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Japan And The West Essay

981 words - 4 pages

From the moment Japan opened its ports to Western ships, Japanese people from all over the country played catch-up to Western technology, ideas, and beliefs. However, they quickly noticed that Japanese national and cultural identity was rapidly disappearing in favor of the seemingly more sophisticated Western style of thought. The Meiji Period, lasting from 1868-1912, was a huge pivotal point in the fusion of Japanese and Western styles. Novelists penned many works during this time, detailing the aspects of the transition from traditional to modern such as the benefits and consequences of moving forward versus centering life on core, old-fashioned values. In addition, new standards were set out on what defines a novel. The Essence of the Novel by Tsubouchi Shoyo and Fukuzawa Yukichi ideas pushed the framework of the Western novel as the more preferred style of writing than the Japanese writing style, as well as introducing contemporary literary criticism to the Japanese literary community. Despite many writers gradually accepting their criticisms, there were some pundits who believed that Japan shouldn’t blindly accept everything Western at the cost of their own, unique identity. Nagai Kafu’s The River Sumida and Kanagaki Robun’s “The Beefeater” explore the Western-Japanese cultural fusion, each placing their praise and criticism of Western indulgence at similar but unique points.
“The Beefeater” is a simple tale; it barely pushes two pages in a normal sized book. It merely portrays a man having beef at a restaurant, bragging to another customer about how good the beef is. He also marvels at Western technology, even calling the steam engine “the flaming chariot of hell.” It ends with the other customer leaving, leaving the man to himself and his beef. Without looking deeply, it sounds like an insignificant story. With a bit of knowledge of Japanese culture, the story has a deep impact on traditional values in Japan. Beef was considered untouchable, something that originates with India with the introduction of Buddhism and thus cannot be eaten in any circumstances. Only when the foreigners started arriving in droves that beef became acceptable to sell. That beef was meant for foreigners; Japanese people were still teetering on eating what was considered holy. This severe conflict on figuring out if eating beef is modern or unacceptable separated modern thoughts from traditional. Plus, the way the beef is portrayed in the story is quite notable in that how it used to be holy and then brought down to a common food item. It can be tied to how Western civilization brought down every aspect of Japanese culture, labeling it as inferior by Westerners or themselves. Robun views Western inventions like the balloon as mere commodities, not a pivotal part of civilization. However, the Japanese did not accept it as readily as beef, another commodity. The simple...

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