1. Chinese Anthropology in Japan: A View from Inside

Suenari Michio


The Japanese ethnological study of China began long before the establishment of anthropology towards the end of the last century. Interest in China has been important among the Japanese people in general. The origins of ethnographic documentation of China by the Japanese might be traced back to the diary of Ennin, a Buddhist monk who stayed in China during the Tang dynasty for ten years (838-847). The diary can be evaluated as a piece of good ethnography for it covers not only his observation of Buddhist temples, rituals and priests, but also geography, folk customs, and the institutional aspects of economics, administration, politics and so on. It is valuable not only because it is a rare record of that time, but also because it is a vivid sketch of the scene that he encountered. He had the eyes of an observer or sojourner rather than of a traveller. He spent more pages depicting the particular than the general. To this extent, the quality of his description is closer to that of a monograph, even though it is not a general description of one community. I think the reasons for its closeness to ethnography are the result of the similarity in his interests and situation with those of the anthropological fieldworker. He stayed long enough, he learned the local language, he had a strong curiosity about the strange, he was interested in process, rather than fixed rules, and, instead of merging into the local society like his colleague Ensai, his identity, as a Japanese, remained that of a foreigner.

A similar interest in detail might be found in the research reports on the Taiwan aborigines written by Japanese officials in the initial period of Colonisation. They were not professional bureaucrats, but were temporarily employed for the research work. Though not as vivid as Ennin's description, the reports surpass the plain collection of norms and rules about customs. Though not written in the form of a dialogue with informants, a part of the interpretation is based on discussions with them. One can find later scholars with a similar orientation. Shiratori Kurakichi (1865-1942) was a leading figure in the foundation in Japan of a new tradition of research into oriental history, using the modern historical methods which he studied abroad. Though he was not an ethnologist, he also greatly influenced Japanese ethnologists including Torii, since he was particularly interested in the minority peoples on the periphery of Han China. He also established a section for historical and geographical research in the South Manchuria Railway Company. The quality and importance of the data collected by the company has since been confirmed in re-studies such as those by Philip Huang (1985: 34-46).

We can trace the appearance of an organisation of professional anthropologists back to 1884 when the Japanese Anthropological Association was organised by Tsuboi Shogoro, a physical anthropologist. Though it was mainly a group of physical anthropologists, ethnologically oriented scholars and amateurs also contributed short essays to its journal during the first few decades. Their miscellaneous interests, or absence of interest in society were similar to those to be found in British anthropology and ethnology at the time of the foundation of their associations, in 1843 and 1863 respectively. The ethnologists were more interested in the aborigines of Taiwan than the Han in Taiwan or mainland China. Even though papers in the Tokyo Jinruigakkai Zasshi (The Bulletin of the Tokyo Anthropological Society ) in the initial period were extremely short, we may be able to take the number as representing the interests of the members. Between 1886 and 1935, twenty-five ethnological articles on the Han of mainland China appeared in the journal or 3.4% of the total, compared with 90 on the Taiwan aborigines, or 12.5% of the total.

Torii Ryuzo (1870-1963) was the first professional anthropologist and a pioneer who surveyed almost the whole region of East Asia, even though his wide interests and research style did not produce a direct successor. He made field surveys covering Japan, the Kuril Islands, the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, Southwest China, Northeast China, Mongolia, Siberia, and Korea. After his brief survey on the Liaodong peninsular (five months, 1895), his early fieldwork was conducted in Taiwan (twenty-two months, in 1896, 1897, 1898 and 1900). Being trained as a general anthropologist, his interests ranged over physical anthropology, linguistics and archaeology. He was less concerned with social organisation, even though some of his descriptions of the sinicised aborigines on the east coast are pertinent to an understanding of migrations and the relations between ethnic groups. His survey trip to Yunnan (seven months in 1902 and 1903) shows the same tendency, except that the use of historical material in Chinese begins to have more weight. In later work on Northern and North Eastern China, he concentrated more on archaeological research using historical documents. By producing a general ethnographic record, his contribution to anthropology may lie more in his role as a pioneer in the survey of East Asia, presenting a broad view and lines of future advancement for research. Some of his bold insights were shown to be true in the later development of an East Asian archaeology. Also impressive are his clear and interesting photographs (1,859 in all) which have been preserved on dry plates and recently published.

