Meiji Masculinity Japanese Men and Their Encounter With the West Thesis

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¶ … Japanese history attribute Meiji masculinity to the peculiar customs of the Meiji period, its specific characteristics of the Emperor, and, in some related way, its association with the Western world. Investigation of the relevant material actually denotes Meiji masculinity to have roots that go back far earlier, and it is this essay's suggestion that these roots trace themselves to an influence that was strong on Japanese thinking of that period: Confucianism.

Using primary sources, this essay summarily describes the Meiji period, elaborates on Meiji masculinity, shows the impact that Confucianism had on the early to pre-modern Japanese mindset, delineates Meiji treatment towards women, and concludes by demonstrating how Confucianism integrated with Western influences resulted in Meiji masculinity particularly in their impression of and treatment towards women. These influences have, to a greater or lesser extent lingered today.

Part I.: Meiji Period

On 3 February 1867, 15-year-old prince Mutsuhito succeeded his father, Emperor Komei to the Chrysanthemum Throne as the 122nd emperor, and the Meiji period began.

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A new government was formed the following year, the Tokugawa Shogunate was overthrown with the fall of Edo in 1868, and 'enlightened rule' (the Japanese definition of Meiji) commenced and, allegedly, lasted until 1945. (the Meiji Emperor died in 1912, and was succeeded by his son, the Taisho Emperor who died in 1945).

The aims of the Meiji regime were proclaimed via a Five Charter Oath in 1868 drawn up in order to boost morale and win public recognition and monetary support for the new government. Its objectives were as follows:

1. Establishment of deliberative assemblies

2. Involvement of all classes on carrying out state affairs

3. The revocation of sumptuary laws and class restrictions on employment

4. Replacement of 'evil customs" with the "just laws of nature" and,

Thesis on Meiji Masculinity Japanese Men and Their Encounter With the West Assignment

5. An international search for knowledge to strengthen the foundations of imperial rule.

Influenced by Western environment, the Charter also moved to replace exclusive political rule under the bakufu with a more democratic and constitutional style of government. An eleven-article constitution was drawn up to implement the Charter. Statutes included providing for systems of ranks for nobles and officials, legislative bodies, and a new Council of State, besides which details for a new taxation system were outlined, legislative bodies and a new Council of State were delineated, office tenure was limited to four years, public balloting was allowed and there were new local administrative laws.

Aiming to curry favor with the foreign powers, the Meiji government assured the West that it would act in accordance with international law, and Mutsuhito emphasized the title of his reign -- Meiji -- to persuade the West of his positive intentions and to illustrate that this new Japanese era would be characterized by a move towards Enlightenment. In accordance with this resolution, the Emperor relocated his capital from Kyoto to Tokyo, which became the new name for Edo. Simultaneously, the daimyo voluntarily surrendered their land and census records to the emperor in the Abolition of the Han system, signifying that land and people now belonged to this new order.

The daimyo became governors, the han were replaced with prefectures, the national government assumed reinforced power, more radical samurai (in a manifestation, as we will see of this the Meiji masculinity) characterized the new Meiji government, and a new ruling class appeared made up of a lower-ranking but far more Westernized version than the former1.

Confucianism and Shintoism were reunited. Efforts were made to establish a state, similar to that of 1000 years earlier, built on these beliefs, and the Office of Shinto Worship, superseding even that of the Council of State in importance, was established. Confucianism and Shintoism asserted the Divine power of the imperial house by virtue of the kokutai ideology, and the government supported Shinto teachers, whilst certain Shinto sects were accorded state recognition2. Confucianism, closely allied to Shintoism in Japanese ideology and sociology, remained an important ethical doctrine. It was Confucianism's impact on Japanese thinking that contributed to Meiji masculinity, and this, in turn, was modified and shaped by the Meiji infatuation with Western ideology and methods.

Part II. Confucian Influence

The era that preceded the Meiji reign, the Tokugawa period characterized by its system of shogunal rule, was heavily based on Confucianism and, in fact, directed itself by reliance on its dictates. Of significance to this essay is the fact that shogunal rule represented a reverence to Confucian gender norms which, in turn, seeped into the larger Japanese society and effected its citizens.

