Current Writing Projects

Currently I have two book projects on the go, although I’m concentrating my efforts on the first at the moment.

As I was finishing Not by Love Alone, I began to work on another book about music and modern Japan. My ideas about the book have evolved since then, and I have restructured the overall work and rewritten chapters several times.

Now I can finally report that I have a publishing contract withe Open Book Publishers. I sent off my final manuscript (at least I hope so!) yesterday. The book will be published under a Creative Commons license (albeit the most restrictive one, as I don’t want anyone undermining OBP’s source of income from print sales or messing around with my text). Once it is published, it will be freely downloadable from the publisher’s website, although if readers – like myself – prefer what I call a real book, they will be able to purchase a hard copy at a reasonable price.

For details see here.


Music and the Making of Modern Japan

Joining the Global Concert

How making music enabled the Japanese to join the modern world.


Japan was the first non-Western nation to compete with the Western powers at their own game. The country’s rise to a major player on the stage of Western music has been equally spectacular. The connection between these two developments, however, has never been explored.

How did making music make Japan modern? How did Japan make music that originated in Europe its own? And what happened to Japan’s traditional music in the process? Music and the Making of Modern Japan answers these questions. Discussing musical modernization in the context of globalization and nation-building, Margaret Mehl argues that, far from being a side-show, music was part of the action on centre stage. Making music became an important vehicle for empowering the people of Japan to join in the shaping of the modern world.

In only 50 years, from the 1870s to the early 1920s, Japanese people laid the foundations for the country’s post-war rise as a musical as well as an economic power. Meanwhile, new types of popular song, fuelled by the growing global record industry, successfully blended inspiration from the West with musical characteristics perceived as Japanese.

Music and the Making of Modern Japan represents a fresh contribution to historical research on making music as a major cultural, social, and political force.



Part One: Global History, Modernity, and Western Music

Chapter 1: ‘Global History, Musical Modernity, and the Globalization of Western Music’

Chapter 2: Under Reconstruction: Japan, the United States, and the European Model

Chapter 3: The Case of Japan

Part Two: Music for the Nation

Chapter 4: From Rites and Music to National Music

Chapter 5: Isawa Shûji: Music, Movement, Science, and Language

Chapter 6: Civilizing Citizens: Music Reform

Chapter 7: Shikama Totsuji: Music Reform and a Nationwide Network

Chapter 8: Playing Modern: Blending Japanese and Western Music

Part Three: The World, Japan, and Sendai

Chapter 9: Local Pioneers

Chapter 10: Foreign Actors: Kate I. Hansen

Chapter 11: The World in Sendai


For my next book project, I am hoping to edit and publish selected writings of Kate I. Hansen. Kate Ingeborg Hansen (1879-1968), a native of Logan, Kansas, spent most of her life as a missionary and music teacher in Sendai in Northern Japan. In the over 30 years she spent there from 1907 to 1941 and then again from 1947 to 1951 she not only did much for music education in the provincial town. Her letters and other writings reveal her to be an astute observer of musical culture in Sendai as well as a lively writer. I will certainly devote a chapter to her in my new book, Music and the Making of Modern Japan, but her writings deserve a wider audience. This project, however, depends on my locating the copyright holders and receiving their permission, so fingers crossed!

Finally, I am still fascinated by the lives and activities of Meiji people in general, even though I’ve shelved a previous book project, playfully entitled ‘The Meiji Miracle’. How did these people cope with the upheavals their country experienced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? How did they face the future in a present which seemed to be so different from the past that the past no longer appeared as a useful point of reference? – I started writing short biographies of selected Meiji Japanese from different areas of life with a view of turning them into a book. I had already published a series of short biographical articles covering the entire history of Japan for the German Japan-Magazin, published by the late Dieter Born. I actually completed a manuscript, but finding a publisher proved a challenge and at some point I lost momentum and turned my full attention to what eventually became Not by Love Alone. However, a few months ago I presented the prospectus to the members of a staff writing group and received some valuable suggestions.

I was too busy with my other projects to attempt the thorough revision of the manuscript in time for the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration. Instead, I started mining the manuscripts for possible blog posts and have posted blogs about Ogawa Masataka 小川正孝, Tanaka Shôzô 田中正造, Sakamoto Ryôma 坂本龍馬, Tokugawa Keiki 徳川慶喜, and Yoshida Shoin 吉田松陰 and others. The anniversary year has passed,  but so much happened in the Meiji period (1868-1912) that for the next 44 years there’ll be some kind of ‘Meiji 150’ anniversary every year. I haven’t posted another biography for a while now, but I intend to continue the series (on and off!).

Contact Margaret Mehl.