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Books > History > Americas > United States > Revolution & Founding > 0375754555
  1. The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan
    The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan
    The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan
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  2. The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan

    Delivery: 10-20 Working Days
    Customer Ratings (16 reviews)
    Price R307.00

Additional Information

When the United States entered the Gilded Age after the Civil War, argues cultural historian Christopher Benfey, the nation lost its philosophical moorings and looked eastward to “Old Japan,” with its seemingly untouched indigenous culture, for balance and perspective. Japan, meanwhile, was trying to reinvent itself as a more cosmopolitan, modern state, ultimately transforming itself, in the course of twenty-five years, from a feudal backwater to an international power. This great wave of historical and cultural reciprocity between the two young nations, which intensified during the late 1800s, brought with it some larger-than-life personalities, as the lure of unknown foreign cultures prompted pilgrimages back and forth across the Pacific.

In The Great Wave, Benfey tells the story of the tightly knit group of nineteenth-century travelers—connoisseurs, collectors, and scientists—who dedicated themselves to exploring and preserving Old Japan. As Benfey writes, “A sense of urgency impelled them, for they were convinced—Darwinians that they were—that their quarry was on the verge of extinction.”

These travelers include Herman Melville, whose Pequod is “shadowed by hostile and mysterious Japan”; the historian Henry Adams and the artist John La Farge, who go to Japan on an art-collecting trip and find exotic adventures; Lafcadio Hearn, who marries a samurai’s daughter and becomes Japan’s preeminent spokesman in the West; Mabel Loomis Todd, the first woman to climb Mt. Fuji; Edward Sylvester Morse, who becomes the world’s leading expert on both Japanese marine life and Japanese architecture; the astronomer Percival Lowell, who spends ten years in the East and writes seminal works on Japanese culture before turning his restless attention to life on Mars; and President (and judo enthusiast) Theodore Roosevelt. As well, we learn of famous Easterners come West, including Kakuzo Okakura, whose The Book of Tea became a cult favorite, and Shuzo Kuki, a leading philosopher of his time, who studied with Heidegger and tutored Sartre.

Finally, as Benfey writes, his meditation on cultural identity “seeks to capture a shared mood in both the Gilded Age and the Meiji Era, amid superficial promise and prosperity, of an overmastering sense of precariousness and impending peril.”

From the Hardcover edition.

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Christopher Benfey
Benfey, Christopher
Random House Trade Paperbacks
Random House Trade Paperbacks
Random House Trade Paperbacks
Random House Trade Paperbacks
Most Helpful Customer Reviews

A curious epoch in 19th century American history involved the opening of Japan and the infatuation that many Americans had with that mysterious Asian nation. Christopher Benfey details that era in rich detail that will leave many of his readers nostalgic for a time before Japan began to exert itself through its commerce and militaristic tendencies. A time when Japan symbolized the purity of an exotic culture - as opposed to an economic superpower.

For American Japanophiles, this is a marvelous book. On the other hand, for Japanese readers there will be, no doubt, questions about the impurity of the Japanese ethic as interpreted by the American "eccentrics" (Benfey's term) that visited Japan in the latter half of the 19th century and in the early years of the 20th century.

Full disclosure: this reviewer is a native Bostonian who spent seven years living in Japan as a foreign correspondent. As such, the reviewer has an affinity for Things Japanese (not to... Read more
This is an excellent book on what Japan meant for the people who visited in the early days of the Meiji period. The author concentrates on a series of vignettes to explore the significance of Japanese culture in the lives of some of the leading US citizens of the period. It was not all just collections of fans and diets of raw fish. Some of these early travlers used a trip to Japan to acquire ancient artifacts (many of which are in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts), Henry Adams went on quest for nirvana, the artist John La Farge went with him and absorbed new artistic techniques that marked his subsequent work. The cast of characters also includes Isabelle Stewart Gardner and Theodore Roosevelt.
This is a very interesting book, sure to delight the reader who really wants to know what happens when west meets east.
OK.....we all know from our schooldays that there was a Boston Tea Party. We also know that in Japan they have a very elaborate tea ceremony. Early on in this very clever, erudite, and complex book, the author mentions these two facts. Is there a reason for him to do so? Well, yes, there is. It is one of the many interesting ways that Mr. Benfey shows the connection between Boston and Japan. Merchant ships from Boston (and the surrounding area) were deeply involved in the oriental tea trade. Also, ships from nearby ports were involved in whaling and frequently travelled to the whaling grounds off of Japan. Also, as the author shows, quite a few Boston Brahmins were interested in the culture of "Old Japan." They were disgusted with what they perceived to be the material crassness and lack of spirituality of America, as well as the jarring modernity of the Industrial Age. They wanted to go to Japan and to study the Japanese way of life before Japan, which had recently been... Read more
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