bear witness to the popularity of the subject-matter with readers and writers alike. In particular, works which attempted a reconciliation of old and new became popular with the public, rather than the more avant-garde works still known (and taught) today.
In my presentation I will address this process of literary transformation in general, but place special emphasis on the aspect of identity within this aesthetic shift: while on the one hand there was the tendency to promote landscape as a basis for a Japanese national identity, on the other hand, Japanese landscapes, especially if not or almost not part of the canon of “famous places”, were often put into a decidedly non-Japanese frame of associations and allusions, i.e. they were exoticized. These contradictory tendencies cannot be explained by referring to the aesthetic discourse only, but will be discussed in the context of the historical and social background of the era.
Thomas Hackner is assistant professor at Trier University, Germany, and currently a research fellow at Waseda University.