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Romanticising Shinsengumi in Contemporary Japan

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Author(s): Rosa Lee

Journal: New Voices : A Journal for Emerging Scholars of Japanese Studies in Australia and New Zealand
ISSN 1833-5233

Volume: 4;
Start page: 168;
Date: 2011;
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Keywords: Shinsengumi | Shiba Ryotaro | popular literature | autonomy | Japanese hero

ABSTRACT
Shinsengumi, a group of young men recruited by the Bakufu to protect Kyoto from radical Imperial House loyalists in the tumultuous Bakumatsu period, is romanticised and idolised in Japan despite its limited place in history. This article attempts to comprehend this phenomenon by locating the closest crystallisation of popularly imagined Shinsengumi in Moeyo ken, a popular historical fiction by Shiba Ryōtarō. Antonio Gramsci explains readers are attracted to popular literature because it reflects their ‘philosophies of the age’, which may be discovered by examining popular heroes with their subsequent replications.This article will identify why Shinsengumi is appealing by comparing Shiba’s hero in Moeyo ken with its twenty-first century reincarnation in Gintama, a popular manga series, and by discerning reader response to Moeyo ken from customer reviews on Amazon.co.jp. It will be demonstrated from these studies that a likely reason for the Japanese public’s romanticisation of Shinsengumi in recent years could be their attraction to autonomous, self-determining heroes who also appreciate the value of community.
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