Recently I read the following book. The details of the book and my comments are:
Book title: Vlastos, Stephen ed.1988. Mirror of modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.
The goal of the book
1. To ask what is the meaning on the fact that so much of Japanese traditions are a modern invention (p.2)
2. The book, bases on Hobsbawm’s research, goes further while noting that tradition as an invention concept is elastic (p.3). Hobsbawm gave a definition to tradition in order to differentiate true tradition and invented tradition. Invented tradition was unchanging and invariant (p.4).
3. According to the book, some criticism on Hobsbawm’s work had missed the point. The primary value of invention of tradition viewpoint was to inspire critical study, and not intended to be a theory (p.5). We needed to go into history to see how, by whom, under what circumstance certain practice and idea were formulated.
1. It was not long ago that Japan specialists ascribed Japan’s successful modernization to the unity of its pre-modern values and institutions, and assumed traditions were direct cultural legacies (p.1).
2. This book is built on the historical approach of Eric Hobsbawm in revealing the ideological and constructed nature of modern tradition (p.2).
3. Social scientists used tradition in two senses: a. tradition with a temporal frame that had not clear beginning, and b. a continuous culture transmission, which is normative, intends to reproduce patterns of culture. Yet both are ahistorical, and create binaries of pre-modern/modern/ static/changes (p.3).
4. There was a broad movement to deconstruct culture and Hobsbawm’s research shows that tradition was an invention.
5. There were three common criticism over the concept of "invention of tradition".
a. that all tradition are socially constructed and hence invented.
b. this model create dichotomy between tradition and custom.
c. the elite/popular topologizing of tradition/custom was useful only up to a point.
Focus of the book
1. The book takes note of the double meaning of “invention” which signified a meaning between imagination and contrivance, and between creation and deception. Traditions were shifting and were unstable signifiers.
2. The book discusses the relation of modern tradition to social power (p.8).
3. The book touches on but not reveal why the recent origin, shifting nature of tradition do not impair tradition’s authenticity (p.7).
4. This book touches on the development in the conceptual issues in the cultural sphere, not political sphere (p.8).
5. This book also touches on the historical theme: new tradition is important symptoms and indicator of the larger social development. The book was organized around two themes: the relationship of invented tradition to social conflicts and to the national identity (to use tradition to whole together a social in crises, and also to use invented tradition to general national identity.
6. The book touches on different area of the society practice/idea: harmony, village, folks, sports, gender, and history. Regarding the ideological formation of the invention of tradition, one interesting issued raised in the last chapter is the temporality and affect. There were two modes of temporality: nostalgic and epiphanic (a sudden understanding). Chakrabarty in the last chapter argues that romantic nationalism may not necessary led to statist (power concentration by the state) and jingoist fascism (p.15).
1. In the last chapter Chakrabarty reminds us about the importance of “smelling, tasting, and touching, of seeing and hearing, that is the sensory dimension of cultural practice as traditions (7) (suggesting the performing nature of tradition).The past was embodied through a long process of the training of sense.
2. In the 1930s and during the pacific war, only Marxism took an opposition discourse towards the state. It seems that other areas such as judo, harmony discourses etc. actively collaborated with the militarism and imperialism.
3. Still as indicated in the book, we could see examples of creative responded by ordinary people to resist the norm and values imposed by the elites and the state, for example in chapter 4 about the weak-legal conscious.
My Book Summary:
Ch.1: Tradition: Past/Present Culture and Modern Japanese History by Stephen Vlastos (p.1).
Modern Japan was widely regarded as a society with customs, values and social relations that linked the present to the past (p.1). It was not long ago that Japan specialist ascribed Japan’s successful modernization to the premodern values and institutions. Readers would be surprised to discover familiar emblems of Japanese culture turned out to be modern. For example Sumo is a 20th century creation (p.1).
Ch.2: The Invention of Japanese-Style Labor Management by Andrew Gordon (p.19)
As of the 1990s, talks about Japanese-style labor management had a varied history of about one century. One obvious conclusion of the chapter was that invented traditions of industrial relation, from the notion of a ‘beautiful custom of master-servant relation’ to the recent praise of uniquely efficient had been articulated in specific history context (p.34). Once articulated, the idea that unique ancient social tradition proved both malleable and durable. In the pre-war and war time capitalists and bureaucratic, by invoking tradition, either protected business from legal regulation or to justify such intervention. In addition to political convenience, something kept people coming back to invent tradition. The answer lied in the ambient response of so many people to the word ‘modern’ which could be associated with decay of social order which was something negative.
Ch.3. The Invention of Wa and the Transformation of the Image of Prince Shotoku in Modern Japan by Ito Kimio (p.37).
