Nagai Kafū - Seine Reise in den Westen und seine Kritik an der Modernisierung Japans

Schulz, Evelyn GND

Nagai Kafū (1879-1959), the paradigm of a late-Meiji intellectual, travelled to America and France from 1903 to 1908. He was sent abroad by his father to gain modern, Western knowledge that would help him to make a career after his return. But Kafū used his time abroad for his own purpose as much as he could. He studied French, observed current mainstreams in American and European art and literature, and became a passionate admirer of Western music, especially the opera. Those who went abroad created the mainstream of criticism against the official modernization policy of Japan. This criticism, which grew especially strong after the Russio-Japanese war, was countered by the government with censorship and oppression. This article analyzes Nagai Kafū’s cultural criticism as expressed in his extremely polemical and critical Kichōsha no nikki [Diary of one who returned to Japan; 1909]. After his return in the summer of 1908, Kafū published several short stories and essays attacking Japan’s modernization for its lack of authenticity and its neglect of Japan’s own culture. For Kafū, as for many others, Meiji Japan was nothing but a superficial copy of the West, and the Meiji period a »time of destruction«. In this diary-like essay the narrator draws a convincing picture of Japan’s disordered cultural situation in the late Meiji period through dialogues with five people. Two of the characters and the narrator himself represent Kafū’s diverse opinions on the process of modernization. From his point of view, Japan’s original autochthon culture has to be found in the arts of the Edo period, which in his day where only preserved in the amusement districts. The »diary« already foreshadows the author’s later dedicated works on the arts of the Edo period.

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