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“White Birch” writers from the title of the magazine Shirakaba that they
began publishing in 1910, had already appeared on the scene to voice
cheerful and idealistic sentiments about the course of Japanese society,
sentiments that were more in keeping with the advent of Taishò democracy. The White Birch writers were for the most part younger men from
excellent families; indeed, their nominal leader, Mushanokòji Saneatsu
(1885–1976), was descended from the Kyoto aristocracy. They regarded
themselves as cosmopolites whose interests were in the furtherance of
international, rather than simply national, art. Mushanokòji was another
who was singularly unimpressed with the purported significance of Nogi’s
suicide as a reaffirmation of the vital spirit that had traditionally permeated Japanese life and culture.
The White Birch writers took particular exception to what they regarded as the excessively gloomy outlook and plodding ways of the naturalists. Instead, they affirmed their own faith in the positive value of individualism and the expectation that it would thrive in Japan as elsewhere.
They also tended to preach a Tolstoian kind of humanism, and dabbled
to varying degrees with ideas of social leveling. Mushanokòji even went
so far as to establish in Kyushu in 1919 a “new village,” whose inhabitants
were expected to live in idyllic tranquility and communal brotherhood.
But, by and large, the humanism of the White Birch writers, who were
secure in their own elitist social status, was more intellectual than practical. The most powerful advocacy of radical social change in this period
came from the group of proletarian writers who emerged in the early
1920s along with organized Marxism in Japan.
In addition to their purely literary pursuits, the White Birch writers
were active, through their organ Shirakaba, in the advancement of the
visual arts in the Western manner. This was a time of radical new art
movements in the West, ranging from Expressionism to Fauvism and
Cubism, end Japanese artists returning from study in France and elsew...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at UBC.
- Spring '13