The purpose of the paper was to reconsider the changing historical meaning of the spirit of wa (harmony) and Shotoku’s image together in relation to the national integration of Japan (p.37). As developed by Hobsbawm, the ‘invention of tradition’ was closely related to the formation of modern nation-state (p.37). The question of modern nation-state had become a controversial issue recently (1998). The first modern study of Prince Shotoku appeared in 1893, interest in him increased only after 1903 at the 1,300 anniversary of the promulgation of the Seventeen-article constitution (p.42). The spirit of wa advocated in Article one of the Seventeen-article constitutions was transformed during the modern period (p.44). In the early Showa japan had nothing to be proud of except for its national polity. The notion of national polity was paralleled by an increasing emphasis of the concept of wa (p.45). In sum price Shotoku and the spirit of wa became a newly created tradition at a time of national crisis. It performed an ideological function by addressing the need for the country’s unification (p.47).
Ch. 4. Weak Legal Consciousness as Invented Tradition by Frank K. Upham (p.48)
This paper challenges the conventional wisdom that weak legal consciousness was a historical attribute of the Japanese people (p.48). The article used the Hozu village iriaiken dispute as a case study to prove the points (p.50). What was striking in the Hozu dispute was not only the repeated resort to formal litigation by both sides, but also its final resolution in the 1960s by non-legal means (p.55). Japan had a low litigation rate not because of the influence of the enduring cultural attitude based on actual historical practice, but because various political elites had reified one among many historical practice as ‘tradition’. It maintains an institution that made resorting to law was more difficult, expensive, and time consuming (p.58). For example the passage rate on the exam to enter the legal training and research institute was at or below 3 percent, limiting the number of lawyer in the society (p.61).
Ch. 5. The Japanese Village: Imagined, Real, Contested by Irwin Scheiner (p.67) (to skip)
Ch. 6. Agrarianism Without Tradition: The Radical Critique of Prewar Japanese Modernity by Stephen Vlastos (p.79) (to skip)
Ch.7. Colonizing Manchuria: The Making of an Imperial Myth by Louise Young (p.95).
Over the course of the 1930s Manchurian colonialization became a social movement, a government program, and an icon of the imperial idea (p.95). With the exception of Hokkaido mass colonialization was a departure from Japanese colonial practice. But as the program got underway, the appeal to support the Manchurian project increasingly being sought to represent as part of a long-standing historical tradition of colonizing (p.95). The reason for the elites was to save the domestic farm villages, with the emigration movement to promote the empire (p.100). One way to achieve promoting emigration was tried to minimize reports of the unmitting Chinese bandit attacks and other hardships in Manchuria. Later the state instead glorifies the danger of banditry and the corresponding heroism of the settlers in Manchuria (p.102). The inventing of a colonizing tradition in Manchuria revealed the process of myth making the late 1930s. Mass colonization represented a bold departure in the strategies of the Japanese empire building (p.109).
Ch. 8. It Takes a Village: Internationalization and Nostalgia in Postwar Japan by Jennifer Robertson (p.110) (to skip)
Ch. 9. Chiho: Yanagita Kunio's "Japan" by Hashimoto Mitsuru (p.133).
Yanagita Kunio, the renowned Japanese ethnologist, began one heart-breaking account of a rural family by saying that ‘this lives in on one’s memory but mine today’ (p.133). Feeling that the true Japan was no accessible through standard written histories, Yanagita sought it in stories about the lives of mountain people. He assumed that authentic Japanese would live in areas even more remote than Tono (p.135). Yanagita attempted to reconstruct the true Japan in the present Japan through the spirit of the jomin. Yanagita shared with modernization theory two basic notions: the geographical metaphor that the western counties were at the centre of modernity and Japan stands at the periphery, and the idea of a developmental historiography (p.143). Yanagita’ basic theme was that Japan was a unified whole. By projecting the diachronic dimension onto the synchronic metaphor of centre and periphery, he could argue that things unseen in fact lived on in the spatial margin he called chiho. This method of Yanagita’s folklore studies reconstituted the invisible as a tradition that have survived into the present. Thus jomin, found everywhere and nowhere, were the bearer of Japanese indigenous culture. The Japan that had been distorted by modernity could be restored to its real shape only through jomin.
Ch.10. Figuring the Folk: History, Poetics, and Representation by H. D. Harootunian (p. 144) (to skip)
Ch.11. The Invention of the Martial Arts: Kano Jigoro and Kodokan Judo by Inoue Shun (p.163).
