Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


Thinking about Taiwanese Aboriginals
in Modern Japan:
Uno Kôji’s Yurikago

no uta no omoide and the Beginnings of Dualism

CHIEN Chunghao

(SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies),
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
Department of Japanese Studies)

Key words:

Taiwanese aboriginals, dualism, Uno Kôji, primitive, barbarian

In the modern period, the Japanese began to compare themselves to others using the standard of social evolutionary discourse based on the concept of “survival of the fittest” that came along with modernization. The binary model of “barbarians and civilization” was established within that context. In particular, research on the aboriginals who came under Japanese control when Japan colonized Taiwan led to the establishment of the fields of anthropology and ethnology in modern Japan. Taiwanese aboriginals were repeatedly characterized in those studies as “primitives” and “barbarians,” and in this way a fixed opinion of those native peoples began to take root among the Japanese. On the other hand, marking the aborigines as “barbarians” helped the Japanese identify themselves in opposition as “civilized.”

Generally speaking, modern Japanese writers whose work dealt with colonial Taiwan left out references to “the West.” Instead, Japan emerges in their work as the sole representative of “civilization.” Playing opposite “civilization” in the role of “barbarians” were the Taiwanese aboriginals. Uno Kôji’s Yurikago no uta no omoide is considered to be the first work by a Japanese writer about Taiwanese aboriginals. Uno, who had never been to Taiwan, tried to develop his own way of thinking about the model of “barbarians and civilization” in that work.

Uno designated civilization as “adult” in his work and identified “civilized” men and women as symbols of “reason” and “emotion,” respectively. At the same time, he made a young Japanese girl raised by Taiwanese aboriginals stand in as the representative of “the barbarians.” One can infer in places that the female protagonist has a certain amount of latent rationality within her, but in the end a lullaby sung by her mother, representing “emotion,” connects her to the civilized world. Using the lullaby, Uno wanted to emphasize the value of love.

Pairing off binaries such as “civilized/barbarian” and “male/female” is the predominant interpretation of dualistic thinking featured in previous colonial research, but in Yurikago no uta gender consciousness is not expressed by the oppositional terms “civilized/barbarian”; rather, gender is expressed by the compatible pair of “reason” and “emotion,” both of which are contained within “civilization.” In addition, at the same time that Uno portrayed the girl symbolizing “barbarism” as a character with latent rationality, he defined the reality of “barbarism” as something that cannot deviate from the concept of “reason” itself. In that sense, Uno cannot grasp the reality of the “barbarian.” Nevertheless, by producing the first work attempting to deal with the dualistic conflict between “civilization and barbarism,” Uno raised an issue with which all Japanese writers would have to grapple in the years to come.