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Home > Books & Journals > Book Review Last Updated: 14:22 03/09/2007
Book Review #29: May 28, 2002

"Multicultural Japan"

edited by Denoon, Hudson, McCormack and Morris-Suzuki

Reviewed by Takahiro Miyao (GLOCOM)

Title: Multicultural Japan: Palaeolithic to Postmodern
Editors: Donald Denoon, Mark Hudson, Gavan McCormack and Tessa Morris-Suzuki
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Date/Time: 2001
Pages: English text 302 pages (Paperback)
ISBN: 0-521-00362-8 paperback


What is Japan? Is Japanese culture unique? How is Japan different from the West or from the rest of Asia? When we ask these questions, we implicitly assume that there is more or less a monolithic and homogeneous "Japan" in the first place. This book provides a clear view that Japan has been and is a multiethnic and multicultural nation, and the concept of Japan's uniqueness and monoculturalism is a relatively recent artefact.

Interestingly, this is the case not only with the Japanese nation as a whole, but also with its important ingredients such as the "ie" (family) institution. In Chapter 12, Ueno Chizuko maintains that this institution is not a unique historical survival from the feudal era, but rather the invention of the Meiji government. She argues that "the ie institution was made to fit the model of the modern nation state, which itself was modelled on the family structure."

Given this, we can easily understand why the ie institution was so easily denied by the public after the war and the concept of "katei" (home) was adopted to refer to the nuclear family that has been a standard concept in postwar Japan, as pointed out by Nishikawa Yuko in Chapter 13. As people tend to confine themselves into their own "heya" (rooms) within "katei" these days, the question is: How can they come out of their rooms to interact with each other for their well-being as well as for their society as a whole?

In the concluding chapter, Mark Hudson and Tessa Morris-Suzuki admit that "in a complex world where communications media, cultural flows and human lives increasingly extend across national boundaries, debates over diversity and national identity show no signs of abating." Then, our task is no longer to prove the obvious fact that Japan is multiethnic and mutlicultural, but rather to show how to deal with various problems associated with mutliethnicity and mutliculturarism in Japan.

The following is the description of this book on the publisher's website:

This book challenges the conventional view of Japanese society as monocultural and homogenous. Unique for its historical breadth and interdisciplinary orientation, Multicultural Japan ranges from prehistory to the present, arguing that cultural diversity has always existed in Japan. A timely and provocative discussion of identity politics regarding the question of ‘Japaneseness' the book traces the origins of the Japanese, examining Japan's indigenous people and the politics of archaeology, using the latter to link Japan's ancient history with contemporary debates on identity. Also examined are Japan's historical connections with Europe and East and Southeast Asia, ideology, family, culture and past and present.

Chapter Contents
Part I. Archaeology and Identity
1The Japanese as an Asia-Pacific population Katayama Kazumichi
2North Kyushu creole: a language-contact model for the origins of Japanese John C. Maher
3Beyond ethnicity and emergence in Japanese archaeology Simon Kaner
4Archaeology and Japanese identity Clare Fawcett
Part II. Centre and Periphery
5A descent into the past: the frontier in the construction of Japanese history Tessa Morris-Suzuki
6The place of Okinawa in Japanese historical identity Richard Pearson
7Ainu Moshir and Yaponesia: Ainu and Okinawan identities in contemporary Japan Hanazaki Kohei
Part III. Contact with the Outside
8Some reflections on identity formation in East Asia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Derek Massarella
9Siam and Japan in pre-modern times: a note on mutual images Ishii Yoneo
10Indonesia under the ‘Greater East Asia co-prosperity sphere' Goto Ken'ichi
11Japanese army internment policies for enemy civilians during the Asia-Pacific war Utsumi Aiko
Part IV. The Japanese Family
12Modern patriarchy and the formation of the Japanese nation state Ueno Chizuko
13The modern Japanese family system: a unique or universal? Nishikawa Yuko; Part V. Culture and Ideology
14Emperor, race and commoners Amino Yoshihiko
15Two interpretations of Japanese culture Nishikawa Nagao
16Kokusaika: impediments in Japan's deep structure Gavan McCormack
Afterword: diversity and identity in the twenty-first century Mark Hudson and Tessa Morris-Suzuki
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