Event Title

Mori Ogai’s Suicidal Samurai and Bushido in Early Twentieth Century Japan

Presenter Information

Xun Zheng, Oberlin CollegeFollow

Location

King Building 101

Start Date

4-27-2018 5:30 PM

End Date

4-27-2018 6:50 PM

Abstract

The year 1912 witnessed Mori Ogai, one of Japan’s most prominent 20th century novelists, turning away from depicting contemporary settings to portraying Japan’s feudal past in his fictional works. Shortly after General Nogi Maresuke and his wife followed the anachronistic practice of loyal samurai and committed ritual suicide to follow Meiji emperor into death on September 13th, 1912, Mori Ogai began to publish historical fiction that center around loyal samurai in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). My paper attempts to historicize two of Mori Ogai’s samurai stories from this period, “The Last Testament of Okitsu Yagoemon” and “The Abe Clan,” against the background of the modern articulation of feudal bushido (“the way of samurai”) discourse as ethical codes suitable for a civilized and enlightened Japan. By analyzing the contradictions of the warrior value of loyalty in his stories, I argue that Ogai problematizes and satirizes the modern idealization of the feudal samurai-lord bond by referring to samurai tropes in late Meiji popular culture. In addition, I examine the experience of reading Ogai’s historical fictions as a modern reader, focusing on the way they highlight the temporal and ethical gap between readers and feudal stories. While revisiting Eric Hobsbawm’s critique of “invented tradition” as a means to retain continuity with the past, I suggest that Mori Ogai’s representation of feudal samurais goes beyond the seeking of continuity with Japan’s warrior past and challenges readers to reconsider the compatibility of former samurai ideals with the modern world.

Keywords:

Japan, modern Japanese literature, samurai, intellectual history, invented tradition, historical fiction, ritual suicide

Notes

Session VII, Panel 17 - Cultural | Producers
Moderator: Afia Ofori-Mensa, Assistant Dean and Director of Undergraduate Research, Assistant Professor of Comparative American Studies and Africana Studies

Major

East Asian Studies

Advisor(s)

Hsiu-Chuang Deppman, East Asian Studies

Project Mentor(s)

Ann Sherif, East Asian Studies
James Dobbins, East Asian Studies

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Apr 27th, 5:30 PM Apr 27th, 6:50 PM

Mori Ogai’s Suicidal Samurai and Bushido in Early Twentieth Century Japan

King Building 101

The year 1912 witnessed Mori Ogai, one of Japan’s most prominent 20th century novelists, turning away from depicting contemporary settings to portraying Japan’s feudal past in his fictional works. Shortly after General Nogi Maresuke and his wife followed the anachronistic practice of loyal samurai and committed ritual suicide to follow Meiji emperor into death on September 13th, 1912, Mori Ogai began to publish historical fiction that center around loyal samurai in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). My paper attempts to historicize two of Mori Ogai’s samurai stories from this period, “The Last Testament of Okitsu Yagoemon” and “The Abe Clan,” against the background of the modern articulation of feudal bushido (“the way of samurai”) discourse as ethical codes suitable for a civilized and enlightened Japan. By analyzing the contradictions of the warrior value of loyalty in his stories, I argue that Ogai problematizes and satirizes the modern idealization of the feudal samurai-lord bond by referring to samurai tropes in late Meiji popular culture. In addition, I examine the experience of reading Ogai’s historical fictions as a modern reader, focusing on the way they highlight the temporal and ethical gap between readers and feudal stories. While revisiting Eric Hobsbawm’s critique of “invented tradition” as a means to retain continuity with the past, I suggest that Mori Ogai’s representation of feudal samurais goes beyond the seeking of continuity with Japan’s warrior past and challenges readers to reconsider the compatibility of former samurai ideals with the modern world.