Tatsukawa: Kōdan, Ethics, & Mass Media

The ethos of the Taishō period (1912-26) remains highly contested by historians working on Japan. It does not easily confirm to ideas about nationalism, the politics of modernity, or identity. Hoping to add a nuanced voice to the debate my research aims to look at the effects of mass media on thought during the Taishō era. In particular, I wish to focus on the transformation of kōdan (classical storytelling) through the new print media form of rensai (serials). The Tatsukawa-bunko (Tatsukawa Library) was a series of short stories published in Osaka by Bunmeidō (Enlightenment Hall) that ran from 1911-24. The popular narratives were an innovation in kōdan, an oral tradition of storytelling dating back hundreds of years, which reached its zenith during the Meiji (1868-1911) and Taishō (1912-26). The narratives of the Tatsukawa-bunko were, in part, fictional accounts that took the samurai as a central motif. However, the literature's place in Taishō society as entertainment belied its historical origins in kōdan as a form of ethical instruction. I believe that the Tatsukawa retained its didactic qualities inherited from kōdan making the narratives of the novels, perhaps unconsciously on the part of the writers and publisher, ideologically weighted. Though, the Tatsukawa-bunko at first might seem trivial, as a model it offers a fascinating glimpse of how an emerging media, driven by non-state actors, shaped conceptual ideas about ethics and history. In a broader sense, this study aims to articulate the effects of mass medias on societies. 

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