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CJS Noon Lecture Series: The "Kirishitan" Japan and the World in Early-Modern Japanese Literature

Thursday, March 20, 2014
4:00 AM
SSWB/International Institute-Room 1636

The talk analyzes the representations of Japan and the Kirishitan that circulated widely during the Edo period in three pseudohistorical narratives of the arrival and expulsion of the Christian missionaries. In these tales, the Kirishitan is subdued not only through expulsion, but also by his representation as an uncouth and very common villain, in contrast to the civilized Japanese. And just as the barbarian Other is ritually defeated and abjected in the tales through the plot and the representation of that Other, it is also conquered through a geographic and cultural representation that places Japan at the center, and the Kirishitan on the periphery.

Leuchtenberger's new book Conquering Demons examines the origins and influence of three popular anti-Kirishitan (anti-Christian) works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These sensational fictional accounts of a near conquest of Japan by a kind of mythical Kirishitan, who used money and magic to gain converts in their attempt to take over Japan, are studied in the context of the publication trends of the time they were produced, as well as of the cultural and political attitudes toward Christianity that prevailed when they were written.

The book also analyzes the representations of Japan and the Kirishitan that appear in these texts in the context of contemporary discourses on the world and Japan’s place in it. New maps and information brought by the missionaries and traders to Japan reflected a world that looked very different from the traditional Sino-centric one. These anti-Kirishitan popular narratives meet the challenge of this new world by expelling it and reasserting the conventional three-realms world order, in which Japan plays an influential role. This is done most obviously in the expulsion of the Kirishitan that is narrated in the texts, but it is also achieved on another level by the representation of the Kirishitan as uncouth and very common villains.

Conquering Demons features a new look at anti-Kirishitan works from a literary perspective, examining them in the context of developments in the publishing industry and in the broader discourses on Japan and its many Others in the world. It should be of interest most broadly to scholars and teachers of Japanese history and literature, but also to those dealing with questions of identity and Othering, issues of “mapping” Japan and the world, and the role of manuscript culture in Edo-period literature. The translations provide an entertaining and relatively rare look at some Japanese representations of Westerners and would be useful in undergraduate classes on Japanese history, culture, and literature.

Jan C. Leuchtenberger is Associate Professor of Japanese and Director of the Asian Studies Program at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash­ington. Her research interests include representations of Japan and the West in early modern Japanese discourses and the earliest representations of Japan in Europe.

Jan Leuchtenberger, Associate Professor of Japanese; Director of Asian Studies Program, University of Puget Sound