There is yet another reason why Edo-period culture has not been properly appreciated: the influence of Chinese culture has not yet been properly understood. During the Edo period Chinese culture was highly venerated. Its deep and lasting influence was important, not just for Japanese Confucianism and Confucian scholarship, but for a whole range of other pursuits as well. The effect of Chinese poetry and literature, or of Ming and Qing dynasty art and scholarship, can hardly be overestimated. For example, the book Tianxia yitong zhi (Records of All the World) greatly influenced the fudoki (gazetteers) produced throughout Japan. This volume was published as Dai Min ittō-shi (Records of the Ming Dynasty) at the beginning of the Genroku era (1688–1704) by a warrior from the Wakayama domain. Similarly, the volumes Gai yu congkao (Gaiyō sōkō in Japanese) by ZhaoYi (1727–1814) were also profoundly influential. The respect for things Chinese lasted until the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), but thereafter the fact that Chinese culture had once been of great importance faded from memory.
Similarly, "Dutch learning" (that is, Western learning, rangaku) was also highly important during the Edo period. Over one hundred times throughout the Edo period, the chief of the Dutch settlement at Dejima in Nagasaki came to Edo to receive an audience and present gifts to the shogun. For some twenty or thirty days during the spring, the chief and his retinue stayed at the Nagasaki-ya, a lodge at Hongoku-chō. From around the middle of the Edo period, a number of cultured individuals made use of these few weeks to engage in unfettered cultural exchange widi the Dutch. Japanese were strictly forbidden to enter the Dutch outpost of Dejima in Nagasaki, but within Edo much free activity was possible. After the Meiji Restoration, however, the diplomatic relations maintained by the Tokugawa bakufu with the Dutch were overshadowed by the Meiji government's policy of strengthening ties with England, France, Germany, and the United States. In turn, much that concerned rangaku was forgotten. Although cultural exchange with the Dutch was once of great significance, its conditions and historical role have only recently begun to receive scholarly attention. Such examples show that Edo-period culture demands reevaluation. The type of historical perspective suggested here should begin to make a correct appraisal possible.
16 September 2010
Edo-period Sinophilia & Hollandophilia
From Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600–1868, by Nishiyama Matsunosuke, trans. and ed. by Gerald Groemer (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1997), pp. 13-14: