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Narratives of Counter-Modernity: Urban Spaces and Mnemonic Sites in the Tôkyô Hanjôki

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image of European Journal of East Asian Studies

It is common to associate the emergence of modern mass culture with the modernising city. In Japan the discourse on cities focuses to a large extent on Tokyo because of its role as national capital. Capital cities in particular are both political and symbolic centres of the nation and in many cases also centres of production and consumption. Very often narratives of Japan's modernity are linked with the question of how Tokyo became the political centre of the nation on the one hand and how modernization changed urban spaces on the other. There exists a huge body of journalistic and feuilleton-like texts on Tokyo addressing the needs of the urban masses for information about city life. A lot of these texts had a wide circulation when they had been published but as most of them are not categorized as 'novels' (shôsetsu), i.e., 'high culture', they have received but scarce attention from scholars. An important example of such kinds of texts are the Tôkyô hanjôki (Reports on the prosperity of Tokyo), a genre that is rooted in the popular culture of the late Edo period. I here explore two representative examples, the Saishin Tôkyô hanjôki (The Most Up-to-Date Report on the Prosperity of Tokyo; 1903) and the Dai Tôkyô hanjôki (Report on the Prosperity of Greater Tokyo; 1928) in order to find out how the specific experience of Tokyo's modernity is conceptualized there. Published at important stages in Japan's process of modernization, both texts reveal images of Tokyo which open up important angles on mass situation and the experience of modern city life at different points of time. Particular emphasis will be laid on the question of what kind of knowledge about urban life and culture is transmitted and what kinds of urban spaces are mainly represented.


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