Stoddard's Travels

In the mid-1890s, John L. Stoddard set out from North America to visit Asia. He took photographs and notes and made them into a series of books, "John L. Stoddard's Lectures", and I received a copy of Vol. 1 from Tara Maginnis, costume teacher of the University of Alaska and creator of The Costumer's Manifesto.

Stoddard doesn't say a word about himself or when he untertook his voyage in his book, but from the context I assume that he was US American and travelled Japan, then China, between 1895 and 1897.

Like most "Western" travellers up until our day, he looked on Japan and China without any understanding of the culture, judging whatever he saw by the standards of his own cultural background. However, I must say this for him that he was quite perceptive and, for a man of his times, unusually open-minded. Simply by keeping mind and eye open, he understood at least part of what he saw in Japan.

My favourite episode from the book is one where he meets another Westerner, well travelled in China and Japan, who tells him this (quoting from memory): "At first, you admire the Japanese and detest the Chinese. But the better you know the Japanese, the less you admire them, and the longer you know the Chinese, the less you detest them." I never was anything but indifferent to the Chinese, but having progressed from being fascinated with Japanese culture via studying it to disliking many aspects of modern Japanese culture, I can only nod my approval on that account.



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