Organized Panel Session
In modern Japan, waka (Japanese poems) were used for many purposes and their reach was extended to the broader populace. Previously considered an exclusive art form of the courtly elite, waka became popularized through the early modern Tokugawa period and into Meiji, when it came to be composed and read across a wider spectrum of society.
From early Meiji, the imperial court used waka to connect with commoners, as imperial subjects, through the New Year Poetry Reading. Not only were commoners in Japan encouraged to compose waka poems, but poems by Emperor Meiji were translated into Western languages. Jesuit missionaries even used this poetic medium to proselytize the Christian faith in Japan.
Waka were a vital form of “Japanese culture” which was inherited, preserved, and passed on by kazoku, the nobility; shizoku, the former samurai; and other literati in modern society. Leaders in local politics, industry, and music enjoyed the distinction of being accomplished “poets” or kajin.
Another purpose of waka was to arouse love of country via wartime propaganda. By 1942, waka was appropriated as a potent medium to stir patriotic emotions among the entire populace who were being mobilized for total war, in service and sacrifice for the nation.
This panel chronicles the period from the early 1800s through the 1940s and beyond, to examine the reinventing and repurposing of waka for the building of modern empire, including mobilizing industrious workers, loyal subjects, and patriotic citizens and soldiers.