Recently I have read the following book. A book summary and my comments are as follows:
Book title: Rupp, Katherine. 2003. Gift-giving in Japan: Cash, Connection, Cosmologies. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
About the author:
Katherine Rupp was a lecturer in the Yale University’s Department of Anthropology in 2002. She began her study of Japanese and Japan as an undergraduate at Princeton University. She spent several years in the University of Chicago for her graduate training. She completed the manuscript for this book as a postdoctoral associate of the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University. (Source: Katherine Rupp)
The book suggests that in Japan the giving of gifts was extremely important (p.1). This book was the result of an 18 month-fieldwork in Tokyo metropolitan area and in other parts of Japan; the core of the study was 16 families. The few individuals who were targeted at for the field work were: Mrs Ueda and her family lived in Tokyo, Mr. Hoshio and his family lived in a small town called Warabi, Mr. Ishjiyama and his family lived in Warabi who opened a store. Mr. Tanabe, a retired stockbroker, and his family living in Tokyo (p.25). Mrs Inoue, whose husband was the president of a family machine tool company, lived in a large and traditional Japanese house (p.28). Mrs. Inoue kept a lot of gifts record for Rupp to do the field study.
The book stresses that the attitudes and practices of giving could vary according to factors such as region, occupation, education, class, family background, gender, religion and personality etc. (p.155). People had different feeling about giving which would influence the orientations toward giving (p.155). Rupp introduces the different idea and theory used by James Carrier (p.157), Gayle Rubin (p.159), and Carol Cavanaugh (p.160) on gift-giving. The idea and experience of Mrs. Inoue, Mr. Tanabe and others in gift-giving were also quoted in the book.
Rupp explains how Japanese practices in gifts giving and receiving were related to a larger body of European and American literature (p.179). These literatures included those by Emerson (p.179), Derrida (p.180), Marcel Mauss (p.180), Jonathan Parry (p.180), and Marilyn Strathern (182). Rupp points out that Japan was a place that challenged the stereotype that Western capitalist societies had been characterized by commodity form. Japan resisted any sharp contrasted between gifts and commodities (p.183). Rupp suggests that although the commodity system was the basis for a gift system, it was wrong to treat the relationship in giving and receiving as if they were one form of buying and selling, and criticized Ruth Benedict for holding such a viewpoint (p.185).
Rupp also points out that Befu’s model was problematic when it suggested that there were two types of giving in Japan: giri and ninjo. Rupp also points out that some scholars had viewed gift-giving in Japan through ideas of alienability and inalienability, focusing on the works by James Carrier (p.190). She points out this idea was not useful in understanding giving and receiving in Japan. She suggests it might be possible to think the relationship between gift and commodities in a more fluid and dialectical terms (p.192).
The book concludes that models founded on static or essentialist notion of Japanese sense of self, or all other models put forward by western scholars were not helpful because they explained little about the complex details and variations as witnessed in the many different forms of giving that the author had encountered during her field studies. Giving, together with the attitudes towards giving were extremely diverse; there could not be one simple model for understanding giving (p.197). The author thought that she had developed a neglected theme of Mauss’s work: the action of giving itself was an instantiation not so much of a particular person or self, but of the social relationship between giver and recipient. Gift acts situated people; it changed status, and built relationship (p.197).
Rupp was successful in proving that there could not be one simple model on giving. She showed the inadequacy and limitation of different theories put forward by scholars before her time. I think one of the difficulties for these theories is the element of time. Social practice may change over time. As evidenced in Befu’s examples, the viewpoints quoted by Rupp were expressed by the former in 1967-68 which was almost 50 years from now (p.186). Social practice or value/meaning in gift-giving as noted in those days could be totally different from that of 2002 when the book was written, and therefore had every reason to be judged as inadequate by Rupp.