National Identity and the Perception of the West in Nineteenth-Century Japan

Post-Doc: Dr. Judith Fröhlich 


The Japanese notion of the West was radically altered during the decades following the Opium War (1839-1841). The West came to be perceived both as a threat and model, representing a different and competing "other" and, in the process, supported the construction of a Japanese national identity. Studies of nineteenth-century Japanese nationalism and in this context of Japan's relationship with the West have mainly dwelled on the ideology and aspirations of the political leaders and intellectuals. Most studies implicitly or explicitly build upon the concept of the nation and images of the foreign "other" as construed, consciously manipulated and imposed upon the population by a small elite. In contrast to conventional wisdom, it is my working hypothesis that the process of the formation of a national identity involved also uneducated people and was subject to change according to the time, region and circumstances. To substantiate this hypothesis I analyse popular literature and illustrations - including broadsheets (kawaraban), illustrated books (yomihon) and woodblock prints (ukiyoe) - that portrayed and commented on then contemporary world affairs. The period under consideration extends from the 1840s, when the first accounts of the Opium War reached Japan, to the first Sino-Japanese War (1894/95), when Japan ascended into the circle of imperial powers.

Ausführliche Projektbeschreibung (PDF, 128 KB)