Bachelard and Nenzi: Comparing Spatial Perspectives

In Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, he discusses the idea of the house as a place of imagination where subconscious memories are imbued in the physical structure. In his words, ‘he [the occupant] experiences the house in its reality and in its virtuality, by means of thoughts and dreams’.[1] Thus, Bachelard envisions a space of imagination where the walls of a building can not only be viewed solely on ideas of its function but also, as an embodiment of dreams’.[2] These ideas are also reflected in Laura Nenzi’s Excursions in Identity: Travel and the Intersection of Place, Gender, and Status in Edo Japan. In it, she argues the road is a site of individuals’ dreams and gives he or she a space to imagine a version of themselves or their place in society differently as they travel outside their fixed role within it.

Most of the tourism readings, like Japan’s pocketbook of travels, outlined routes, sites, and activities as recommended by the government, with a clear agenda or push to include certain historical places in the weaving of a larger national narrative. Nenzi, on the other hand, creates what one could term the ‘choose your own adventure’ outlook where she takes the journey of travelers and contextualizes them in the wide range of possibilities enabled on the road. Nenzi’s outlook can be extended towards the Meiji era where tourism rapidly expanded as Japan opened to the west. She discusses the role of mass consumerism which sees items like trinkets becoming important indicators of the trips undertaken which she argues expands the accessible nature of travel. However, this interpretation, while interesting, also pigeonholes the experiences and perceptions of places to a singular craft, institution, etc. This offers an interesting comparison to groups like the globetrotters, where the tourists shallowly engage with the people, places, and cultures they visit, the perception of the country produced from the trip will be undoubtedly be skewed.

However, there is a degree of difference as the globetrotters were usually foreign visitors thus their understanding of the country would significantly differ from visitors from other parts of the same country yet both experiences reflect the multiple realities of a single space. Thus, as Bachelard discusses the web of consciousness projected in a house, and Nenzi discusses the endless perceptions and imaginations able to occur on the road both emphasize the versatile meanings of one space.

[1] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston 1994), p.9

[2] Ibid., p. 15

Domestic Work as a Civic Duty

Japanese homes underwent significant shifts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Such changes can be viewed through John Agnew’s conditions for a meaningful location where he emphasizes location, the physical point on a map, the locale, the setting which facilitates social bonds and sense of place, the emotional connection and associated memories. [1]Japan’s industrialization facilitated the development of collective privacy amongst the family and the idea of the ‘happy home’ amongst the middle and upper classes.[2] Meiji officials actively engaged with women, encouraging the cultivation of what Jordan Sand terms ‘the housewife’s laboratory’ as a necessary part of the Japanese ‘happy home’. By this, he means the professionalization of domestic housework for women who became nutrition, healthcare, and hygiene experts educated and trained to protect bourgeoise households against outside threats.[3]Thus, what John Agnew would see as the locale of middle-class Japanese homes is altered considerably during this period.  

The Meiji adjustments saw the rise of familial privacy meaning the ousting of people like laborers, maids, and other members of the household previously included in daily activities like cooking, cleaning, and overall production. As industrialization encouraged a separation of work and home life, the collective family’s privacy was important and thus the criteria for household members were redefined. This new household order placed the housewife in an all-seeing position wherthe household activities came under her purview. Thus, the state deployed the housewife as its agent advancing the state through her work and embedding her duties into a socio-economic context.

However, this shift laid the groundwork for a system where women’s care of her household went beyond familial bonds but a duty to the state, a view still supported in the 1940s. In the immediate post-war years, food was scarce, and the government encouraged women to be more economical than ever before, avoiding waste as much as possible. Magazines disseminating ideas of using all food materials, including items not normally consumed for example sweet potato stems, in new recipes were common.[4]Once again, housewives and their managerial skills took on a new value to help the state in caring for its citizens in a tumultuous period. Housewives were encouraged to waste nothing however upon the subsequent rise in economic growth, increased consumption saw these habits challenged. Once the so-called ‘consumption revolution’ in the 1950s and 60s took off, the state encouraged women to buy more goods for their families and homes and enjoy the benefits of the progress of Japan embodied in such commercialism.[5]  

