This panel aims at rekindling the study of the 19th c. intellectual movement known as the Japanese Enlightenment, by looking beyond the legacy of the Meirokusha and through an investigation of Japanese perspectives on the Western Enlightenment, and by consequence, on the Enlightenment in Japan.
To most historians of Japan, "the Japanese Enlightenment" calls to mind an intellectual movement that emerged around the time of the Meiji Restoration and that was particularly active in the 1870s, in the Westernization phase of Japan's modernization effort. As one of Japan's leading intellectuals of his time, Fukuzawa Yukichi and the intellectual society Meirokusha have come to epitomize this movement. Despite the movement's importance for Japan's modernization process, studies in non-Japanese scholarship dedicated to its proponents and their legacy remain relatively few. Next to the well-known works "The Japanese Enlightenment" (Carmen Blacker 1964) and "Meiroku zasshi: Journal of the Japanese Enlightenment" (William Braisted 1976), only a handful of monographs highlight the ventures of some Meirokusha members, such as "Nishi Amane and Modern Japanese Thought" (Thomas Havens 1970), "The Political Thought of Mori Arinori: A Study in Meiji Conservatism" (Alistair Swale 2000), or "Civilization and Enlightenment: The Early Thought of Fukuzawa Yukichi" (Albert Craig 2009). While addressing distinct ideas by different people, however, these studies seem to have one basic assumption in common, namely that the Japanese Enlightenment was restricted to the intellectual activities of Meirokusha thinkers. This panel will revisit the Japanese Enlightenment and deconstruct the movement in two ways. The first will look at "bunmei kaika" in its historical context and explore whether the term "Enlightenment" with its strong Western connotations truly reflects the nature of the intellectual activities of the time. It will also examine what was going on in intellectual circles other than the Meirokusha, be it the literary or the Buddhist world. The second way in which the Enlightenment will be analyzed is through Japanese perspectives on the Western Enlightenment and, by consequence, on the Enlightenment in Japan. With this second line of enquiry, the panel will explore how those authors who, in traditional historiography, constitute the staples of canonical Western Enlightenment found their way into Meiji era Japan and were reconfigured into different philosophical and historical narratives. By addressing intellectual activity in Meiji Japan through these novel angles, this panel aspires to reopen the debate on what the Japanese Enlightenment was all about.