Margaret Mehl

Published On


Page Range

pp. 157–180


  • English

Print Length

24 pages

6. Civilizing Citizens

Music Reform

Chapter 6, ‘Civilizing Citizens: Music Reform’ discusses Isawa’s goal of reforming Japanese music with the help of Western music. In this he was joined by other members of the Meiji elite, and the topic is discussed in. Strongly influenced by their education in the Chinese classics (kangaku), reformers argued that reforming music was an essential means to reform the manners and customs of the people. Japanese music was perceived to be unsuited to the purpose, while Western music was perceived to have desirable characteristics that Japanese music lacked. The need for music reform became a major argument in defence of the Tokyo Academy of Music when it was threatened by budget cuts in 1890. Ultimately, official efforts at blending Western and Japanese music were short-lived.
Compared to Isawa, the role of non-state actors in the dissemination of Western music has received little attention.


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.