"Impressions of Korea and Manchuria" (1909).

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Authors: Natsume Soseki and Andre Haag
Date: Annual 2017
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press
Document Type: Reprint; Essay
Length: 3,052 words
Lexile Measure: 1430L

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Abstract :

In early 2013, the rediscovery of a virtually unknown 1909 essay by Natsume Soseki caused some stir within the Japanese media and critical establishment. The piece in question, translated here as "Impressions of Korea and Manchuria" (Kanman shokan), hadfirst appeared in two installments dated November 5 and 6, 1909 on the front page of the Manchuria Daily Newspaper (Manshu nichinichi shinbun), a Japanese-language newspaper published in Dalian. Although more than a century old, Soseki 's brief message to an overseas newspaper garnered heightened attention, for it rekindled lingering questions about the writer's relationship to Japan's imperialist project in East Asia. On October 17, 1909, Soseki had returnedfrom a six-week visit to northeast China and Korea arranged by Nakamura Yoshikoto (Zeko), chairman of South Manchuria Railways (SMR) and an old schoolmate of the writer. The ostensible purpose of this grand tour was to give Soseki "a look at what the overseas Japanese are doing" in Manchuria and Korea, the continental spheres of influence secured by the Empire of Japan following victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5). The best-known account of this journey to Asia is Here and There in Manchuria and Korea (Mankan tokorodokoro), the desultory and often self-absorbed travelogue that began serialization in the Tokyo Asahi from October 21, 1909. A peculiar historical coincidence, however, capped the writer's tour and complicated his efforts to write about it. Just ten days after Soseki returned to Japan, on October 26, came news of the assassination in Harbin, Manchuria of senior statesman Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909), chief architect of the Japanese empire's imperialist penetration of Korea, by Korean nationalist An Chunggun (1879-1910). Hearing of the calamity, Soseki dashed off "Impressions of Korea and Manchuria" to the Manchuria Daily in order to register his reaction to the shooting, but also (and more substantially) to express gratitude to the many old friends who had welcomed him during his Asian travels and reflect on the remarkably "capable" (tanomoshii) character of those intrepid Japanese pioneers he had seen at work on the continent. (1) The controversy aroused by this "lost" essay's recovery in 2013 fixated less on Soseki 's oblique reading of the killing of Ito, an act of anticolonial protest that is even now a point of geopolitical contention between Japan, South Korea, and China, and much more on the essay's expressions of nationalist and imperialist elation at having "been born Japanese," paired with relief "not to have been born Chinese or Korean." That Soseki's "Impressions of Korea and Manchuria" was never included in the author's collected works and remained largely unknown to scholars and readers until 2013 was undoubtedly a result of the outlet in which it was originally printed: a peripheral newspaper published outside of the naichi (the contemporary term for the Japanese home islands, as opposed to the outside territories, which appears through the text) for a readership of overseas Japanese. Novelist and scholar of imperial literature Kurokawa So, who unearthed the essay, has characterized it as a "missing link" that connects Soseki, his network of past schoolmates and disciples, and Japanese-language print media in the outer lands of the empire. (2) Shortly after the trip, one of Soseki's former pupils, Nishimura Seizaburo, was hired as the editor of the Manchuria Daily, while another, Mizukami Itsuki, serialized the first Japanese-language translation of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1856) in its pages the following year. (3) "Impressions of Korea and Manchuria" might be regarded as a bridging text that further illuminates the significance of Soseki 's 1909 encounter with empire for his subsequent efforts to work through the social, economic, and cultural relations between (Japanese) center, (Asian) periphery, and (European-derived) "civilization" in public lectures and literary fiction. In contrast to the skeptical view of Japan's externally-imposed and oriented "civilization" proposed in later, better known lectures, "Impressions of Korea and Manchuria" articulates a more affirmative view of the civilization advanced in colonial and semi-colonial spaces by industrious Japanese bureaucrats, managers, and engineers. On the other hand, the essay's wry musings on the schema that contrasts vigorous continental Japanese subjects with their dejected metropolitan counterparts in the naichi comes to be partially inverted in the unsteady colonial common sense about Korea and Manchuria voiced by characters in Soseki 's post-1909 novels The Gate (Mon, 1910) and To the Spring Equinox and Beyond (Higan sugi made, 1912), for whom the overseas empire represents not only a frontier of opportunity and freedom but simultaneously a space of desperation, depravity, and danger.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A651179093