Nighttime and Sleep in Asia and the West: Exploring the Dark Side of Life

Nighttime and Sleep in Asia and the West: Exploring the Dark Side of Life

Nighttime and Sleep in Asia and the West: Exploring the Dark Side of Life

Nighttime and Sleep in Asia and the West: Exploring the Dark Side of Life

Synopsis

Drawing together case studies from Asia and Europe, the reader can see the differences in cultural importance given to the night, and how the challenges and opportunities of modernity have been played out in the East and the West.

Excerpt

Sleep and night-time have attracted very little attention if any until now in traditional ethnographic field studies and monographs and in the studies of social and cultural anthropology.

This is quite astonishing when compared, for instance, with the great interest such studies have displayed in other basic aspects of human life, e.g. eating and drinking. If one takes the questionnaires of the Atlas der deutschen Volkskunde (Atlas of German folklore) beginning in 1929 as an example, of the 200 items in this questionnaire about one-tenth are concerned with what we today call ethnological food research. Questions 85 to 87 enquire about the hours that meals are eaten on workdays and on Sundays, the names for these meals, what they are made up of in winter and in summer, and what drinks are consumed with them. Many other questions follow, but not one concerns, for instance, the time one goes to sleep, where one sleeps or where the bed (rooms) is (are) located within the house.

Even with the vast material brought together by this study, the First International Symposium for Ethnological Food Research at Lund in 1970 condemned the lack of methodological studies and welcomed the proposal of the organisational committee of the 1970 European Folklore Atlas in Helsinki to include twenty-four questions on food culture and nutrition in its programme. This project was not realised for several reasons, but food research has in subsequent decades produced a great number of top rank studies from different points of view in Europe and also East Asia, especially Japan.

The contrary holds true for studies on sleep and activities of the night. Most ethnographic monographs ignore this time of day (night). This might be because European scholars tend to ascribe their own European experience (and education) that assigns sleep to the night, to the cultures studied, or maybe they are too exhausted by their daytime research activities to stay awake during the night or too shy to ask the necessary questions. Only very few exceptions come to mind, and without exception they concern descriptions of sexual life, such as the monograph on the Tobriand by Bronislaw Malinowski or that on Japan by Friedrich S. Krauss.

Japan seems to me-and perhaps I am biased here because of my many years of concentration on Japan-to have a culture where research in the fields of

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