Margaret Mehl

Published On


Page Range

pp. 127–138


  • English

Print Length

12 pages

4. From Rites and Music to National Music

Chapter 4, ‘From Rites and Music to National Music’, shows how both in Europe and in the Sinosphere (East Asian Cultural Sphere), of which Japan was a part, concepts of music were intimately linked to concepts of civilization. When Japan embarked on re-inventing itself as a modern nation, modelled on the most powerful Western nations, Eastern and Western conceptions of civilization became intertwined. A remarkable example of this process is Konakamura Kiyonori’s book Kabu ongaku ryakushi (A concise history of singing, dancing and music in Japan, 1888), the first work of its kind. It includes two prefaces, one written in Sinitic (kanbun) – unlike the work itself –, by a leading scholar of Chinese learning, and one in English by Basil Hall Chamberlain, recently appointed the first professor of Japanese philology at the Imperial University of Tokyo. Together with these, the work, in effect, straddles two epistemes. Most significantly, it served to both elevate the music of the common people of Japan to a national asset while simultaneously legitimizing musical borrowing, whether from China in the past or the West in the present.


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.