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Conference Paper

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Ethiopia in Broader Perspective: Papers of the 13th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies


The idea of a comparison between pre-1935 Ethiopia with Japan before and during the Meiji Restoration arouses contradictory reactions among students of Ethiopia. Some find the idea indefensible, others judge it quite reasonable and instructive. Those who reject the parallel do so by emphasizing the social gap which separated Japan and Ethiopia, while those who welcome the idea base their arguments on historical similarities and on the identity of objectives of their respective modernizing circles. Thus, among the first group, Shiferaw Bekele contests the seriousness of a parallel between Japan and Ethiopia, arguing that the Ethiopian leaders had only a superficial knowledge of Japan and its modernization: "I see it written that Japan served as a 'model.' This word is not helpful because it gives the wrong impression. The knowledge that the so-called Japanizers had about Japan's westernization was at best elementary. ... That westernization meant total overhaul of state and society including its mores and values, eating habits, dress and lifestyles was not at all realized. Most thought in terms of superficial changes." Bahru Zewde too, while admitting some analogies, is of t he opinion that the social and technological gap between the two countries was so unbridgeable that the model of Japan "remained a subjective urge unsupported by the objective reality."

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Kyoto, Japan