North China was also an area that attracted Japanese anthropologists when the Japanese Society of Ethnology was established in 1934. Some ethnographies of minority groups started to be written based on fieldwork by Japanese scholars. The expansion of the area of interest followed the expansion of Japanese power. Though the two seem to be closely related, it would not be true to conclude that anthropologists were mobilised by colonial policy and served it directly in the invasion of China. Most research was planned and conducted on the initiative of scholars, even though they might be belong to colonial research institutes or were funded by the government. Of course we should not forget that the colonial situation hindered the establishment of equal relationships between the researcher and informants. But most of the research results were so academic as to be "useless" for practical direct administrative and military use. The situation was similar in Taiwan. As Mabuchi mentioned, the voices of anthropologists were weak and often neglected by the colonial government in Taiwan. Professor Utsushikawa, an anthropologist with field experience, stated his opinions on building a modern community in a mountain area, paying much attention to the environment and opposing government policy to move the aborigines' villages closer to the plains. His ideas were criticised as "desk-work comment ignorant of the scene" (Iwaki, 1935: 324-329). This tradition of a lack of enthusiasm towards government policy-making has continued to make the field of applied anthropology unpopular in Japan.

The development of the study of minority groups in Taiwan and in North China was halted by the Second World War, and the establishment of the Communist government prevented fieldwork in mainland China until the 1980s. This was critical in that it made it impossible to conduct orthodox social anthropological research in most of China. The weakness of Japanese research into China, however, was not simply a result of this ban, as Taiwan and Hong Kong were still open. I think the main reason was that Japanese anthropologists were more interested in small-scale societies, given that ethnology had been the major interest before the end of the World War II. It was only later that research into the cultural and social anthropology of more complex societies began to be more prominent. It is only recently therefore that the study of Chinese society has become one of the major streams within Japanese anthropology. Even until a decade ago, it occupied only a minor position, even though interest in China has been historically important among the Japanese in general.

Next let us consider the main developments in studies of minority groups and the Han Chinese in each region.

The Study of Minority Groups


The anthropological study of the Taiwanese aborigines was initiated by Torii's research in 1886, the year following the colonisation of the island by the Japanese. His monograph (1902) was the first to be written by a professional anthropologist in Japan. The description focuses more on physical than on social data. Rather more interesting ethnological data are to be found in some of his travel sketches and in his photographic documents. His interpreter, Mori Ushinosuke (1917) compiled a general description of Atayal. A historian, Ino (1904), using mainly documentary sources, described how the aborigines had had contacts with the foreign powers and other inhabitants of the island since pre-Dutch times.

The Japanese colonial government carried out extensive research on the natural environments, customs, social organisation, and oral traditions of seven ethnic groups of Taiwan aborigines. They were published in two series of eight volumes each by the Taiwan Sotokufu (colonial government) from 1913-1921 and 1915-1922. Even though this research was not conducted by professional anthropologists or other social scientists, their detailed description covers a wide area with few distortions created by a ready-made theoretical framework, so that even today we can treat some of their material as reliable data. This is in contrast with another series of eight volumes compiled by Okamatsu (1918-1921), a famous jurist of customary law at that time and the organiser of the research project. He arranged these materials and based his interpretations on the evolutionism popular at that time. The outdated content now attracts few anthropologists, while the other two series are full of descriptions of customs that not even the aborigines can now remember. The colonial government also published some reports containing detailed statistical information on each village (Taiwan Sotokufu, 1936-39). Teikoku Gaukushiin ( 1941) is a glossary of local concepts concerning customs compiled by Mabuchi Toichi. Based on his experiences among all the aboriginal groups in Taiwan, its quality can be compared with that of the survey of Indonesia compiled in Leiden. Some essays were written by those who were not anthropologists but who visited the villages of aborigines to record their customs (Koizumi Tetsu, 1932; Kawamura Tadao, 1939). Of these Ando Kiichirou (1930) is the most unique, depicting the contrast of cultural configurations between a dispersed village of the Atayal and a compact village of the Bunun.

