J. E. Hoare, ed. Culture, Power and Politics in Treaty-Port Japan, 1854-1899: Key Papers, Press and Contemporary Writings. 2 vols. Folkestone: Renaissance Books, 2018. Illustrations. 700 pp. $245.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-898823-61-2.
Reviewed by Simon Bytheway (Nihon University College of Commerce)
Published on H-Japan (February, 2020)
Commissioned by Martha Chaiklin
Almost fifty years and thirteen books after a commissioning editor’s disarming quip “He is no Maurice Collis, is he?,” J. E. Hoare has edited a new two-volume anthology on writings on Japan’s treaty ports. With the recent publication of other edited volumes (Treaty Ports in Modern China: Law, Land and Power , edited by Robert Bickers and Isabella Jackson, and Life in Treaty Port China and Japan , edited by Donna Brunero and Stephanie Villalta Puig) and historical monographs (such as Simon Partner’s The Merchant’s Tale: Yokohama and the Transformation of Japan ), the study of Japan’s treaty ports seems to be attracting more academic attention than ever before. The two volumes of Culture, Power and Politics in Treaty-Port Japan have a delightfully large and eclectic array of interests and concerns, with many quite loosely relating to culture, power, and politics (as in the title) but most fundamentally to Japan’s modern history and its attendant foreign relations. It is programmatically divided into five parts: one part titled “Historical Perspectives” (volume 1) and four parts for each of the Japanese treaty ports (excluding Niigata) (volume 2). After the initial presentation of critical primary source materials relating to the establishment of treaty ports in Japan, over thirty authors contribute fifty-nine chapters, with the editor’s introduction, monochrome and colored plates, and a brief select bibliography (but no index).
Culture, Power and Politics in Treaty-Port Japan is probably best read in order, as presented in its five sections, but most individual chapters present very well as individual “stand-alone” essays or historical, and often amusing, vignettes. The publisher has narrowed down the “no doubt idiosyncratic” source material to two volumes using “a small fraction of the available material,” but thankfully the selection remains wonderfully eclectic (vol. 1, p. xvii). Important contemporary sources are highlighted, including an English-language critique by the Japanese writer Matsuyama Makoto and examples of the “worst sort” of nineteenth-century “globetrotter” writing by George Smith (vol. 1, p. xviii). Most of the material, however, is drawn from more recent scholarship, of which James L. Huffman’s chapter on the remarkable Edward H. House provides probably the best example. As the first non-contemporary chapter it sets the tone for the modern scholarship that follows, being informative, entertaining, and intensely readable while meeting rigorous academic standards, such as having thirty-two carefully prepared endnotes. Not surprisingly, however, finding material that matches the very high standard set by Huffman was a difficult task for the editor/compiler.
There is pathos, as in Harold S. Williams’s “Two Remarkable Australians” where he poignantly uses correspondence from O. M. Poole (author of The Death of Old Yokohama , part of which is reset later in volume 2 as “Yokohama before the Catastrophe”) to recall childhood memories of Gwendoline Patton, “supple and as strong as a lioness. She would stand with feet apart, one hand on her hip, and the other arm stretched sideways, and let us kids swing from her wrist.... Suddenly taken from us with cholera, after a few hours illness” (vol. 1, p. 339). There is much laughter and humor too! There are rhymes, musicals, ballads; keen readers might even want to try doing the homework suggested in the Bishop of Homoco’s “Revised and Enlarged Edition of Exercises in the Yokohama Dialect.” The outrageous political incorrectness of this blast from 1873 is captured by the confected outrage of this purportedly Japanese quote from the Nisshin Shinjisi (?): “We have feared this. Our currency tampered with, and our hair cut the wrong way; and now this book comes along, and pulls the roof off our language” (vol. 2, p. 308). Quite simply, it has to be seen to be believed.
