Unfortunately the concept of preserving the national

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Unformatted text preview: hikanobu (1838–1912), showing gentlemen in Western-style uniforms and ladies in dresses with bustles at the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution (Honolulu Academy of Arts, Bequest of Normal D. Hill, 1938 [10,953] ) 250 Encounter with the West were civilized and knew the social graces (fig. 65). A decade or so earlier, such conduct would probably have been hailed as enlightened and progressive: it was a sign of the changed temper of the times that Itò and his ministers were disparagingly dubbed “the dancing cabinet.” It should not be supposed that the opposition to over-Westernization and the turn to conservatism in the 1880s was either universal or unthinkingly reactionary. Some extremely radical nationalists (like Òkuma’s assailant) did appear on the scene, but many prominent people remained highly committed to Westernization; and even those who most articulately called for a reassessment of traditional values more often than not advocated that Japan discriminately select what was appropriate for it from both East and West. As one of them, speaking about Western civilization, put it: We recognize the excellence of Western civilization. We value the Western theory of rights, liberty, and equality; and we respect Western philosophy and morals. We have affection for some Western customs. Above all, we esteem Western science, economics, and industry. These, however, are not to be adopted simply because they are Western; they ought to be adopted only if they can contribute to Japan’s welfare. Thus we seek not to revive a narrow xenophobia, but rather to promote the national spirit in an atmosphere of brotherhood.14 The debate that emerged in the late 1880s over Westernization versus traditionalism was conducted principally by the members of a new generation whose most impressionable years of intellectual growth had been spent during the epochal, but highly unsettling, period of transition from Tokugawa to Meiji. To a far greater extent than their elders, like the Meiji oligarchs and Fukuzawa Yukichi, they felt the intense cultural uncertainty of being torn between a Japan that had always represented the past and a West that invar...
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