The academic study of Taiwan by professional anthropologists was given a firmer foundation in 1928 when a department of anthropology was founded at the Imperial University of Taipei. The work by Utsushikawa, Miyamoto, and Mabuchi (1935) is an ambitious attempt to reconstruct ethnohistory based on data which were collected by three professional anthropologists visiting most of the villages of all of the nine groups. Besides the reconstruction of genealogies and the history of migration, the analysis is full of social anthropological insights. Though carried out as a piece of extensive survey research, the relations between anthropologists and informants were close enough to allow the collection of good-quality data. For example, I remember that Professor Mabuchi could remember all the names of the older villagers on the spot when he revisited my research village after thirty years absence.

Mabuchi Toichi was a leading figure whose works linked the study of Taiwanese aborigines with the stream of modern western anthropology. He explicitly stressed the importance of maternal kin and affines in patrilineal societies (1938). When the analysis of non-unilineal descent was developed in the 1950's, he understood its importance and used it to interpret Taiwanese data (1960). Furuno Kiyoto (1945) is a description and analysis based on a short field study which focused on religion and ritual among aborigines. He was much influenced by Durkheimian sociology and his discussion is well balanced. Okada Yuzuru (1942) is a sociological ethnography based on a field survey.

After the end of the Second World War, Mabuchi Toichi edited a special issue to review the study of the aborigines of Taiwan (Japanese Journal of Ethnology , vol.18, 1954) and he continued to write papers based on his previous field materials from a structuralist perspective (Mabuchi, 1966, 1970).

The anthropologists in the next generation began fieldwork from the middle of the 1960's. The results were Kurata (1970), Suenari (1970, and chapter 13 of this book), Matsuzawa (1976), Yamaji (1980, 1990), Kasahara (1980), and Mabuchi Satoru (1982). So far, two monographs based on longer fieldwork have been published (Suenari, 1983c, Shimizu, 1992). The topics have mostly been classical: kinship, villages, age grades, the life cycle and religion. Although some studies have dealt with the processes of change, greater attention will have to be paid to these, using historical documents, if we want to analyse successfully the aboriginal experience of radical change, moving from small-scale subsistence to post-industrial society in a single century.

In summary, detailed records of the customs of these minorities were accumulated mainly by non-professional researchers. After the establishment of a department of ethnology at Taihoku University in 1928, the methods and themes became more sophisticated and some of the papers started to reach an international level. After an empty two decades following the end of World War II, one can see an increasing number of studies by the following generation. But they do not seem to have taken full advantage of the past to become involved with interesting current issues in the discipline. One of the major reasons might be that most of them were written in Japanese, and this has restricted Taiwanese aboriginal studies to a smaller audience and a narrower range of interests.

North China

The customs of the Tungus tribes were investigated by Kondo Juzo as early as at the beginning of the 19th century. He made a field survey along the Amur River (1924 [1804]). Torii carried out nine surveys in Manchuria (the present northeastern region of China) between 1895 and 1935. His wife Torii Kimiko lived with her husband in Inner Mongolia as a teacher. Her record of travel gives more ethnographic description than the work of her husband who was more interested in archaeology at that time.

Akiba Takashi (1936a, 1936b) is a concise but accurate description of the social structure and shamanism among the Orochon based on his fieldwork. An academic expedition to the Great Xing-an Mountains produced a few pioneering anthropological works by the leader Imanishi Kinji (1947) and by Imanishi together with Ban Yutaka (1948). This work is to be noted for its unique analysis based on their field data of the ecosystem of the Orochon. (The second part was not completed due to the death in the war of the main author, Ban.) The study of Akamatsu Chijo and Izumi Seiichi (1938) is the only monograph on Hodgen written by Japanese anthropologists based on their fieldwork. Even if the accumulation of ethnologically valuable records had started, the War deprived researchers of the possibility of fieldwork and ended this development. It is only since the late 1980's that some field surveys have become possible again. Hatanaka Sachiko and Harayama Akira (1990) is a collection of ten short papers, including a description of the daily life of the Man royal family. Sasaki Shiro (1990) discusses the ethnicity of the minorities during the Qing period based on documents. Konagaya (1991) focuses on the relationships between people and domestic animals in the spring season. Since this area is restricted for foreigners, Chinese anthropologists have many more advantages in their access to it. A few graduate students from China are engaged in fieldwork there.

