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III. EXCERPTS FROM LETTERS TO PROFESSIONAL COLLEAGUES AT OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY

Prologue

The letters to follow were written to colleagues at OSU who were interested in Japanese social sciences, modernization and culture change. They asked me to record my observations on these subjects since so little literature on them was available at the time. The letters themselves read now as rather na´ve and superficial since I had no access in Japan to the evolving critiques of Japanese modernization; these were just beginning to appear in the late 1940s. Such issues as the rapidity of Japanese industrialization and social democratization are not dealt with in these letters since it took another decade or so for interpretations of these matters to evolve.

Also missing is a description about the connections that the Japanese social scientists had already made with Western social theory and how that had influenced research and analyses being conducted at the time of the Occupation: for example polar typology as a theory in sociology--which obviously was derived from a study by the Japanese of German romantic sociology.

A. A Critique of Japanese Social Science

10 August 1949

Spent last night and the night before in the hotel. Last night was my weekly meeting with Kamio Odaka [sociology professor at Tokyo University], who is getting conversation practice in social science English with me for his trip to the States this fall. It was very interesting last night, getting me started again on my favorite topic: the nature of Japanese social science. One thing that emerged clearly last night was the confusion between the scientific and technological levels. By this I mean the persistent tendency of Japanese social scientists to regard social science or at least sociology as serving public welfare, as having its justification in social welfare, and reacting against theory.

The majority of Japanese social science is theory on the German and French model: but paradoxically the sociologists and anthropologists that I have talked to complain about this because they have decided that their discourse should become more empirical--based more on the American model. Inquiring further one finds that social science in Japan is characteristically classified in with philosophy in the universities, and that it is badly under-represented on all scientific councils and organizations. Then you begin to see that what is going on is an attempt to get sociology more recognition, and the way to do this is to press the issue of serving public welfare. The social pressures on sociology here have served to reduce the clarity of their conceptual thinking--Odaka perfectly understood my point about not being able to make a definition of social science fit a definition of social welfare, because of the changing conceptions of social welfare, and how science and welfare should be distinguished on the scientific problem-technology basis. Yet he felt that such a distinction was inimical to the best interests of sociology in Japan because of the character of the academic battle sociology has to fight now.

Along other lines there is a tendency to reduce all arguments to sets of polar types. Thus, Odaka, in an on the whole very sophisticated theoretical book, works out polar types of sociology like theoretical practical, empirical-rationalistic, etc., using them interchangeably and vaguely. It was a revelation when I pointed out that there really weren't any types here, but a set of different kinds of observations about a science taken from a variety of viewpoints, e.g., methodological, problematic, topical, organizational, academic, etc., etc. And that a variety of combinations was possible. Thus you cannot oppose theoretical and practical, because you can find problems, which yield both types of analysis.

Or he opposes "socially relevant" sociology to "theoretical." I showed him that you could have a problem, which seemed purely theoretical now which five years later would be socially relevant. Or he equates "socially relevant" with "empirical," and I showed him that you can have all four possibilities. These people, when they try to do sharp conceptual thinking, fall back into sterile categories, no matter how bright they may be. I think that it may be more than just psychological tradition, but something definitely related to Japanese psychological behavior. The same tendencies have been noticeable in Professor Muramatsu. He is a good psychiatrist and social psychologist, and on the therapeutic level an innovator (he has introduced group therapy to Japan, for example), yet it is hard work to get him to verbalize his ideas, to organize his thinking. If you point things out to him, he gets them, but it takes a lot of work. He is apparently representative. These people simply have no way of extraverting the problems inherent in their work--they cannot seem to divest themselves of the implicit categories of Japanese thought. One constantly find them making statements which make sense to the Japanese, but which are complete blanks to anyone else.

B. A Visit with Dr. Yangida, the Grand Old Man, or the Boas of Japanese Anthropology

24 March 1950

A memorandum, addressed to a colleague.

