Japan and the Influence of Datsu-A Ron
Many people today have a unique perception of Japan, blurring the line between Asian and Western culture. Much of this odd culture can be credited to a lesser-known editorial titled Datsu-A Ron, which found itself in a newspaper in 1885. The Datsu-A Ron was anonymously published, but it is widely believed that the author is Fukuzawa Yukichi. It argued that Japan should leave behind Asian culture that it’s neighbors China and Korea participated in. It can be debated whether or not Japan made the correct decision of Westernization. I believe that they did make the correct choice. The reasons why reside not only in how Japan is today, but also how they compared to their neighboring Asian countries.
At the time of publication for the Datsu-A Ron, 1885, Japan viewed China and Korea in interesting ways. According to a translation by Kwok Dwight, the Datsu-A Ron says, “The Chinese are shameless people who do not understand humbleness and humility,” and, “Koreans are extremely atrocious when punishing their own people.” Although it is never specifically stated what Fukuzawa meant by these statements, one thing does stand out in China’s history. A very common practice in China that was still in practice when the Datsu-A Ron was published was footbinding. At a very young age, Chinese women would begin the process of binding by breaking their toe bones. Wang Lifen, a victim of footbinding from age seven, said,
‘Because I bound my own feet, I could manipulate them more gently until the bones were broken. Young bones are soft, and break more easily.” During this time, this act was seen as a beauty standard and “The only way for a woman to marry into money,” according to NPR. With such a cruel tradition still existing in China, it’s no wonder that Japan would have wanted to leave them behind, even if they themselves did not participate in the act. Fukuzawa, afraid that something like this was going on in China, said, “Viewing from the eyes of Westerners, they must be judging and viewing us as how they do to China because of the geographical proximity.” And although this issue in itself may seem like a big deal, the Datsu-A Ron was the only thing to advocate for the leave from Asia for awhile.
Once the Datsu-A Ron, there were a few ways to interpret it. Assuming that Kwok Dwight’s translation is fairly accurate, the wording seems to be almost intentionally vague. In the Datsu-A Ron, the words “Shina” and “Chosen” are used in place of China and Korea. And although the Datsu-A Ron constantly talks about these countries, it isn’t referring to the physical countries themselves, but rather what they represent.
In his thesis, Kwok Dwight says “‘Shina’ and ‘Chosen’ that Fukuzawa focuses on in Datsu-A cannot be referred or related to these two names’ geographical natures but the abstract representations of them.” What is meant in this abstract representation is the culture of these countries. This can be anything from their food, to their religions, and even how they treat their people. As discussed earlier, the idea of footbinding in China would definitely contribute to this abstract idea. Similarly to this concept, a common interpretation of the Datsu-A Ron was to join the European Imperialists in helping colonize Asia.
On the subject of this issue, a Japanese prime minister, Yamagata Aritomo, said in a speech, “[T]he way to the nation’s independence and security lay in defining and defending its ‘line of sovereignty’ and ‘line of interest.’” In other words, the best way for Japan to remain independent would be to create its own identity separate from other politics and cultures. This idea aligns nicely with that of the Datsu-A Ron and Japan needing to isolate itself from their past Asian culture. And with a new clear goal in mind for their country, Japan set out in creating a unique national identity.
After Japan’s Westernization, they took on a new and unique identity, one that many are in awe of today. There are many things in western societies, such as McDonalds and Starbucks, that wind up in Japan. However, despite this, many people still view Japan as an Asian country. It makes sense when we see it as the country’s origin. Japan is geographically very close to other Asian countries and even share their culture before views relating to the Datsu-A Ron started to appear. Despite this, Japan doesn’t agree with this image that the West has of them.
n article from the Asia Pacific Journal even says, “During the modernization of the 19th century, Japan constructed a national identity as ‘non-Asian.’ To this day, Japanese society retains a deep vein of anti-Asianism.” It can be very clearly seen that the Datsu-A Ron has partially obtained its goal after some time. Even the people who state that Japan is an Asian country aren’t entirely blind to the fact that Japan has many elements of Western culture than other Asian countries, such as China. Japan, through its Westernization, has become one of the most interesting and most talked about countries in the world.
The Datsu-A Ron, despite not being so well known in Japan’s history, was still influential in creating the country that we know and love today. I strongly believe that the Datsu-A Ron was correct in its views that Japan should depart from Asian culture and become more Western not for a statistical reason, but simply due to how unique it is. I find myself and many others thinking of Japan far more often than they do other Asian countries such as China or Korea. Even though Japan does still have lingering pieces of Asian culture today, the Datsu-A Ron has been fulfilled in its goal.
The Datsu-A Ron, while advocating for a separation of the culture found in China and Korea, wanted above all else for Japan to create a unique identity that could not be matched by anyone else. With this in mind, is it possible that Japan may become even more Western, and through what means? If there is ever to be a major war involving Japan and the United States, a loss for Japan could result in a major loss of the Asian culture it still holds onto today. How much time is left before Japan becomes just another Western society?
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