South China

Kawaguchi Ekai (1904) wrote a kind of ethnography based on his experiences during his travels and stay in Tibet in 1901-02. It contains a vivid and detailed description of the customs and institutions of Tibet at that time. Torii (1926) is a record of a journey of a journey to Yunnan (January 1902 to March 1903). On this trip he also made more reference to documentary history.

Some scholars, for example Makino, Shiratori Yoshio, and Matsumoto Nobuhiro have reconstructed ethnic histories, including those of the neighbouring area, based on documentary sources. Makino (1950) compared social institutions among the rice cultivating peoples in Southeast and East Asia and noted the absence of clan exogamy among the indigenous peoples in South China.

The possibility of fieldwork has gradually opened up since 1979, when a group of Japanese ethnologists visited Southwest China. Many of the studies of Southwest China are strongly coloured by the search for the roots of Japanese culture. Obayashi Taryo (1977) has long since noted that the area south of the Yangtze river is one of the major areas from which the southern elements of Japanese culture came. Some scholars (Nakao Sasuke, Sasaki Komei) have put forward a theory called shouyoujurin bunkaron which relates the conspicuous cultural similarities between Southwest China and Japan to similarities in ecological conditions. It is based on the fact that in these areas there exists similar vegetation, laurisilvea forests or shouyou jurin . However, the causal relationships are not clearly spelled out, whether cultural similarities are due to the similar natural environment, or to cultural diffusion through historical processes. Sasaki Komei (1984) is the result of a group survey by the National Museum of Ethnology, including botanists and an ethnomusicologist.

Ethnicity has become more popular theme, which reflects the shift in interest towards the cultures of individual ethnic group at present. Kurihara (1989), Yokoyama (1992), Hasegawa (1993), Tsukada (1994), and Zeng (chapter 15 of this book) all discuss ethnic identity in a situation of rapid change. Some papers such as Tezuka (1990) or Yokoyama (chapter 11 of this book) are more sociologically oriented.

The Study of the Han Chinese


In the initial period of the colonisation of Taiwan (1895-1945), the Taiwan Sotokufu assigned to jurists and historians the organisation of a special committee for research into the customary law of Taiwan. Judging from the published results, the research seems to have been conducted on the initiative of these academic figures, even though the object of the research was to benefit colonial policy. The research was so successful that the result became a basic resource for Japanese colonial policy on the mainland.

Taiwan Sotokufu (1910) was compiled as part of this research. It cites many cases from original documents. It indicates the high academic standards of historians of Japan and Taiwan and is of such historical value that anthropologists interested in historical change can also greatly benefit from it.

During the colonial period there were much fewer anthropological studies conducted on the Han Chinese than on the aborigines. Taiwan Sotokofu (1919) is a compact report full of information on the traditional religion of the Han Taiwanese. Ino (1928) compiled a general history of Taiwan. Kataoka (1921), with a good command of the vernacular, compiled a collection of descriptions of customs. Masuda (1939) and Suzuki Seiichiro (1934) collected information on Taiwanese religious customs. Ikeda (1944) was a constant visitor to a old section of Taipei and described the folklore and customs of the Fujian inhabitants. Okada (1937) carried out a sociological survey and his concept of the "religious sphere" was developed by Taiwanese anthropologists after the end of the Second World War. None of these authors were professional anthropologists. At that time Japanese anthropologists were oriented towards the study of the "primitive", though a physical anthropologist, Kanazeki, left some good essays on the Han Chinese. Kokubu Naoichi carried out archaeological excavations and some studies of the ancestral rituals of the sinicised aborigines on the west coast of the island (1968, 1981). Some Japanese and Taiwanese scholars and intellectuals tried to preserve Taiwanese customs and traditions against the assimilation policy instigated by the Japanese government in the 1940s. They published Minzoku Taiwan (Taiwanese Folklore). Kanazeki Takeo was a leading figure and Ikeda did the editing. Their mild opposition toward the policy, however, provoked discontent from more radical Taiwanese, as is found in their criticism of the nature of the editing of the Journal.

