ASIA212Varley

17 uchimura thus became a victim of the shift in

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Unformatted text preview: shall see, when Japanese writers were first beginning to produce a modern literature under the dominant influence of the West. Ancient works, including collections of waka poetry, were reprinted one after another, and especially great excitement was aroused over the rediscovery of Genroku literature. The prose of Saikaku, the puppet plays of Chikamatsu, and the poems of Bashò were resuscitated, annotated, and made available to a wide reading public. Unfortunately, the concept of preserving the national essence, while emotionally stimulating, did not lend itself to very precise definition, and the Seikyòsha writers were never able to present a convincing program of action. Moreover, even though they were generally reasonableminded people themselves, their views tended to provide fuel for the xenophobes and extreme nationalists; and, in subsequent years, as Japan embarked upon overseas expansion, preservation of the national essence became synonymous with ultranationalism. Intertwined with the debate in the mid-Meiji period over such questions as the modern (Western?) spirit and Japan’s national essence was the major problem of Christianity. The leaders of the Meiji Restoration had little if any personal interest in Christianity, although some, like Itagaki Taisuke, the pioneer in the people’s rights movement, conjectured that it might be an essential element in modernization. On the other hand, many of the intellectuals of the new generation of the 1880s and 1890s, including Tokutomi Sohò, were powerfully, and in some cases decisively, affected by Christian teachings. The centuries-old ban on Christianity was not immediately lifted at the time of the Restoration. Not until 1873, after the Iwakura Mission observed how highly the Westerners treasured their religion, was it quietly legalized in Japan. Meanwhile, Western missionaries—particularly American and British Protestants—had already entered the country and begun their activities, including the compilation of English-Japanese dictionaries and translation of the Bible into Japanese. One field in which the missionaries performed especially valuable service was education. While the government concentrated on developing a national system of primary education, foreign missionaries and prominent Japanese independently estab...
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