MIT Visualizing Cultures

Throwing Off Asia – Lesson 03

Bunmei Kaika: The Role of Art in Promoting Government Policy

Note: this lesson addresses content from the Throwing Off Asia I Essay, as does lesson four. Teachers should select one lesson or the other.

At the close of the Tokugawa period, Japan was forced to accept unequal treaties and an inferior status in relation with the Western nations. The new Meiji government, established in 1868, set as one of its principal goals the reversal of this status and international recognition of Japan as an equal among civilized nations.
To accomplish this goal, the Meiji government faced the formidable challenges of modernizing the Japanese government, economic structure, and industry, and developing a level of knowledge of science and technology to accomplish these tasks. Integral to the process of modernization was the creation of a national identity and mobilization of the Japanese people behind this identity. Throughout the early Meiji period (1868 through the mid-1880s), the government employed a variety of slogans as emblems and instruments of national policy.
The Japanese government’s policy of aggressive modernization in the Meiji period was captured in the slogans Bunmei Kaika, Fukoku Kyōhei, and Shokusan Kōgyō. These slogans translate as “Civilization and Enlightenment,” “Enrich the Nation; Strengthen the Army,” and “Encourage Industry.” During this period, the path to civilization, enrichment, industry, and a modern army was through heavy study, selection, borrowing, and adaptation of previously tested Western models and technologies. As Meiji leaders sought appropriate models for government, education, industry, transportation, and social structures in the West, they rallied Japanese people behind unprecedented changes through a variety of public education and motivation efforts.
In this lesson, students will examine woodblock prints from the Meiji period that are reproduced in Throwing Off Asia. Students will read and analyze the prints individually and collectively to consider the role that popular art and artists played in “marketing” Meiji government policy of modernization to the population and encouraging popular identification with the new national identity that the Meiji government sought to achieve.

National History Standards (Word doc)

At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be better able to:
1. Define and identify several dimensions of the Meiji government’s process and policies for creating a modern nation-state in the late-19th century.
2. Explore the role of artists and the media in promoting government programs, molding popular attitudes, and creating a national identity in Japan under the Meiji government.
3. Analyze late-19th-century Japanese views regarding modernization and Westernization, as depicted in primary source materials.

Time Required
Two class periods

Materials and preparation
Access to the Internet for all students
Access to printer and/or PowerPoint for all students
Lesson 03 Background Notes
Handout 03-A

1. Before undertaking this lesson, students should be aware of the threat and challenge that industrialized Western nations posed to Japan at the end of the Tokugawa period in the 1850s and the frustration of the unequal treaties imposed on Japan by the United States and European nations following U.S. commodore Matthew Perry’s missions to Japan in the early 1850s. See the MIT Visualizing Cultures unit Black Ships and Samurai on this topic. Students should also know the basic goals of the Meiji government—to reform and modernize Japan so that it would be recognized among the civilized nations of the world.
2. (Optional.) Through a brief lecture, in-class reading, or homework assignment, introduce students to Japanese woodblock prints as both an art form and social record. This information is provided for either teacher or student reference in the Lesson 03 Background Notes, which may be printed and duplicated as a student reading. Students may also be referred to the notes in the student section of the Throwing Off Asia curriculum.
If the class can view the Internet via LCD projection, display “Making a Woodblock Print” so that students can better understand how Japanese woodblock prints were made.
3. Students in world history should be somewhat familiar with the concept of nation building by the time that they begin the study of this period in Japanese history. From their study of Europe or the United States, ask students to identify essential building blocks of the 19th-century nation-state. What did the term “nation” imply about the organization of a country? About its political structure, government, social unity, language, laws, etc.?
Present to students the three slogans coined by the Meiji government to promote modernization and Westernization in Japan in the 1870s and 1880s. Through class discussion, identify how each slogan related to important components or benchmarks of becoming a modern nation.
   • Bunmei Kaika: Civilization and Enlightenment
   • Fukoku Kyōhei: Enrich the Nation; Strengthen the Army
   • Shokusan Kōgyō: Encourage Industry
4. Now turn students’ attention to another critical aspect of nation building by asking students to focus on what “nation” implies about the people within a country. You may post the following statement by Fukuzawa Yukichi, a leading proponent of modernization in Japan:
 “We have a Japan but no Japanese.”
What was the crucial project that Fukuzawa identified? How does this challenge compare to that of Western nations some years earlier and what mechanisms were used successfully in those models?
Students should recognize that building a nation requires the creation of a sense of nationhood and national identification among peoples who may have been separated by ethnicity, geography, religion, and/or language. Although a relatively small nation, this was true of Japan, where a rural people, divided by geography, traditionally identified with clans, villages, or perhaps social strata. 
5. Explain to students that they will be using the woodblock prints in Throwing Off Asia to consider how government campaigns advertised and promoted sweeping modernization under the three slogans (above) while simultaneously creating popular unity and identification around the larger project of nation building.
Divide students into three or six groups, depending on class size, and assign each group one of the three modernization slogans that permeated Japan in the late 1800s. The task of each group is presented on Handout 03-A, which can be printed and distributed to students. Students may also be referred to the handout in the student section of the Throwing Off Asia curriculum. Each group’s task is to:
   • Review the woodblock prints from the Throwing Off Asia I Essay that take modernization as their theme.
   • Select six woodblock prints that illustrate or exemplify the modernization slogan assigned to the group. These selections will be open to students’ interpretation, as many of the woodblock prints address multiple aspects of “becoming modern.”
   • Create a PowerPoint or paper presentation that explains, in concrete examples, what the slogan meant to Japan.
 Have groups share presentations with the class. As a class, spend time discussing the woodblock prints. The following questions may guide discussion:

   • How have the prints created a social and historical record—that is, what does the print show about changes taking place in early Meiji Japan, the degree of Westernization, the specific achievements in modernizing Japan? (Students should be able to cite hairstyles, clothing, transportation, specific technologies, architecture, stores.)
   • What have students noticed about the way subjects, activities, and events have been portrayed? About the style, mood, and color used in these portrayals? (Use of vibrant colors, movement, crowds, activity, leisure time.)
   • Think about style, mood, and color. What impression or feeling do such things as the multi- and vibrant-colored compositions, the movement and activity, and so on, inspire in the viewer of these prints?
   • Do students think these pieces would be effective in creating enthusiasm and support for modernization and Westernization? Why?
6. (Optional.) As a synthesis exercise, assign each group to apply their knowledge from the exercise above by selecting one woodblock print from Throwing Off Asia that best represents the Meiji modernization campaign they investigated: “Civilization and Enlightenment,” “Enrich the Nation; Strengthen the Army,” or “Encourage Industry.”
Student groups should print their selected woodblock print. Working with a paper copy of the image, each group will create a promotional poster to explain and encourage support for the goals of modernization in Meiji Japan.  Each poster must include the slogan, the woodblock print that best captures or reflects the goals of that slogan, and text to explain the slogan and its goals to an unfamiliar population.
Allow time for groups to post and explain their work.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology © 2008 Visualizing Cultures