After the end of the Second World War, it was only from the late 1970s that Japanese anthropologists began to carry out research on Taiwan once more. Some were published based on short periods of research such as Kani (1970) on fishing on a small island off the coast of Taiwan, and Matsuzono (1973) on a lineage trust in Taipei. Wang's study (1967) of a fishing village in Taiwan was the only study based on long term fieldwork.

Ishida (1979, 1985) is a collection of his sociological surveys of the Han Chinese in Taiwanese villages, and of village shrines. His perspective is in line with traditional theory that sees community solidarity as focused on the village shrine. Suenari (1977, 1978) discusses the ancestral cult and lineage land which made up over a third of the total cultivated land in a village of Fujian immigrants in central Taiwan. This goes against the popular view that Taiwan lacks strong immigrant social organisation. Uematsu (1980) and Watanabe (1982) were analyses of rituals based on their field study among the Hakka villagers. In the 1980s the younger generation of Japanese anthropologists began to carry out more substantial fieldwork (say, a period of more than one year, using the local dialect in addition to pu-tong-hua , or standard Chinese). Horie (1988) writes on fictive kin and affines in contrast to the patrilineal lineage. Ueno (1988) describes relations between villages taking part in a joint festival. Mio (1988) describes the religious sphere and the absence of village borders. Religion and ritual are also topics of major interests for the younger scholars Takahashi (1990), and Asano (1990).

North China

The work of the Chugoku Noson Kanko Chosakankokai (Chinese Rural Customs Survey Research Group, 1952-58) has also been a good source of vivid data for anthropological studies in Japan, even though no anthropologists participated in the research. The data were detailed and of good quality, enabling the reader to cross check some of them. The field experience enabled participants to write papers that are also familiar to anthropologists, even if they wrote from within their own disciplines. The influential leader, Suehiro Gentaro, a jurist, stressed that the objective of the field research was to discover the grass roots customs of the peasants, rather than prepare basic materials for administration. Another reason for its success in producing results which are also useful for anthropological research might have been that the methods of jurists share some similarity with those of anthropologists, e.g. in the holistic coverage and the interplay of case material with generalisation.

Naoe (1967) is a collection of folklore data he collected during his stay in Beijing in the 1940s. Nakao Katsumi (1989) is a restudy of one of the villages that the Chugoku Noson Kanko Chosakai investigated. Sasaki Mamoru (1993) attempts to construct a theory of social structure and change based mainly on his five years of joint field research in northern China (1990, 1991).

Nie (1992) is a monograph based on seven months of fieldwork. Her description of the process by which party policy has permeated the village and lineage down to the level of family and individuals is especially vivid. She deals with local concepts such as the "closeness" of relationships of which the native anthropologist is likely to be particularly aware.

Central China

Even though there was very little anthropological research in Central China, some studies deal with various topics worth further study. Hayashi (1953) is a sociological monograph of a village in Zhejiang based on his field survey carried out over six visits between 1939 and 1943. Fukutake (1946) also made a field survey in the area and stressed the weakness of lineage and village solidarity in Jiangsu Province. He concluded that group solidarity is more conspicuous in lineage and hamlets in Northern China, citing mainly data from the rural customs survey discussed above. Ueda (1986) presents an interesting model of how individualistic Chinese group together in response to outside power such as the state. Nishizawa's study (chapter three of this book) raises some issues concerning internal migration.

Fukuda (1992) is the result of joint research by folklore groups in Japan and China. Compensating for the disadvantage of short stay research by visiting the same villages three times every year, they have succeeded in collecting not only information on folklore, but also some sociologically interesting data, as is shown by Oguma's work (chapter 8 in this book).

Han (1993) is a monograph on a village dominated by a single lineage in Anhui Province. Using rich data, she delineates the process of change caused mainly by outside political and economic influences. Even though in general she argues for the continuity of the traditional culture, she notes important changes in the position of women, the Christianisation of some of the villagers, and the revitalisation of the lineage and affinal networks (see chapter 5 in this book).

South China

Few Japanese anthropologists have conducted field research in, or published on, this area. This seems strange, considering that this area seems to be more open to foreign researchers since the start of the open door policy than central or northern areas. Nakada (1989) discusses lineages, and Suenari (1992), and Segawa (chapter 12 in this book) present data collected during short visits.