The visit with the grand old man was everything that implies. He is really more than a Boas--he is also the great ideologist of the conservative movement in Japan--a kind of folk-soul-interpreter role, since his life work has been in language, folklore, religion, and historical anthropology. He is conservative to the core--a courtly old guy who wears Japanese style clothes only, and sits in the center of his enormous library-study, with his students and followers working at tables quietly, and with you, as his guests, sitting in chairs around a couple of hibachi (braziers), trying to keep warm. (Most Japanese, by the way, have bluish-purple hands, from the lack of heat in the houses). We had a nice chat, with Herb Passin interpreting, about the differences between American and Japanese anthropology, with some of the same things coming out again that I wrote about in my last letter or so. Japanese anthropology is based upon an intimate examination of the details of life and ideas in the Japanese people--there is, for example, relatively little work done on the Ainu, although more has been done on tribals in the Pacific. But the main current has been Japanese--about at the same level of extreme factual reporting as the great American and British ethnologies of the late 19th century. Same general problems - history, empirical analysis of form, etc. The old man said quite frankly that the major difficulty in Japanese anthropology (as it is in all Japanese social science) is a lack of detachment--a failure to get outside the culture, and ask the question, "why is it worthwhile to study this?" It is interesting to hear him say this, because it is so obvious to the outside, and to him, it is kind of a mature reflection, a conclusion formed by looking past across the years (he is 79, but you'd never know it). I feel that Kurt Wolff would find this place a great living problem in the sociology of knowledge, because the very soul and structure of Japanese social science is conditioned so intimately by the culture that it would defy adequate translation. Of course, there have been some objective currents-- one would hardly expect it to remain totally insulated. But on the whole it is Japanese. It is in a sense an eighty-year musing or preoccupation with the detail of Japan and its people, in the course of which most of the problems which developed in European and American historical anthropology came up, but which were treated in exclusively Japanese terms. American cultural anthropology is a revelation to these people, because it has such a sense of detachment--makes a fetish of it, of course. The Benedict book, which is now translated, is the perennial topic of conversation--the Japanese are bowled over by it, not because it is necessarily good, but because it can get outside Japanese culture and see it so nakedly. Two thirds of the conversation with Yanagida was devoted to the book. His criticisms of it were sharp, and we agreed with them all, but what was interesting was the tremendous respect with which he approached it--not because it was by an American, but because it was possible for anyone to be that critically objective about the culture. He didn't even object to the fact that Benedict had never been in Japan. His appraisal of the book is like our own--it is searching and brilliant, and is by far the best thing on Japan, but it is a kind of ideal picture that may have exited in the early 19th century, and at that in the upper classes.

The old man reminded me again and again of Boas in his outlooks and interests--even to the last detail of saying that now at the end of his life he realized that the masses of material collected had little interpretive value, and he felt the need of psychology to understand them. The same realization came to Boas in his latter years. His career is also remarkably similar--volumes on linguistic texts, volumes on folklore, volumes on detailed ethnology, volumes of minor criticisms of theory. The only thing that he missed was physical anthropology, which of course Boas did great work in.

Note: This letter neglected to describe the existence of a large volume of ethnological research of Asian Pacific peoples produced under the aegis of the Japanese military to be published in later years. The letter also neglects to describe the influence of the PO&SR division on academic anthropology and sociology: in particular the appearance in the Japanese ethnological journals of review essays citing the progress of theoretical anthropology in the West--particularly the U.S. That is the modernization of Japanese anthropology following the long dry period of the military regime was rapidly coming to a close.

C. Further Observations on Japanese Culture and Social Science

April 1949

Spring means much, much more to people here than it does at home, for the simple reason that probably one house in 3000 has any heating worth a damn, and that includes all the Japanese office buildings, too. The only places with decent central heating are the homes taken over by Americans, which were either homes of wealthy Japanese who had installed it, or in which heating has since been installed. The Passins' house has a central system which doesn't work very well, but actually the house keeps wonderfully warm with a special, large Japanese space heater (electric) in each room. But the halls are chilly, and really cold in the winter--which means that you live from room to room, keeping the doors closed. Fortunately winters are relatively light. It has been about as chilly this Spring so far as it was all winter, and the Japanese can hardly wait. This is why so much fuss is made over the cherry blossoms--it really means the warm weather is on the way. The whole town goes nuts over the blossoms--the whole country, I should say. It is a period of festivals, special theater performances, parades, outings, etc.

The most characteristic scene in a Japanese home is several people clustered around the hibachi, their hands hanging over the edge, or propped on the brass tongs. In stores, while a clerk is waiting on you, he or she will have one hand over a small hibachi standing on the counter. While you eat, squatting, one hand, alternately, will be over the hibachi at your sides. The general notion of having a portable charcoal heating plant to move around with you is fine, except the damn things don't heat anything except your hands. In the hotels and better houses they have very large ones which do manage to throw quite a warmth. (The things are made of pottery or metal, and are filled with a special fine ash, then a nest of glowing charcoal is put in the center near the top. Bigger ones have grates, for cooking tea. There are really a whole series of them for all sorts of purposes, and some hibachi can be four feet across, the smallest being about seven inches across.

An ethnographic note on the shoehorn: As you know, Japanese take off their shoes in the entrance to a house, and put on slippers provided by the house owner. It is done everywhere, and one soon gets used to it. The Passins don't do it, but apparently most of the other Americans with these houses have adopted the custom. Well, if you do enough of this, you soon find the need for a portable shoehorn, and of course the Japanese have them, little ones, to fasten to a key chain or something! The Japanese also have been using these very long shoehorns that are a recent novelty at home, for years--they are for putting on your shoes standing up in the vestibule (genkan), so you don't have to sit on the stoop.


