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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Civilizing Tokyo: Meiji Visions of a National Capital

May 30, 2002 / 6.30 p.m.

Peter Duus (Professor, Stanford University)

When members of the Meiji elite travelled abroad in the late nineteenth century, they were overwhelmed by the grand squares and parks, stately public offices and monuments, and sweeping urban spaces the new Western nation states erected in their capital cities to proclaim their wealth and power. In his report on the Iwakura Mission, for example, Kume Kunitake wrote that arriving in Paris, whose white stone buildings “glittered like stars,” was like “entering Paradise”. Government, business and bureaucratic leaders in Japan were determined to make Tokyo into a world-class capital city too, and during the 1880s official debate focused on the question of how best to do so. Indeed, political infighting was over the issue was intense. But by the turn of the century, although Tokyo was certainly more of an imperial metropolis than Edo had been, its urban layout and built environment were not so very different from what they had been a generation earlier. Nor did the city even boast public amenities such as municipal water and sewer systems. As one foreign visitor put it, “This is not the Yeddo of one’s dreams nor yet is it an Occidental city.” Why didn’t Tokyo become the “Paris (or Berlin) of the Orient”? Why did it remain betwixt and between two urban models? Was this the result of a failure of nerve or a failure of vision? Or was it simply a question of priorities and capacities? The lecture will be illustrated.
Peter Duus is William Bonsall Professor of History at Stanford University and presently a visiting scholar at Waseda University doing research on the history of late Meiji Tokyo. His previous work has focussed on the development of political parties and the emergence of imperialism and colonialism in modern Japan. He is the author of Party Rivalry and Political Change in Taishō Japan (Harvard University Press, 1968), The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea 1895-1920 (University of California Press, 1995), editor of volume 6 of The Cambridge History of Japan: The Twentieth Century (Cambridge University Press, 1988) and co-editor of The Japanese Informal Empire in China and The Japanese Wartime Empire (both Princeton University Press, 1989 and 1996, resp.).