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Beate Löffler

The Better City? Japan as an Argument in Urban Discourses in the late 19th Century
Beate Löffler (IN-EAST School of Advanced Studies/ Duisburg-Essen University)

With renouncing its isolation policy in the second half of the 19th century, Japan opened the doors for Western foreigners such as diplomats, missionaries, journalists and artists. Many of them recorded their experiences in letters, diaries and reports. As far as these text addressed urban issues, they did not only give details on Japanese cities and architectures, but linked these observations back to the socio-political discourses in contemporary Europe. The Japanese house and the Japanese city were discussed in relation to European theories of culture and art; not only architecture and city layout, also social dimensions of moral behaviour, hygiene, cost efficiency and quality of buildings were central in these debates.
The presentation outlines the most important actors, subjects and figures of reasoning between 1860 and 1910. It points out, that ideals of traditional values of the 'old Japan' and transformation processes of the 'new Japan' served as a mirror to address ethical and moral problems of urban life in industrialized Europe without actually dealing with the Japanese city itself.