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Crossing the Borders of Modernity:

Fictional Characters as Representations of Alternative Concepts of Life in Meiji Literature (1868-1912)

“The process of civilization is endless. One should not be content with the present state of the Western countries.”  (Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901): An Outline of a Theory of Civilization, 1875)

10-11th January 2020

University of Cologne, Neuer Senatssaal, Albertus-Magnus Platz 1, 50931 Cologne, Germany


The Meiji era (1868–1912) was a time of great social change. After more than 650 years, the military rule of the Shogunate came to an end and governmental power finally returned to the Imperial Household. Japan was transformed into a constitutional monarchy, and fundamental reforms of the educational, legal and military systems were carried out in next to no time.

The conference Crossing the Borders of Modernity aims to relate different historical perspectives on the Japanese modernization process to each other. By focusing on fictional texts by Japanese authors, we will select one central aspect of the public discourse of the Meiji era. We shall analyze how authors positioned themselves in their writings in terms of social and political changes. What specific problems did they identify in view of the rapid development from an isolated, feudal and agricultural society to an imperialist, modern industrial nation? What solutions did they offer to their readers?

Particular attention shall be paid to the fictional construction of alternative concepts of life beyond the propagated social ideals. For this, authors use numerous strategies of characterization and character constellation. Accordingly, the conference will not only deal with the fictional portrayal of the crossing of borders, but also with the fictional description of those who cross borders, those who are caught between tradition and modernity, between East and West and between different social groups.


Friday, 10th January 2020

10.00 - 10.15 Opening Address
10.15 - 11.30

Frank JACOB: Generational Conflicts and the Crossing of Socio-Cultural Barriers: The Meiji Works of Shiga Naoya

 Martin THOMAS: Why Not Just Stay in Bed?”: Literary Characters Between Personal Fulfillment and Social Expectations in the Early Writings of Nagai Kafû

11.30 - 11.45 Coffee Break
11.45 - 13.00

 Martha-Christine MENZEL: The Sanctuary of Art in a Modern World of Despair: Nagata Mikihiko and his Autofictional Novel Reiraku (“Downfall”, 1912)

Hiroshi TAKITA: The Isolation of Mushakôji Saneatsu’s Early Characters

13.00 - 14.00 Lunch Break
14.00 - 15.15

Stephan KÖHN: New Images of idealized womanhood in the early work of Miyake Kaho

Kinji YAMAMOTO: Textual Subtlety in the Later Writing of Higuchi lchiyô: Interpreting Takekurabe

15.15 - 15.30 Coffee Break
15.30 - 17.15

Gala Maria FOLLACO: “Who Ever Said That…?” Higuchi Ichiyô’s Revolution as Seen Through Her Characters

Chantal WEBER: Women in a World of Men - Female Characters in the Fictional Writing of Kanno Suga

Matthew KÖNIGSBERG: Marital relationships as reflected in Ozaki Kôyôs "Three Wives" (Sannin zuma, 1892)


Saturday, 11th January 2020

09.30 - 10.45

Timothy J. VAN COMPERNOLLE: Writing the Visual in Meiji Literature: Paintings in the Fiction of Natsume Sôseki

Ingrid FRITSCH: Love and Passion – Wagnerism among writers of the Meiji period

10.45 - 11.00 Coffee Break
11.00 - 12.15

Simone MÜLLER: “Useful” and “Useless” Intellectuals in Literary Works of the Meiji Period: Tsubouchi Shôyô’s Tôseishosei katagi (The Character of Contemporary Students, 1885-1886) and Futabatei Shimei’s Ukigumo (The Drifting Cloud, 1887-1889)

Toshiaki KOBAYASHI:  Ways of Self-Reflection: Educated Loafers in the Work of Natsume Sôseki

12.15 - 13.15 Lunch Break
13.15 - 14.30

Massimiliano TOMASI: Representations of Self-Awareness and Social Dissent: The Role of Christianity in Late Meiji Narrative

Yoshitaka HIBI: Rethinking Literary Imaginations of Naichi-Zakkyo (Domestic Mixed Residence)

14.30 - 14.45 Coffee Break
14.45 - 16.00

Indra LEVY: Can the Meiji Man Laugh?

Beate WONDE: Gyûnabe (1910): Mori Ôgai and the Meat Pots of Modern Life

16.00 - 16.15 Closing remarks