Modernization as Rejection of Westernization: The Case of Japanese Calligraphy

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Modernization in Japan is often equalled to westernization. This chapter, however, challenges this view, and presents the other paradigm of modernization based on the rejection of westernization, instead oriented towards reinforcing Japan’s connection with the East Asian continent. The art of Japanese calligraphy presents a curious case for diversifying our understanding of the trajectories of post-Meiji cultural transformations in Japan. While it is often believed that calligraphy remained untouched by modernization before the post-war heyday of avant-garde calligraphy, I argue that calligraphy’s post-war avant-garde was a product of a gradual reorientation process within the calligraphic community triggered by the Meiji reforms. Yet calligraphy’s modernization remained unnoticeable to the outsiders until the late 1940s, due to being directed towards China rather than Europe or the United States. Based on the study of legacy of the leading Meiji-era calligraphers, this paper shows that for some artistic communities, such as Japanese calligraphers, Meiji Reforms became an important turning point in terms of regaining access to the continental culture and re-establishing direct exchange with the Chinese counterparts, rather than exposure to European culture.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Visual Culture of Meiji Japan
Subtitle of host publicationNegotiating the Transition to Modernity
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781003112235
ISBN (Print)9780367612849
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2021


  • Japanese calligraphy
  • Meiji
  • modernisation
  • Japanese art

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