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In this path breaking book, Eiko Ikegami uncovers a complex history of social life in which aesthetic images became central to Japan's cultural identities. The people of premodern Japan built on earlier aesthetic traditions in part for their own sake, but also to find space for self-expression in the increasingly rigid and tightly controlled Tokugawa political system. In so doing, they incorporated the world of the beautiful within their social life which led to new modes of civility. They explored horizontal and voluntary ways of associating while immersing themselves in aesthetic group activities. Combining sociological insights in organizations with prodigious scholarship on cultural history, this book explores such wide-ranging topics as networks of performing arts, tea ceremony and haiku, the politics of kimono aesthetics, the rise of commercial publishing, the popularization of etiquette and manners, the vogue for androgyny in kabuki performance, and the rise of tacit modes of communication.