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 in modern Japan, tentatively titled, Sounds of Modern Times. The title will almost certainly change, as my ideas about the book have evolved.

My initial aim was to explore the changes in the musical culture of Japan after the introduction of Western music from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. By ‘musical culture’ I mean all activities related to music. Within these roughly one hundred years Western music came to dominate musical culture, while Japan’s traditional musical genres came to occupy relatively marginal spaces. I also planned to explore and discuss the question what research into musical culture can contribute to our understanding of past cultures in general.

Music is a particularly rewarding field for studying cultural interaction and transnational flows, as well as processes of global integration in the modern era. Yet it seems to me that scholars are only just beginning to pay more attention to music, and it seemed to me that the world is not quite ready yet for the book I had in mind. There seems to be a general idea that music is an esoteric subject that is best left to specialists. I wrote a short blog (or was it a rant?) about this some time ago.

I have therefore decided to devote more attention to conceptual aspects and to treat Japan as a case study for exploring the significance of music in the transformation of the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Here is my – tentative! – table of contents:


Why Music?

Why Japan?

Global History and Musical Modernity

Global history – Modernity – Musical Modernity

Musical Encounters and the Globalization of Western music/EAM

The Case of Japan

Japan and the United States: Eurocentrism versus National Music

In Search of a New Sound of Music

Changing Geopolitics, Changing Epistemes

Music for the Nation: A Second National Language? The Role of Isawa Shûji

Civilizing Citizens: Music Reform

Shikama Totsuji and The Musical Magzine (Ongaku zasshi)

Nation and Empire: Tanabe Hisao

Sonorous Bodies and Performing Civilization

Keeping (Them) Together in Time

Voice: Teaching Japanese Girls to Sing

Musical Instruments and How to Play Them

The Beginnings of Sound Technology

The World, Japan, and Sendai: Local Actors

Local Pioneers (Shikama Brothers)

Kate Hansen and the Musics of Others: Sendai’s Concert Culture

The World in Sendai



For my second 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, Sounds of Modern Times, 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.