Tanaka (1993), a historian, discusses the antecedents of the Han Chinese theatre based on his field data from Central and Southern China supplemented by data from minority groups in Southwest China. The quality of the field data and the full command of documentary materials would be a good starting point for future anthropologists wanting to use this work as a basis for their own research based on participant observation and longer-term fieldwork.

Hong Kong

The work of Kani (1970) is on the Tan on the coast of Hong Kong. Though it does not contain anthropological case studies, it does describe the process of change and adaptation to modern world. Naoe and Kubo (1987) is a collection of papers on religion and ritual among overseas Chinese in southeast Asia. Tanaka (1981, 1985, 1989) analyses the origin and development of Chinese folk opera. Though written by a historian, these studies are in line with anthropological work in that they are based on field data, including the author's observations, and they consider many other factors such as lineage, dialect groups and markets. Segawa (1991b) is the first Japanese anthropological monograph of this area, based on orthodox fieldwork. It is unique in studying smaller lineages in the New Territories within a historical perspective. Segawa (1993) has also discussed ethnicity among the the Hakka, based mainly on his own fieldwork. Yoshihara (chapter 7 of this volume) has studied surname associations among the Hong Kong and overseas Chinese.

Overseas Chinese

The anthropological study of the overseas Chinese is also a new development in Japan. Kawasaki (1984, chapter 10 of this volume) analyzes an overseas Chinese village in Malaysia and traces its relations with the homeland in Chao-zhou (Kawasaki 1991). Zeng (1987) describes the Bon ritual held by overseas Chinese in Japan and points out clear differences from the original. Kubo (1983) is a group report on religion among the Taiwanese in the Ryukyu Islands. Oguma (1989) discusses changes in identity among the same people. Yoshihara (1991) investigates the associations of overseas Chinese in Hong Kong in relation to their native place on the mainland. The issue of the relations between the overseas Chinese and their homeland is systematically discussed in a symposium organised by Kani (1992).

Study groups and trends among younger researchers

While Japanese anthropologists began to conduct fieldwork in many areas since the 1960s, even a field survey in China was almost impossible until the open door policy was implemented for foreign researchers in the early 1980s. Chuugoku Tairiku Kobunka Kenkyuukai (Group for the Study of the Ancient Culture of Mainland China) was organised in the early 1960s. The first volume of its journal contains papers by major figures: Shiratori Yoshio (1965) on the ethnohistory of South China, Obayashi Taryo (1965) on cultural history, Kimishima (1965) on folk tales of minority groups, Ogawa Hiroshi (1965) on the leader of minority group of rebels on the border between Vietnam and China, and Takemura Takuji (1965) on the Yao. The research group functioned until the early 1980s.

It was only in the 1980's that more anthropologists of the younger generation began to be involved in Chinese studies in Japan. In the early 1980s some young anthropologists wrote papers based on library work and studies in other fields. An important development was the formation of a study group "Sen'nin no kai" (lit. "Society of Mountain Hermits"), a group of younger scholars and students interested in China, at whose monthly gatherings a research report is followed by free discussion. Appendix 1 is the list of topics of these reports which reflects well the range and direction of the interests of the younger scholars in Japan. It is important that these meetings are attended not only by anthropologists but also by many scholars from related disciplines. Even though the main interest is sociological and ethnological, history and archaeology are also popular and various related areas such as folklore, linguistics, geography, etc. are also covered. In addition the area discussed is not limited to China, but includes neighbouring regions and their relations with China. Many of these reports have led to later publications. As an area of interest, Southwestern China is the most popular followed by Taiwan and Hong Kong, despite the fact that it was, and still is, difficult to carry out long-term fieldwork in the People's Republic. The group's strong interest in comparative studies has meant that papers have also dealt with other countries such as India or Korea. The group is an inter-college organisation, with the secretary changing every year. This is reflected in the range of places in which workshops have been held. In order of frequency they are: the University of Tokyo, Tokyo Metropolitan University, Sophia University, Musashi University, University of the Sacred Heart, Hosei University, Keio University, Tokyo University of Foreign Languages, and Nippon University.

