Re-Inventing Japan: Time, Space, Nation

Re-Inventing Japan: Time, Space, Nation

Re-Inventing Japan: Time, Space, Nation

Re-Inventing Japan: Time, Space, Nation

Synopsis

An intellectual tour de force, Re-Inventing Japan is a major effort to rethink the contours of Japanese history, culture, and nationally.

Excerpt

Samuel Johnson defined a nation as "people distinguished from other people" (quoted in Fried 1975, 9). His definition is a particularly pleasing one because it exposes the enormous questions concealed inside this self-assertive little word. How do we distinguish between people? Where do we draw the lines? What gives us the confidence not simply to sum up 124 million "Japanese," 80 million "Germans," 1.1 billion "Chinese," or 250 million "Americans" in a single word, but actually to turn these words into actors in the stories we tell: The Japanese are group conscious; the Germans are worried about Russian nationalism; the Chinese mistrust the Japanese; the Americans disapprove of the Chinese attitude to human rights, and so on.

These questions have nagged at me over twenty years of researching and teaching about Japan. In order to say anything at all it is necessary to generalize. So we use conceptual categories which will never be able to capture the fluid, iridescent stuff of reality in all its complexity. But the categories that we commonly use to study a phenomenon like "Japan"--nation, national culture, Japanese society, Japanese people- beg so many questions that they deserve closer scrutiny than they have received so far. Of course, the dividing lines between national, ethnic, and other identity groups have become the subjects of intense debate in the past few years; so much so that I can almost hear the sighs of readers or of casual browsers in bookshops--"Not another book on national identity!" But in the midst of this debate, key terms such as 64 culture," "ethnicity," and 66 identity" are often tossed around with such abandon that they themselves have become obstacles rather than aids to better understanding.

This book, then, is not an attempt to sketch a new model of Japanese culture or to say something novel about the origins and makeup of the Japanese race (jinshu) or ethnic group (minzoku). Instead, it is an at-

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