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Splitting Hairs: History and the Politics of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century Japan


This essay examines the changes in hairstyles that have become overdetermined signs of Japan's transition to modernity in histories of the Meiji era (1868–1912). It demonstrates that Japanese men's adoption of short styles, relentlessly cited as a key example of modernization (understood as Westernization), was a much longer and more complex process than most accounts suggest. It explores the politics of pervasive assumptions about how and why men and women cut their hair in the 1870s, and concludes that knowledge about daily life must be understood not simply as concrete facts but also as politically charged representations of social life that have served diverse agendas both during the Meiji era and since.

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Andrew Gordon . 2003. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kenneth G Henshall . 1999. A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower. New York: St. Martin's Press.

David Howell . 2005. Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

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The Journal of Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9118
  • EISSN: 1752-0401
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-asian-studies
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