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  3. 1st Unit : 4th Meeting of Study Group Series “Views of Humanity and the World in the Meiji Period”

1st Unit : 4th Meeting of Study Group Series “Views of Humanity and the World in the Meiji Period”

"The Meiji Period and Natural Disasters"





  On October 8, 2014, Ideno Naoki (IRCP Visiting Researcher) was welcomed and a 1st Unit of IRCP seminar entitled “The Meiji Period and Natural Disasters was held at the Toyo University Hakusan Campus (Building 8, Conference Room2). This seminar was the fourth installment of a meeting of study group series based on the theme of views of humanity and the world in the Meiji period.

  Through this presentation, a report on human perspectives and outlooks on nature during the Meiji period from the standpoint of natural disasters was given. In particular, an attempt was made to highlight outlooks on nature during the Meiji period by matching the extent of damage sustained due to earthquakes, flooding, volcanic eruptions, and other natural disasters occurring during the Meiji and Taisho years with the records kept by prominent persons of the time in connection with such disasters. However, many records concerning natural disasters during the Meiji period consisted only of accounts of personal experiences, such that big-picture references to nature and outlooks on nature were essentially few and far between.

  The first topic covered was Shibusawa Eiichi’s theory of divine punishment. Shibusawa regarded disasters as punishments visited upon a society stripped of the rectitude of the last days of shogunate rule. This opinion was widely shared by many people who had experienced the Meiji Restoration. In contrast, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke argued that it was unfair for ordinary citizens who are unable to wield political or economic influence to suffer harm. For Akutagawa’s generation, Shibusawa’s argument felt antiquated for its adherence to Confucian ethics.

  Next, the journals of Tanizaki Jun'ichirō and Higuchi Ichiyō were studied and the records of the Sanriku tsunami appearing in Inoue Enryō’s lecture tour journals were discussed. In Enryō’s lecture tour journals—which only set about facts in a straightforward manner, coverage of the tsunami disaster in particular allows us to infer that the tsunami disaster left a strong impression on Enryō. Finally, the essays of Terada Torahiko were introduced. Terada Torahiko argued that repeated disasters shaped the worldview held by the Japanese people.

  During the Meiji period, Western ideas were received in Japan. However, the Western outlook on nature—which pitted man against the natural world—was not. If anything, the traditional Buddhist outlook on nature, which appeared to anthropomorphize nature, was dominant. Thus, this seminar successfully managed to bring the contours of Japanese people’s outlook on nature during the Meiji period into sharp relief.2