Paradoxically enough, it was a great Japanese thinker and activist, Ogyu Sorai's Seidan (Discourse on Government) that prompted this social more. Criticizing the 8th Tokugawa shogun Yoshimune, he draw upon Confucianism to reprimand matters of sexuality that were corrupting the women quarters of the Shogun, and he urged the men to portray a characterization more worthy of their gender. Using the classics, Sorai implied that the Shogun's impropriety would destroy their current state of rule ushering in an eventual 'change of mandate'3.

The Meiji, this succeeding mandate, renewed in all including name in order to signal a 'new' epoch, adopted Sorai as their prophet and his text as their bible. Keen on emphasizing their masculinity, they sought to eliminate 'the power of women' (joken), first and foremost from the influence of the court. Their credo thus became to disperse 'the hens' (hinkei), since these 'hens' only introduced 'disaster to the house'. These were familiar assertions re-introduced from the Tokugawa period.

The reference to the hen quite likely stemmed from the classical phrase that: "the hen does not announce the morning. The crowing of a hen in the morning indicates the subversion of the family" (Seikiguchi, 2008, 202). In other words, it is the male -- not the female- who crows the hour. Were the reverse to be the case, the family and state are at risk. A phrase from the Speech at Mu in the Shujing (Book of Documents) states that:

The king [i.e. Wu, the founder of the Zhou dynasty] said, 'the ancients have said, "The hen does not announce the morning. The crowing of a hen in the morning indicates the subversion of the family" (Leggee, 1865, 3024)

Wu, king and ancient sage, had defeated Zhou the last ruler of Yin. Detailing his crimes, he emphasizes the fact that one of the most grievous amongst Zhou's misdeed was that the hen is supposed to 'announce the morning whilst he Zhou, the king of Yin 'follows only the words of his wife' 5.

This tale indicated nefarious female influence and the results were frequently narrated in the Confucian tradition and by Asian historians. The 'Niebi Zhuan' (Biographies of Evil Consorts), for instance, brings Daji, King Zhou's favored concubine as an instance, concluding that:

King Wu employed the Heavenly punishment, beheading Daji. Her head was hung on a small white flag to demonstrate to everybody that it has been a woman bringing disaster to King Zhou.' 6

Similar examples drew on the Empress Baosi who also destroyed her husband's rule, and Moxi, the concubine of King Jie. The implied message, throughout, was that the dissolution of king and state was attributed to a woman. For a new regime to succeed, it needs a better kind of women to characterize it. And this is what the Meiji intended. The earlier reign, the Tokugawa period had failed due to infiltration of 'evil' women into its structure. The Meiji, a new, enlightened regime, would ensure that such would not be the same with their dynasty. The subsystem of 'evil woman' would be eliminated, and an ideal polity could thus be manifested.

To these ends, Mutsuhito's empress was popularized as someone who did 'not poke her beak (kuchibashi) into matters of government', and the early Meiji regime actually promoted itself to ensuring that the power of the 'hens' would be suppressed in the country as a whole. The empress, herself, launched programs for the 'education of women' and 'womanly cultivation' in which the image of the 'good wife and mother' was promoted.

The book, the Onna Kagami Hidensho (a Mirror of Womanhood: the Book of Transmissions), interlaced with Confucian sayings and narratives, presented the 'wives and daughters of daimyo and noble houses' with a detailed description of comportment structured for the 'gentler' woman intent on 'winning her lord's heart'. Confucianism also introduced a ritual of primogeniture within the Meiji regime that in effect stated that "within family the male head stood supreme, and males stood far above females." 7

Usesugi Yozan, student of the Confucian scholar Hosoi Heishu, devoted himself early on to imparting Confucian 'lessons for women'. He taught that 'men are honorable whilst women are base' 8, and that a husband is "Heaven for his wife'.

Quoting the Zhan'ang poem from the Shijing (Book of Songs), he maintains that women should be of few words and should constrain herself to her domain. The lines he quotes are as follows:

A wise man builds up the wall

A wise woman tears it down.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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