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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: April 2020

10 - Locally Ancient and Globally Modern

from Part 3 - Domestic Resolutions


This chapter explains how the Meiji Restoration embodied two profound contradictions. The new government described its actions and policies both as a “revival of ancient kingly rule” (ōsei fukko), but also as a revolution (isshin). These phrases were in nominally in opposition: fukko referred explicitly to the ancient past, while isshin declared on the contrary, that all was being made new. That contrast reveals how Meiji leaders embraced radical reform, but connected it to the renewal of ancient ways. While describing reform as ancient, the government also reconciled a celebration of Japanese uniqueness with the adoption of Western ideas and technologies. Government discourse therefore contained the dual tensions of “new vs. ancient” and “foreign vs. uniquely Japanese.” As this chapter reveals, these tensions are most evident in the iconography of Japanese banknotes, where the government sought to craft a national history that was both distinctly Japanese and analogous to Western models. The banknotes were thus simultaneously an emulation of the West and a celebration of ancient Japanese legends.

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