The state’s emphasis on the household made women a vital tool for its agenda.  Repeatedly encouraging women to take control of their homes in what they deemed productive ways, Japan relied on women’s role as household managers to monitor households across the country. While this encouragement of household work largely limited female talents to the domestic sphere, the education which opened to educated women in such affairs facilitated social interactions with other women of similar means and provide a springboard future woman could use to branch off into different industries. Thus, while not ideal the seed for female expertise in a chosen field was planted and would develop over time. 

[1] Tim Cresswell,  Defining Place: a short introduction (Malden 2004), p. 7

[2] Itsuko Ozaki, ‘Society and Housing Form: Home‐Centredness in England vs. Family‐Centredness in Japan’, Journal of Historical Sociology  14 (2002)p.  341

[3] Jordan Sand, House and Home in Modern Japan: Architecture, Domestic Space and Bourgeoise Culture, 1880-1930 (Cambridge 2005), p. 55

[4] Eiko Maruko Siniawer, Waste: Consuming Postwar Japan (New York 2018), pp. 21-22

[5] Ibid., p. 46

Massey’s For Space Manifested in Yokohama Woodblocks

In Doreen Massey’s For Space, she argues against a static view of space. In her first chapter, she states space is a product of interrelations, is always under construction and is ‘the sphere of possibility of the existence of multiplicity in the sense of contemporaneous plurality’.[1] In this she means, space encompasses multiple possible trajectories at once.  She asks in her introduction, ‘what if we open up the imagination of the single narrative to give space for multiple trajectories? What kinds of conceptualization of time and space and of their reaction might that give on to?’.[2] Looking at the woodblocks produced upon the opening of Yokohama in the late nineteenth century, one can see examples that resonate in the answer to these questions.

As described by John Dower, the woodblocks which emerged with the developing commercial industry reflected a ‘dream window’ where people ‘let their imaginations run wild’ as they depicted not just what they saw but what they imagined.[3] Events or situations depicting Western and Japanese ways of life were a common theme in these prints however many were imagined and varied drastically depending on who the intended audience was. Western observers focused on the Japanese population with a preoccupation for capturing their quintessential essence and the Japanese did the same. As Dower points out, these different depictions are also impacted by the different mediums used, the Japanese using colorful wood prints while Westerners used black and white photographs or sketches.[4] Western periodicals like the Illustrated London News and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper published engravings which catered towards a curious audience at home however, these publications became available in Japan shortly after the opening of the port.[5] Thus, the Japanese artists began to base their depictions off these images revising them to add their own unique style. The combination of printed foreign sources and colorful woodblocks created different perceptions of the same city which were then widely distributed to different populations within Japan and abroad, creating a variety of perceptions of not only Yokohama but the populations within it.

Artists like Sadahide (b. 1807) contributed to the growth of Yokohama woodblocks as a distinct subset of this Japanese tradition. These were widely available to regular Japanese citizens and depicted the international area and the people within it who would not be so accessible otherwise. Dower claims the city was, ‘a window looking out of Japan upon the unknown world of foreign nations that lay across the seas’.[6] Thus it didn’t matter whether or not the scenes depicted real events as they did develop a real image and perception amongst their consumers.

Here, Massey’s multiple trajectories theory is applicable to the different depictions creating different perceptions. While the city could be perceived as a drastically different place amongst these relationships, its impact was constantly shifting and changed by new works. Thus, through the lens of her theories, Western and Japanese perceptions of the city and people within it are part of the imagined space of Yokohama.

[1] Doreen Massey, For Space (Sage 2005), p. 9

[2] Ibid., p. 5

[3] John W. Dower, ‘Yokohama Boomtown: Foreigners in Treaty-Port Japan (1859-1872)’, MIT Visualizing Cultures, MIT

< https://visualizingcultures.mit.edu/yokohama/yb_essay02.html> [accessed on 10 December 2019]

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.