chapter  13
10 Pages

Phenomenological Method in the Explanation of Japanese Aesthetic Concepts

ByMark Meli

The European discipline of aesthetics was first introduced to the Japanese reading public in 1872, in philosopher Nishi Amane’s short essay, ‘Bimyo-gaku setsu’ (Theory of Aesthetics).1 There, Nishi presented something that can be read as a basically utilitarian view of the discipline,2 with a discussion of the contrast between aesthetics and other branches of philosophy making up a good portion of the work’s content. The first book-length translation of European aesthetic theory into Japanese was Nakae Cho-min’s 1883 translation of Frenchman Euge`ne Ve´ron’s L’esthe´- tique. As is reflected in these two works, early aesthetics in Japan had a multifarious base, with works in various languages being read and presented to the public. From the 1890s, however, things began to change, and German aesthetics came to take an overwhelmingly central position. The most influential character in this change was probably Mori Ogai, well known today as a one of Japan’s greatest modern novelists, who spent some years in Germany studying the aesthetic theories popular at the time. Ogai was most taken with the thought of Eduard von Hartmann, and not only wrote various articles discussing the latter’s work, but also translated his Philosophie des Sho¨nen with O

- mura Seigai in 1899. From that time, Hartmann’s idealist

thought held centre stage in the Japanese aesthetic community for over a decade, until psychologistic, empathy-based aesthetics, primarily as elucidated by Theodor Lipps, became popular enough to take truly over that position. Abe Jiro-’s influential Aesthetics of 1917 was, according to the author, merely a re-statement of Lipps’ theory.3 Moreover, in 1926 a complete translation of Lipps’ Aesthetik: Psychologie des Sho¨nen und der Kunst was published, at a full 1,608 pages. This fact becomes particularly impressive when we note that no complete work on aesthetics by Lipps has yet been translated into English. Lipps’ influence is also widely seen in the discussions of traditional Japanese aesthetic concepts made by various authors working in the field of Japanese literature. Okazaki Yoshie, for instance, makes many references to empathy aesthetics in his attempts to

discuss classical Japanese literature and literary concepts from a modern philosophical perspective.4