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Reading: The Poetics of Place: Travel in Premodern Japan


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The Poetics of Place: Travel in Premodern Japan


Mike Sugimoto

Pepperdine University, US
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The study of Asian cultures from the Western academy has been characterized as Orientalism, the ‘goods’ in knowledge a cultural parallel to the territorial gains won in the heyday of Western colonialism. For some key Euro-Americans, knowing the foreign Other was an antidote to a perceived dead end of Western science and rationalism.  Simply put, Asia resonated as social and philosophic plenitude. In this regard, premodern Japanese poetry, with its 1300 year-old, lyrical tradition, was seen as a tradition of immanence and, therefore, as a welcomed alternative to Western philosophic abstraction.  Countering this, I suggest that utamakura (canonized, poetic place names) as a regulative, interpretive category from the earliest 7th century anthology of the Manyoshu on through the medieval period ending in the 17th century suggests a formidable idealist tradition, which regulated expectations and experience of travel in the premodern period.

How to Cite: Sugimoto, M., 2018. The Poetics of Place: Travel in Premodern Japan. Asian Literature and Translation, 5(1), pp.105–145. DOI:
Published on 28 Oct 2018.
Peer Reviewed


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