Literary subjects adrift: A cultural history of early modern Japanese castaway narratives, ca. 1780--1880
Wood, Michael S., 1969-
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Wood, Michael S., 1969-
In the postwar era, early modern or Edo period (1600-1868) Japan has most often been represented as a culture in isolation due to ostensibly draconian Bakufu regime policies that promised death to any one returning from abroad ( sakokuron , or the "Closed-Country" theory). While historians of Japan acknowledge limited contact with Dutch, Chinese, Korean, and Ryukyuans, the two hundred and sixty-some years of the Edo Period has consistently been interpreted as a time in which an indigenous Japanese culture developed and flourished without the corrupting influence of extensive foreign contact. This project takes as its subject the stories of thousands of Japanese fisherman and sailors who became distressed at sea ( hyôryûmin ) and subsequently drifted throughout the Pacific before being rescued and repatriated by foreigners during the late 18 th and 19 th centuries. The hundreds of narratives that comprise this textual category of early modern hyôryûki or "castaway narratives" served as the primary means of representing encounters with foreigners in and around the Pacific region and, in turn projecting an emerging Japanese national consciousness. The origins of these hyôryûki are tied to the earlier establishment of diplomatic protocol for handling repatriated castaways primarily within an East Asian context and the kuchigaki ("oral testimonial") narrative records that resulted from interrogations of the repatriated subjects by both bakufu and domain officials. Late Edo castaways also had their stories of drift recorded in kuchigaki form, however with the encroachment of first Russian, and later English, American, and other western ships in the waters off the coast of Japan in the late Edo period (post-1780) other hyôryûki forms--both scholarly and popular--came to proliferate, as it became imperative to translate and re-imagine geopolitical developments in the greater Pacific. This dissertation not only uncovers a diverse textual and cultural category of hyôryûki , but also the complicated interrelationship between cultural production and concrete territorial and political concerns of the State. In so doing, it not only challenges traditional historiography of early modern Japan, but also reclaims a certain cultural specificity for the late Edo Japanese hyôryûki , contextualizing these texts within a more global process of colonization and modern Nation-State formation.