The Japan Society
Publications Books & Journals The Japan Society Review

Multicultural Japan: Palaeolithic to Postmodern

Multicultural Japan: Palaeolithic to Postmodern

Multicultural Japan: Palaeolithic to Postmodern
Edited by Donald Denoon, Mark Hudson, Gavan McCormack and Tessa Morris-Suzuki
Cambridge University Press, 2001
ISBN: 0-521-00362-8

Review by Takahiro Miyao

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.

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

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

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.

This review first appeared on the GLOCOM Platform and is reproduced with permission.