Our topic this week is the life and legacy of one of Japan’s greatest political leaders: Ito Hirobumi, author of Japan’s first modern constitution. Born into a low-rank samurai family in Choshu, Ito would wear many hats in his life: radical, terrorist, student, diplomat, leader, and finally — and fatally — as the face of Japanese dominance in Korea. His life and his legacy are central to the story of modern Japan.
Our topic this week is the Meiji intellectual Fukuzawa Yukichi. From the second son of a poor samurai family he rose to be one of Japan’s most prominent intellectuals, and helped define what it meant for Japan to be a modern country. His influence was tremendous, but it also had a darker side; in his works lie the kernel of what would later become Japanese imperialism and ultra-nationalism.
We’re turning our attention this week to Japan’s first classic of poetry: the Man’yoshu, or the Collection of Ten-Thousand Leaves. We’ll trace the origins of the work as well as its cultural impact through the ages, and talk about why it is we should care about a bunch of poems some of which date back to times contemporary with the Roman Empire.
This week, we’re going to take a look at the collection of supernatural stories published by American author and journalist Lafcadio Hearn, called Kwaidan. We’ll look at Hearn’s life and how he came to Japan, and also discuss the nature of one of the creatures he describes: the yuki onna, or snow woman. We’ll close with a reading of Hearn’s story on the yuki onna.