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Accepted Paper:

"Unfortunate" Representations of Japanese Culture: A Study Focusing on the Uses of Illustrated Encyclopedias  

Author:

Mitsuru Aida (National Institute of Japanese Literature)

Paper short abstract:

This report will primarily discuss Kinmōzui (1666), Japan's first illustrated encyclopedia, to highlight and analyze the humorous but "unfortunate" realities of cultural adoption resulting from cultural exchange, as observed in both Germany and China despite differences in time and location.

Paper long abstract:

Geschichte und Beschreibung von Japan [1779], written by Engelbert Kämpfers (1651-1726), is known as the first book to introduce Japan to Europe in a well-structured fashion and as a work featuring many translated citations from Kinmōzui [1666; enlarged edition 1695]: Japan's first illustrated encyclopedia compiled by Nakamura Tekisai (1629-1702). Alongside Itō Jinsai (1627-1705), Nakamura was a prominent Neo-Confucian scholar who, among other fields, mastered astronomy, geography, metrology, and rhythmics almost entirely on his own. Behind his prolific achievement was a constant drive to promote Neo-Confucianist thought.

Compilation of Kinmōzui was part of Nakamura's passion for propagating Neo-Confucianism. He modeled his encyclopedia not only after Qianzi wen (Thousand Character Classic) [sixth century] and Meng-qiu (Elementary Textbook for Teaching the Chinese Tradition to Beginners) [eighth century]—both notable Chinese general educational books—but also by incorporating the style of the illustrated encyclopedia that was then considered novel even in China.

With Kinmōzui serving as a window on the fine points of Japanese culture, such newly developed encyclopedias spread to Europe during the Age of Discovery (fifteenth to seventeenth centuries). Sometimes these works introduced Japan in somewhat "unfortunate" ways. They mention lions, which did not exist in Japan, and imaginary creatures such as the kylin (qilin), and unreadable, poorly written hiragana and kanji characters.

Such "unfortunate" representations of Japanese culture were not limited to the West. Examples are the well-known strange uses of Japanese characters found in the Wezhi worenzhuan (Accounts of the Wa people, Records of Wei) [third century], Southern Song China's Helin yulu (Jade Dew from Crane Forest) [written between 1248-52], and Shushi huiyao (Book on Calligraphy) [1376] compiled at the end of the Yuan dynasty.

This report primarily uses Kinmōzui to highlight and analyze the humorous but "unfortunate" realities of cultural adoption resulting from cultural exchange—as observed in both Germany and China despite differences in time and location.

Panel LitPre01
Illustration as the Intersection of Culture and Information