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Memory, Modernity, and Children’s Literature in Japan

On 1 September 2022 Afke van Ewijk successfully defended a doctoral thesis and graduated.

A. van Ewijk
01 September 2022
Leiden Repository

This thesis investigates the formation of the Japanese nation-state from the angle of children’s literature. On the one hand, it elucidates how premodern warrior legends were canonized and adapted in children’s literature and textbooks of the Meiji (1686-1912) and Taishō (1912-1926) period to shape the dispositions of young citizens according to various modern ideals. On the other hand, it analyses the role of children’s literature in Japan’s transition to modernity and the identity-formation of the adults involved. This thesis challenges the idea that ‘books for children’ did not exist before the Meiji period by placing the material within the contemporary context. Focusing on the work of the author Iwaya Sazanami (1870-1933), it consequently re-assesses the development of modern children’s literature in Japan through the lens of Yuri Lotman’s theory on cultural memory. The re-appropriation of warrior legends in a modern literary genre for young citizens contributed to the coherence of culture during Japan’s transition to modernity. The new genre moreover signified Japan’s status as a modern society that separates the sphere of childhood from adulthood, thereby providing the latter with a sense of Selfhood and the right to guide both real and metaphorical children in their development.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. I.B. Smits

Funding: Isaac Alfred Ailion Foundation

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