2 April 1949

At the dinner was the Japanese Education Minister, a nice guy, and an old graduate of Columbia. He is having his hands full right now with the cockeyed reforms in education insisted on by the Americans. The Japanese had a very fine and extensive junior college system, which the Americans have turned into a second rate series of universities--full four year terms. The result is that Japan now has 400 "universities", and the real universities, all excellent, are floundering around not knowing where they stand. (today, by the way, Herb drove me through the campus of Toyko Imperial, the greatest Japanese University. The buildings are of all things, yellow brick in college gothic, very much like the University of Washington. It is an undistinguished campus, could be in any country, is very large, and has a note of nightmare about it since the gothic is just a shade curious and wild, giving you a faint feeling that you are dreaming about an American campus. It is also curiously neat and formal--more so than an American campus)

In reading over the above it strikes me that I have been damn casual about having dinner with a cabinet minister - it is for Japan as if I were to remark that I had dinner with the Secretary of Agriculture, or something. You get used to the high level of your operations here. Aside from social life, you get used to the fact that your research associates represent the top intellectual stratum in Japan. Yes, we have 'em right in our office. If they aren't, their mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters are. The other night Herb and I helped Kunjo Odaka, a Japanese sociologist, work up a paper for publication in an American journal. The guy is really the least known member of a distinguished family - his brother is the top conductor in Japan - a local Stokowski, his sister a leading novelist, another brother the leading philosopher.

Odaka also illustrates once more some of my remarks and comments on the curious insularity of Japanese sociology and social science. He is a very smart person, who has specialized in the pre-capitalist character of much of Japanese technology, and is well read in the Western tradition of social science. Yet he is completely obtuse when it comes to writing about Japanese society and putting it into categories with general significance. For example, in the article he was writing, which was a study of one of these curious technological groups, an iron smeltery in the mountains, the fact that every single occupation in the hierarchy of occupations was hereditary, was a point which he simply took for granted and buried in the article. Herb and I showed him how, to Western sociologists, this would be an extremely vital and important fact, and shifted the whole article around to feature this and three other points about the general non-capitalist, "feudal", folk-like character of this community of iron workers. All these points to him were so implicit a part of the general mindset in Japanese society that even though he was writing an article on them, he couldn't drag them out objectively. He knew them, but they didn't seem outstanding to him. In a sense this is what is wrong with all Japanese social science--it just isn't critically comparative. It turns out meticulous ethnography, but very little comparative analysis.

D. Japanese Culture and Western Culture

Have been doing thinking about the curious cultural world of modern Japan--coming to no conclusions but reaffirming for myself once again the lack of real knowledge about this country and the superficiality of the stuff that has come out in the US by anthropologists. What most of them have forgotten is that in the sheer physical circumstances of urban life here you have something which is very close to Germany--perhaps closer to Germany than the US, but certainly similar to both. For example, every Japanese child in city and town and to some extent in rural, grows up with a full conciousness of machines--cars , airplanes, trains, etc. He rides on at least cars and trains, his picture books are full of the things, he memorizes makes just as our kids do. He also grows up with an interest in baseball and knows national baseball heros and their records. He gets glasses as a matter of course if he needs them. He drinks beer at the local bar. He knows probably more about how to fix an automobile than the average American kid because cars are ancient and in bad shape, and need constant repair. He goes to movies constantly, since Japan and the US are the only two nations with a domestic motion picture industry capable of supplying their own motion picture theaters 100%. He sees detective films, musicals, historical films, documentaries, and comedies. He listens to the radio regularly, and has his choice of two networks, with different levels of intellectual appeal, or he can listen to the American radio programs for the Occupation. He walks by the house tonight, whistling "Stardust". He scorns his sister for gullibly accepting the ads for rival beauty preparations. He read sports magazines and popular science magazines, and laughs at his sister for devouring movie mags. He is a better artist than his American equal, and is more familiar with microscopes, tools, and music.

Yet all of the above is set in something totally different from America---again more like Germany. It is set in a nation where 60% of the people--including many like the boy above---live in thatched houses and wear feudal era costumes and spend their day knee deep in shit-fertilized rice paddies (and listen to Beethoven and the latest news on the radio at night). It is set in a nation where some three million families make their living in tiny, one-room shops selling everything from parasols to fish. It is set in a nation where most of the industry and public facilities are government owned or controlled and have to be because of the small size and limited resources of the nation as a whole. In other words Japan is the only Eastern nation which equals the Western world in mass dissemination of popular culture plus industrial development. You can't get away from this. Yet half the nation lives like natives in Indonesia of the Phillippines, but the difference is they are all well educated "natives." This means that the urban intellectual in Japan lives in a world which is much more sharply contrasted to the average person's world than the intellectual's world in the West--yet not as sharply different than is the case in China or India. The Japanese urban intelligentsia is westernized in ideas, but he shares many of these with the ordinary Suzuki san, and is equally familiar with him as with baseball, movies, and cameras. A nation like this has trouble existing in the Far East right now, because resources and standards of living are so low. Exports are difficult because money to pay for them is lacking, and what Japan needs is dollars, not sterling or other currencies of the East. The future is uncertain--shall Japan industrialize or rather continue as an industrialized nation, which means more food imports and competition in a world market, or shall she retrench, lower her already low standard of living, and concentrate on small shops and agriculture?

[Epilogue 2001: The cosmopolitan culture continued; the industry and money to support it accumulated; but the cultural doubts and the instability of the institutions persist. As this is written, the economy looks shaky, and the future and more is uncertain.]