Although bugei and bujutsu have long history, the Japanese martial art known as budo was a modern invention. In the Tokugawa era budo meant bushido, ‘the way of the warrior’ (p.163). To-day budo refers to Japanese martial arts such as judo, kendo. To Nakabayashi Shinji, however, this usage of budo dated from the last decade of the 19th century (p.163). This essay explored the modern invention and subsequent re-invention of the Japanese martial arts by an examination of Kodokan judo. Founded by Kano Jigoro in the late 19th century, Kokokan judo was the earliest example of the invention of budo (p.163). It became a national spot and came to symbolize Japan’s modern national identity (p.164). In the 1930s and 1940s, western-style sports were discouraged and the state vigorously promoted a nationalistic and essentialist conception of budo. Budo, it was stressed, had an ancient history and embodied wakon. The emphasis on modernity and a discontinuity with tradition, which was so central to Kano’s conception of budo, disappeared. “Modernity” came to be regarded as a characteristic of ‘imported sport’ that was undesirable (p.172). The relationship between budo and sports was reversed after Japan’s defeat in 1945. Because of its close association with Japanese militarism and ultra-nationalism, budo was prohibited by GHQ. Facing a difficult situation, interested parties made effort to ‘democratize’ budo, that is, to re-create budo as a sport. The revival of budo began around 1950. School budo was revived: judo in 1950 and kendo in 1957. In 1964 during the Tokyo Olympic Games, judo was adopted as an official Olympic sport. Judo as an invented tradition had come full circle (p.173).
Ch.12. The Invention of the Yokozuna and the Championship System, Or, Futahaguro's Revenge by Lee A. Thompson (p.174).
In 1987, the director of the sumo association, Kasugano, a former yokozuna was quoted as saying that “I have been involved with sumo for 50 years, one-fortieth of its 2,000 years history, and I have never heard of such a thing as a yokozuna running away” (174). Kasugano’s comments assumed not only the antiquity of sumo, but its continuity. He implied that the yokozuna as we knew it dated back to the supposedly ancient origins of the sport. The rank of yokozuna was thought to be a venerable tradition. On inspection it turned out to be largely modern (p.174). This essay focuses on one aspect of invented tradition in sumo that was at the heart of sumo performance today. It was the question of how supremacy was recognized. Today there were two separate yet related institutions that recognized performance in sumo. This essay traces the development of both and the relationship between them (p.175). As one commentator wrote, “the yokozuna is an illogical sort of thing, and that is what gives it the essence of a uniquely Japanese traditional performing art”. We see that the tension between the achievement-orientated championship system and the ascriptive aspect of the yokozuna made the rank inherently problematic. Yokozuna was popularly perceived as a traditional instruction. But as the article has showed, rather than the yokozuna system being older and the championship system is newer, they arose together, and, if anything, the ‘traditional’ yokozsuna system was in a large measure a product of the championship. Together, they illustrated the complex relationship between tradition and modernity (p.187).
Ch.13. At Home in the Meiji Period: Inventing Japanese Domesticity by Jordan Sand (p.191) (to skip)
Ch.14. The Cafe Waitress Serving Modern Japan / Miriam Silverberg (p.208) (to skip)
Ch.15. Constructing Shinano: The Invention of a Neo-Traditional Region by Karen Wigen (p.229) (to skip)
Ch.16. "Doubly Cruel": Marxism and the Presence of the Past in Japanese Capitalism by Andrew E. Barshay (p.243) (to skip)
Ch.17. The Invention of Edo by Carol Gluck (p.262) (to skip)
Ch.18. Afterword: Revisiting the Tradition/Modernity Binary by Dipesh Chakrabarty (p.285)
The essays collected here exceeded the intellectual charter of the problematic of ‘the invention of tradition’ as was set out by Eric Hobsbawm more than ten years ago (p.285). The more positive contribution of the ‘invention of tradition’ framework by Hobsbawm was to raise a functionalist question about why ‘tradition’ was called into being by the very demands of modernity itself: how to ‘traditionalizing’ claims function as ‘ideology’ in times of rapid social changes (p.287). Having ‘demystified’ a particular ideology, what did one put in its place – the real? There thus remained a problematic tendency to oppose ‘invented traditions’, to the historical reality these tradition were seen as trying to cover up (p.287). This volume, far more aware than the Hobsbawm-ranger volume, was on how modernity itself might be a researchable problem. Vlastos provides the lead by raising a question about the role of ‘affect’ in Japanese modernity. Taken together, these essays addressed the larger question of the relationship between capitalists and statist modernity, and different ways of framing the past in a non-European context (p.288). One of the most critical ways in which this collection furthered and enriched the framework of “the invention of traditions” was by explicitly raising the question of affect and its role in modernity. Many of the invented traditions of Japanese nationalism expressly used categories of sentiment and spoke of the ‘harmony’, ‘beauty’, and the ‘spirit’ of ‘traditional’ Japaneseness (p.294).
The book is successful in showing the reasons why, despite its origin, tradition was able to be used by the state as a means to create the impression of a unified country, and to see the process in doing that.