Margaret Mehl

Published On


Page Range

pp. 63–86


  • English

Print Length

24 pages

2. Under Reconstruction

Japan, the United States, and the European Model

Chapter 2, ‘Under Reconstruction: Japan, the United States, and the European Model’, examines similarities between two nations whose relationship is usually regarded as asymmetrical. The United States played a dominant role in forcing Japan to give up its isolation policy in the mid-nineteenth century. Culturally, however, there were remarkable parallels, as well as synchronicity, in the two countries’ efforts to develop a national music as part of the general nation-building process by adopting European art music. Post-Civil War America and Meiji Japan engaged in an intense process of nation-building, and seeking to create an individual musical identity was part of the process. Both countries treated European music as a model, as they endeavoured to develop a national music by merging local and imported musical elements. European ideas, including ideas about music, were often introduced to Japan via the United States. While a full-scale comparison if beyond the scope of the book, the brief outline shows one of the most powerful Western nations in a position of perceived inferiority in relation to music compared to European nations and thus challenges facile assumptions about ‘the West’.


Margaret Mehl

Associate Professor at University of Copenhagen

Margaret Mehl is a historian of modern Japan with a special interest in musical culture. She is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Copenhagen, having previously held appointments at the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Stirling, and Berlin. As well as a doctorate from the University of Bonn, Margaret Mehl holds a Dr. Phil. (Habilitation) from the University of Copenhagen. She has lived and worked in Japan as a researcher on several occasions, where she has had affiliations with the University of Tokyo, and with Waseda University. Margaret Mehl has published widely on the history of historiography, education, and music in modern Japan. Her previous books include History and the State in Nineteenth-Century Japan (which has been translated into Japanese), Private Academies of Chinese Learning in Meiji Japan: The Decline and Transformation of the Kangaku Juku, and Not by Love Alone: The Violin in Japan, 1850–2010. When she is not reading, writing or teaching, Margaret Mehl enjoys playing her violin and has performed in amateur orchestras and chamber ensembles in several countries.