Table 1.1. Subjects of reports to Sen'nin no kai , 1981-93

Social Anthropology 48
Ethnology           34
Folklore            2
History             6
Archaeology         7
Linguistics         2
Geography           2
Others              3
Total               104

Table 1.2. Areas discussed in reports to Sen'nin no kai , 1981-1993

China General           23
North China             9
Central China           2
Southern China          4
Southeastern China      2
Southwestern China      28
Hong Kong               5
Taiwan                  10
Japan                   4
Thailand                4
Southeast Asia          4
East Asia               1
Others                  8
Total                   104

Besides Sen'nin no kai, two other study groups have been active in Chinese studies: Chugoku Minwa no Kai (Chinese Folklore Research Group), started by Iikura Shohei, in the department of Chinese literature at Tokyo Metropolitan University; and Tsukuba Daigaku Hikaku Minzoku Kenkyukai (Tsukuba University Comparative Folklore Study Group) organised by Sano Kenji of the Department of History and Anthropology at Tsukuba University. The former publishes a Newsletter and the latter publishes a journal, Comparative Folklore Studies .

More temporary study groups have also been organised. To mention some examples, for three years (1987-1990) a workshop was organised on the Han Chinese and their neighbours by Takemura Takuji and the results were published as Han Chinese and Their Neighbours: Essays in the Comparative Study of Ethnic Identity , by the National Museum of Ethnology at Osaka. Workshops on Hong Kong and on the Overseas Chinese were organised by Kani Hiroaki at the Center for Area Studies of Keio University. The published results are Hong Kong oyobi Honkon mondai no kenkyu [Studies of Hong Kong and the problem of Hong Kong], Tokyo: Toho Shoten, 1991. This present volume is also the first publication to result from the workshop on "Cultural Dynamics between the Han-Chinese and the surrounding Minority Groups" (Kan minzoku to shuuhen shousuu minzoku no bunka no sesshoku to henyou ) organised by Mio Yuko at the Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.


Are there distinctive features of Japanese anthropology which distinguish it from research and writing elsewhere?

1. First there is the persisting interest in facts and detailed description which I mentioned at the start of the paper, and this might be one of the major reasons why British social anthropology has long been so popular in Japan.

2. Second, though there has also been a long tradition of interest in "grand theory" among Japanese intellectuals, there are differences in emphasis when compared with the West. Even though most of the theoretical frameworks which have become popular in the West over the years have been sooner or later taken up in Japan as well, some have been less popular than others. An interesting case is that of Marxism. Even though many social scientists in Japan have long been interested in Marx, anthropologists have been generally less so. An interesting example is the writing of Ishida Eiichiro who played a leading role in founding an American-style department of cultural anthropology in the University of Tokyo after the end of the Second World War. He sympathised with Marxism during his university student days but later became critical of its doctrinaire attitude. Even when Marxism once more became popular in Europe and North America after 1968, it still had relatively little impact in Japanese anthropology, compared with, for instance, French structuralism and modern cultural theory. During this period, many of the Japanese anthropologists concerned with China remained more involved with empirical than grand theoretical issues.

3. Compared with other foreign scholars of China, many of the Japanese anthropologists have been less interested in lineages, in spite of the influence of what might be called the "Freedman model", and more interested in other types of social relationships. This may be because many of the young researchers chose to do their fieldwork where the strength of lineages was relatively weak. This resulted in a stress on the importance of affinal ties (Ueno, 1987a), fictive kin (Horie, 1988) or loosely structured business groups (Numazaki, 1987, 1989). Wang (1985, 1987 and this volume) suggests that the Chinese family might be more aptly viewed as a network of relationships rather than a corporate group with a fixed boundary. Segawa (1986) points out that the lineages of a smaller scale also have corporate features, even though they lack common property. Suenari discusses the importance of the distinction between the family altar and the ancestral hall as analytical concepts, while the customary usage of the word "ancestral hall" as a wide blanket category tends to blur the distinction.

4. Many Japanese anthropologists have focused on the issue of local and regional solidarity. This debate can be traced back to heated discussions of typical "Asian communities" among Weberian and the Marxist historians and other social scientists in Japan. A popular viewpoint was that there existed widely in Asia a type of community distinguished by strong social solidarity supported by a communal religious centre. Some criticism arose of this model because of its absence in communities such as those in northern China described in the Mantetsu data (i.e. the data collected by the South Manchuria Railway) or in central China, as exemplified by Fukutake (1946).

