This panel examines the historical characteristics of Japanese folkloristics and its future directions in the light of contemporary research findings.
This panel consists of two parts: (1) an examination of some major historical characteristics of Japanese folkloristics; (2) a presentation of some of the current research findings as illustrations of the wide range of topics being studied by contemporary scholars. Historically speaking, Japanese folkloristics developed as a non-academic discipline outside Japan's university circles in which modern Western knowledge was eagerly learned. This history is best represented by Kunio Yanagita (1875-1962), founder of Japanese folkloristics, who had abandoned his career as an elite bureaucrat specializing in agricultural policies in order to investigate everyday practices among ordinary people. While traveling around throughout the country, Yanagita encountered many instances of conflict between the government-led progress toward modernization and actual local customs. He eventually produced a voluminous series of auto-ethnographies of Japan in which the life of local people was recorded in all its aspects as "history from below." Japanese folkloristics is therefore a product of modernity. Its scope of research is broader than that of its Western counterparts centered on the study of oral literature and performance. Many new methods and theories have since been proposed to cope with the dramatic changes in everyday life brought about by Japan's further modernization and globalization. The research findings to be presented focus on the following: the reciprocity-oriented fieldwork of Kenichi Tanigawa, an anti-establishment folklorist; elderly care within a small community in Okinawa; business practices in small neighborhood shops; and the display of folklore at the National Museum of Japanese History.