Accepted Paper:

A form of Japanese folkloristics as a reflection of modernity  


Yukihiko Shigenobu

Paper short abstract:

I examine major historical characteristics of Japanese folkloristics focusing on three aspects of Kunio Yanagita, who is considered to have systematized the discipline: his career as an agricultural bureaucrat, his critical inquiry into modernization from everyday life and his attention to dialects.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation examines the characteristics of Japanese folkloristics from a historical perspective of Japanese modernity. Japanese folkloristics covers a wide range of fields in our everyday life. This situation sharply contrasts with that of western folkloristics, where analyses of oral expressions and aesthetic performances are the central concern.

As Japan was modernized much later than the West, everyday life was changed radically by modern technologies and systems introduced from the West. During the course of such changes there emerged conflicts between local customs on the one hand and homogenized modern systems and life style on the other.

Japanese folkloristics has since its beginning attempted to identify and interpret historical backgrounds of the conflicts and problems caused by drastic modernization. Its wide scope of fields in everyday life resulted from this very root of such problem setting.

I focus on Kunio Yanagita, who is considered to have designed and systematized folkloristics in Japan. Specifically, I discuss the following three phases of his career. In his early career Kunio Yanagita made many inspecting tours as an agricultural bureaucrat and confronted the difficult problems of everyday life in local communities that were exhausted in modernization. Then he groped for a possibility of improvement of everyday life by contemplating its historical change. The specific feature of his method was to grasp the details of the local history of everyday life through vernaculars/dialects. It also reflects his resistance to the standard language policy in the modern era of Japan.

Panel P130
Reinventing folkloristics as a study of modernity: Japanese perspectives (FSJ panel)