Calling for Anti-Shogun Movement- Inventing Modern Self in Letter Writing
Katsue Akiba Reynolds

The change from the feudal period to modern times via the Meiji Restoration (1868) was the most turbulent and complex in the history of Japan, and many details of the change remain unexplained. This paper will shed new light on this social change by bringing attention to the seemingly sudden appearance of boku, a male first person pronoun,1 in the emerging culture of letter writing. It was after a century of civil wars ended in1600 and a centralized feudalism was established that samurai members and richer commoners learned writing. Letter writing became a social phenomenon of the time. It played an important role in disseminating information and awakening Japanese intellectuals to what was happening outside the country. In fear of western military power, a growing trend towards the anti- Shogun movement led to an extremely radical change in the social structure from a strictly hierarchized feudalism to a modern democracy. In the process of such fundamental social change, language inevitably played a crucial role in forming and accommodating new meanings and new ideologies. All the samurai selfreferencing words that had previously been borrowed from Chinese were strongly associated with various power relationships between communicants, and they were extremely incongruent with the self of the new breed of samurai intellectuals. Samurai intellectuals adopted boku, a Chinese word with a nuance of solidarity, in the letters exchanged in the movement. Letter writing was a crucial tool for networking among anti-Shogun activists, just like the Jasmine Revolutions calling for pro-democracy online in China and other places today.

Full Text: PDF