Interpreting Japanese Society: Anthropological Approaches

Interpreting Japanese Society: Anthropological Approaches

Interpreting Japanese Society: Anthropological Approaches

Interpreting Japanese Society: Anthropological Approaches


The value of anthropological approaches to help understand ancient and complex nations are demonstrated in this text. The contributors have studied areas of Japanese society while living and working in the country.


While the high quality of the original edition of Interpreting Japanese Society has been proven to specialist readers, this welcome new edition promises to make it accessible to the wider audience it deserves. Many original articles have been revised and updated, new ones added, and chapters reorganized around the thematic focus of space and time.

The book covers an impressive variety of topics and approaches, offering a good many conceptual slices of Japanese culture and society. Chapters address cosmology, rituals, village and new town, tradition and change, tourism, hi-tech healers, drinking parties, amusement quarters, child adoption and dance. Some authors pay more attention to Japanese modes of logical reasoning, knowing and believing, while others focus on behaviour, activities, social interaction and organization. (To a limited extent this contrast may correspond with differences between British and continental European scholarship.) Some are rigorous in text analysis; others present field-based ethnographies where one sees and hears live Japanese persons. Some chapters concentrate more on theoretical issues, and others more on empirical generalizations. By pointing up these differences I do not mean to pigeonhole any of the authors, only to show the range of relative emphases. I should stress that every chapter is theoretically guided, reflecting editor Joy Hendry’s anthropological commitment to universalism.

Diversity is one of the book’s great strengths. Not only does it appeal to heterogeneous domains and levels of audience interest, it also offers in a single volume a comprehensive spectrum of Japan as a complex society. An even greater strength lies in the way that all the chapters, variable as they are, are coherently organized around the central theme of space and time. This is the kind of textbook instructors look for when teaching graduate or upper-level undergraduate courses about Japan, or social/cultural anthropology in general. Not just a textbook, this should also serve as a research guide for specialists.

The ultimate merit of a book stems from its authors, and here we have a roster of prominent and solid scholars, well established in Japanese studies, anthropology, and related disciplines. Written largely by European authors, this collection is likely to stimulate American readers with new insights and to re-sensitize them to the epistemological problems of studying other cultures.

Finally, this volume attests to the editor’s remarkable skill, her open-minded

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