I accepted the invitation of professors Harumi Befu and Sylvie Guichard-Anguis to prepare an essay for this volume on "Japan outside Japan" and - without asking myself too many questions, I confess - proposed a communication centered on the Japanese in France. 1 For things are essentially simple: the Japanese living in France are, by definition, outside Japan, unless they are gifted with ubiquity.
Before any detailed analysis of this population, as an epistemological preamble, I would like to settle for a while on the link between the perspective of the Japanese in France (but they could as well live in Thailand, Brazil, or Turkey; in Los Angeles, London, or Düsseldorf …) and the perspective of Japan outside Japan. To this aim, I will start with the following question: are we talking in both cases of the same Japan? In fact, the ontological status conferred to the geographical and social entity known as "Japan" as well as to its members changes according to the perspective chosen. Let us study them briefly.
What is the perspective of the Japanese in France? Generally speaking, a researcher who studies a migrant population amid a global society is interested in the processes of negotiating and interacting established between the two parties, a sociological, economic, psychological process ending - or not - with the assimilation or integration of one by the other. To this end, the researcher will of course observe and list the cultural (norms and values) and social (family, village, and so on) resources that the mother society transmits to the migrating population. But the model frame for this research will most of the time be the host society: on the cognitive level, it constitutes what could be defined, as by Geertz (1988), as the "here" of the researcher - who belongs, as a citizen or scholar, to the global society, be it French, American, or other. The classic use of notions such as the ethnic group or minority shows clearly that the immigrants embody an "elsewhere" and are studied according to the norms of the host society. Hence, the Japanese are conceived so to speak in a restricted way: the researcher does not want to contribute to a global definition of nipponity but to understand the precise way in which the Japanese settle in the host society. There is thus schematically an opposition between the "here" of the researcher and the "elsewhere" embodied by Japan