5. Related to this issue is the discussion of the effectiveness of the concept of the religious sphere as an analytical tool. This concept, which refers to the regional significance of groups of people who cooperate in holding a central religious festival, was originally used by Okada (1937) and re-evaluated by Taiwanese anthropologists. Segawa (1987), Kikuchi (1991) and Suenari (1991) have commented on ways in which the concept may be used most effectively. The examples discussed by Choi (1988) and Ueno (1992) also show the importance of religious activities in transcending village boundaries.

6. Ethnic identity and the sinicisation of neighbouring minorities has been a popular theme in Japan, particularly in Chinese studies. Many studies have been carried out of the relations between minority groups and the Han Chinese, and here "sinicisation" may be the most important theme. Shimizu (1989, 1991, and chapter 14 of this volume) discusses the influence of the Chinese on ancestor worship among the Kvalan, a sinicised group in Taiwan and has found that among the Kvalan personal and bilateral kinship structures are more important than among the Puyuma who have ambilineal descent groups as well as bilateral kindreds (Suenari, 1970, and in this volume). Yokoyama (1992, and in chapter 11 of this volume) considers the impact of relations with the Han on both Bai religion and kinship. Segawa (1992, and chapter 12 in this volume) deals with ethnic boundaries based on fragile and delicate criteria. This case is interesting not only for throwing light on the nature of ethnic identity among minorities, but also on the identity of the Han groups, including in this case the Hakka. His paper also raises the possibility of finding non-Han elements in Han Chinese culture.

7. At present Japan has many graduate students from other East Asian regions such as mainland China, Taiwan and Korea. One can recognise a tendency for them to choose the society of their own for research, even though the frequency is not so high as it is in the United States. There are both strengths and problems with "anthropology at home" and these have been discussed by Suenari (1992b). Some cultural elements are so close as to allow the observer a direct understanding, which may be an advantage as long as there really is a similarity between the cultures of the observer and the observed, but it may prevent us from seeing important differences, or misunderstanding them, if there is only a superficial similarity, and one must be cautious of this danger. Only by making an effort to understand similarities and differences at a deeper level will one prevent such unconscious mistakes.

The issue of the strengths and weaknesses of home anthropology is particularly important in the study of East Asian societies which share many cultural elements, mostly as an outcome of the influence of Chinese civilisation. The very presence of differences of emphasis among scholars from different backgrounds may itself lead to some interesting results. For example, Chinese anthropologists seem to show a keener interest in macro-level political processes, on a wider scale, while Japanese scholars seem to show more interest in describing concrete facts than developing grand theory. There are as yet few Korean anthropologists working in Chinese societies, but it will be very interesting to see in future how they observe and describe these societies, given the background of their own cultural tradition.

8. As for studies comparing different East Asian societies, Nakane (1973) was the first systematic attempt to do this from an anthropological perspective. Comparisons based on field data have also been made by Suenari (1989) between China and Korea and by Segawa (1991a) between China and Vietnam. Vietnam would be an interesting test case for many hypotheses about social institutions in East Asia, for it shares many different features of its cultural and social organisation with China, Korea and Japan.

My view in this paper is that the study of China in Japanese anthropology has some unique features. This is partly because Japanese researchers have sometimes been rather passive, making little attempt to communicate with scholars in the outside world. There has been little incentive, given the cozy environment provided by a large readership within Japan. However, a more positive feature of Japanese research is its attention to detail. This is linked to other advantages which Japanese scholars have had in relation to China, such as geographical closeness, familiarity with the culture over a long period, and the accumulation of work on China by Japanese historians and scholars in related fields of study.


In writing this essay, I have been greatly indebted to the following reviews: Mabuchi (1953), Takemura (1966, 1986), Kani (1986), Sasaki Shiro (1990, 1994), Kurihara (1991), Nishizawa (1994) and Konagaya (1994). The comments from Zeng Shicai and Yokoyama Hiroko on an earlier draft were also helpful.

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Updated 4 June 2020