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Men in Metal — A Topography of Japanese Public Statuary in Bronze

30.03.2005 | 18:30

Sven Saaler

Abriss

 The foundation of the modern Japanese nation-state after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 demanded new methods for achieving social integration, for creating a collective identity, and, ultimately, for securing the loyalty of citizens to the new central government. In previous research, the Tennō has been considered of paramount importance as a symbol of national unity and the central means of securing "loyalty and patriotism" (chūkun aikoku). However, a close look at the utilization of public space—here taken literally as squares, parks, roads etc.—from the late Meiji era onwards reveals that the Tennō was only seldom utilized as a visual symbol. After his tours of the country in the 1870s and 1880s, he is rarely seen in person; his official photographs are kept mostly invisible behind curtains, visual representations of the Tennō are hard to find. How was the visual vacuum created by the absence of the Tennō in the public sphere compensated for?
Public space is regularly utilized by nation-states as an arena where concepts of "national identity" and national consciousness can be inculcated. In many Western and Asian nation-states, statues of founding figures and political leaders are commonplace. In many states—not only in authoritarian regimes with a strong personality cult—the figure most commonly depicted is the head of state or the monarch, in the form of public statues but also through other visual means such as coins, bills, postcards, and reliefs. This paper discusses how the medium of the (bronze) statue has been utilized in Japan to promote national integration since the erection in 1880 of the first (non-Buddhist) bronze statue in Japan. Who took the initiative in creating this variant of "the politics of memory"? How can we categorize the bronze statues erected in the years that followed? What was the reaction of the population and the press? Was there a central political driving force behind the erection of bronze statues or was the process rather decentralized? Based on a database that includes more than 700 statues, as well as on case studies, this paper seeks to address these questions and provide a preliminary topography of Japanese bronze statuary in the framework of the politics of memory in modern Japan.

This is Sven Saaler's farewell presentation. He will leave the DIJ at the end of March to take up a position at The University of Tokyo.

Koordination: Andrea Germer; Sven Saaler

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