Naturally enough, there are aspects of the unique (fifty-year?) production of Culture, Power and Politics in Treaty-Port Japan that are problematic. Perhaps the first issue may be discussed under the rubric of “editor as author” or “author as editor.” Hoare writes with authority on extraterritoriality in the treaty ports, while covering (with élan) the neglected Chinese communities of the treaty ports and an absorbing case history in “The Consul, The Ainu and The Bones.” Perhaps in trying to meet these potential shortcomings in its sprawling narrative, in “covering the bases (his stumps?)” as it were, the editing has suffered. For example, Itsuko Kamoto’s interesting (and very topical) seminar paper “Kokusai Kekkon and Meiji Japan” from 2000 is published with a host of editorial, grammatical, and spelling mistakes, despite the fact that it is clearly unfinished and seemingly includes questions to the editor. With the range of works being reproduced here, it is incumbent on the editorial and publishing staff to reach out to assist and (wherever necessary or possible) “standardize” the contributor with their writing and presentation, particularly those with non-native English-language skills. And so general editing inconsistencies and mistakes abound, not to mention the larger editing problems of resetting 150-year-old primary source materials and other facsimiles alongside modern research articles, with “as far as possible, respect [for] the original spelling and punctuation” (vol. 1, p. xiii). It is an awesome task, and a huge ask of just one individual/editor.
The second issue I feel that I should briefly raise might be discussed under the highly subjective rubric of “article/contributor selection.” I have enjoyed rereading the numerous articles of Hugh Cortazzi and Harold S. Williams reproduced in Culture, Power and Politics in Treaty-Port Japan, but what about introducing new authors and making space for new research? To give just one representative example, Henry Black or Kairakutei Burakku (1858-1923) as discussed by Williams was originally published as a journal article in 1975. Since then, Ian McArthur has published both Japanese- (1992) and English-language (2013) monographs on Black, while Toshiki Asakura-Ward has written extensively about Black and his contested legacy in present-day Australian and Japanese historiography (2017). I suspect that they and indeed many of the contributors to the recently published Treaty Ports in Modern China and Life in Treaty Port China and Japan will be surprised by the editor’s often dated and puzzling “article/contributor selection” criteria as evidenced in Culture, Power and Politics in Treaty-Port Japan. My concern is that nonspecialist readers, such as undergraduates, might get the impression that treaty ports studies are “trapped in time” and unchanging, when they are in fact part of a dynamic and evolving research area of growing interest to the widest range of scholars.
Indeed, there are valid reasons why some criticism may be leveled at Culture, Power and Politics in Treaty-Port Japan, but there is so much to like! As a distinguished career Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) diplomat, historian, and latter-day academic, Hoare has collected the diverse contents of his two-volume anthology after a long and distinguished lifetime of foraging, with advice from Professors W. G. Beasley and Ian Nish, encouragement from Paul Norbury, Hugh Cortazzi, and countless others, and the assistance of the world’s best libraries and librarians. Where else will you find anything like the depth and breadth of information—everything from Ainu and Japan’s first treaties to Zen and the last days of “Old” Yokohama—gathered here? I enjoyed reading it immensely. Culture, Power and Politics in Treaty-Port Japan is sure to have the longest of shelf lives. It is a two-volume celebration of treaty-port Japan that will, in turn, entertain, inform, infuriate, delight, mystify, fascinate, and perhaps most importantly, encourage further research. Alongside Hoare’s earlier landmark exploration Japan’s Treaty-Ports and Foreign Settlements: The Uninvited Guests (1994), the newly selected “key papers, press and contemporary writings” in Culture, Power and Politics in Treaty-Port Japan make it a highly recommended addition to every library that considers Japan’s modern history and its foreign relations to be worthy of study.
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Simon Bytheway. Review of Hoare, J. E., ed., Culture, Power and Politics in Treaty-Port Japan, 1854-1899: Key Papers, Press and Contemporary Writings.
H-Japan, H-Net Reviews.
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