Usage of ‘dou’ (道) in Japan.

Filed under: — Thomas Ekholm @ 8:26 am

I have been thinking about the usage of “dou” (道) within japanese arts and sports. Since Meiji-period is not one of my strong points, you might know why they use it. It all started when I was looking into bushido and found out that bushido was not used until early edo period and that it was most probably used to de-militarize the samurai. Today, many “traditional” (no clear definition) sports and arts use “the way of” (dou) in their names but as far as I have found this is something that was created during Meiji-period or after.

Words like Kendo, Judo, Aikido are made during Meiji period or thereafter. From what I have understood the Korean martial arts taekwondo, hapkido (spelling might be wrong) use the “way” as well but this is derived from the japanese usage/fashion. The chinese do not use the word 道 in their names of martial arts.

Other than the martial arts the cultural arts have recieved the “way” in their names, chadou (way of tea), kadou (way of flower), shodou (way of writing) etc.

From what I have read, the usage of dou started when the japanese wanted to counter the influence from west in Meiji-period and infuse/perserve their own traditions and values. As far as I can see only Bushido and Shinto use “way” before the meiji-period. Is it from this that they started to use “way” or is its origin to be found elsewhere. I have never heard “sumoudou” (way of sumo), have any of you? If not, why did not sumo change into the same “fashion” as all other arts and sports? Do any of you know any other “dou” which have been created before meiji-period?

Social Management

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:45 am

Sheldon Garon’s delightful book Molding Japanese Minds outlines how the Japanese state has entered the everyday life of its citizens. He focuses on what he calls “social management” (xiv) and notes that many Americans would be “astounded” by the degree of this state activity. However, Garon is very careful, even in his epilogue, not to come out too strongly either for or against such involvement. Many of the more harmless and innocuous involvements contribute, as education and public health do, in a minor way to the betterment of the community.

I think it is certainly fair to say that there is far less state involvement in daily life in the US, especially when it comes to the kinds of examples that Garon takes for the Japanese case. I also admit being astounded at various experiences I had during different stays in Japan when, for example, local police vehicles drove around the neighborhood and blasted recordings suggesting that parents make sure their children go straight home after school, or 17:00 songs or community loudspeakers proclaiming that it is now time to go home and have dinner.

However, I was reminded of Garon’s book when I found myself staring at the “Small Step #11″ advertisement on a bathroom wall today. It suggested that I could make a small step towards healthier living by not eating meals larger in size than a box, portrayed on the advertisement, about the size of my fist. When I looked to see who sponsored this advertisement (thinking perhaps some fast food chain was hinting that they had a meal just the right size for me), I was surprised to see that this was paid for by none other than the United States Department of Health & Human Services.

I think this is at least one recent example of “social management” by the state here in the US. Pay a visit to the Smallstep.gov where they offer the full list of “small steps” we can take to getting healthy, or register at this government site for access to their “activity tracker” (their privacy statement is here, in which they promise not to tell anyone about your “activities” unless some law or statute, like the Patriot act, forces them to). There is a press release about this program here and the program also appears to be connected to Healthierus.gov. The arguments for the program suggest that it is essentially a response to disease, in this case that of obesity in the US.


Early Modern Numeracy

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:33 pm

Reading Hanley’s Everyday Things in Premodern Japan: The Hidden Legacy of Material Culture with my class (which is quite interestingly divided on the success of its argument, but we’re just getting started), I was struck by my own lack of knowledge about Tokugawa era numeracy. We’ve got a pretty good handle on literacy, by class and period, but not its mathematical equivalent.

It comes up in her second chapter, on living space: the minka [commoner house] architecture which spread in the late 17th-early 18th century “required a considerable amount of calculation” (30), which presumably was available (otherwise the houses couldn’t have been built). I’ve always assumed that numeracy was pretty widespread among the urban population — merchants and artisans and anyone else involved in substantial business dealings — and that even farmers need pretty strong math skills to keep track of productivity, inputs and markets. I have also read things which suggest relatively low rates of numeracy among samurai — considering arithmetic something done by “lowly merchants” — but that is counterintuitive: household budgeting based on an annual stipend must have required some fiscal planning.

Perhaps part of my problem is that I don’t have a good idea of how a non-numerate person would function, in a modern or early modern environment. Once markets and money are involved, basic numeracy seems to be a sine qua non for daily life function. It is true that there are still plenty of non-market actors in the early, even mid-Tokugawa, so there should be some numeracy shifts to track.

But it’s going to be harder than literacy, because it can leave fewer traces. Is anyone working on this question? Rough ideas welcome.


First or Last Name

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:27 am

In her introduction to the excellent book The Weak Body of a Useless Woman: Matsuo Taseko and the Meiji Restoration Anne Walthall notes that the Japanese historian Ichimura Minato always referred to Matsuo Taseko only by her first name “Taseko.” Walthall notes that this is following “an almost universal custom” in which “Jane Austin was sometimes Jane, but John Milton was never John.” (she is quoting from Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwomen in the Attic).

Walthall resolves in this book to call not only Taseko, but also Japanese male figures by their first names. “I am certain it will jar the sensibilities of many readers knowledgable [sic] about Japan. I do so deliberately, for practical reasons in that many of the men I discuss shared a common surname, and for political reasons in the name of equality.” (15)

I found this a very interesting little passage, and interesting as a practice for historians. I guess some people would indeed find it a bit jarring. Imagine if Najita Tetsuo always referred to his supreme master of political compromise as simply “Kei,” Marius Jansen refered to the famous revolutionary only as “Ryôma,” and Dower referred to his stubborn realist “One Man” only by his first name “Shigeru.” Part of the reason for this, especially in the Japanese case, is that it is so at odds with how contemporaries not very intimate with the figures would address them. Walthall, however, would probably argue that this is part of the point. We are simply replicating and perpetuating these practices in our scholarship.

Another solution, however, would simply be to always refer to female figures by their last name. However, as she mentions, this runs into the problem that the female connection to a last name is a “contingent” connection which in many cases (especially after this was dictated by law in the Meiji period) changes with marriage (thus Taseko is a Takemura before she became a Matsuo).

I am totally sympathetic to Walthall’s “political reasons” but confess it is the first time I took notice of the fact that we sometimes see female historical or literary figures referred to only by their first name in genres of books which usually refer to people by their last name. I don’t have any numbers on this, but I wonder how common this habit, of referring to women by their first names, is in the field of Japanese history, and then the field of history as a whole?


Comment Moderation

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:54 am

Hello everyone. Just a quick note to say that comment moderation has been turned on so your comments won’t appear immediately. They will get posted after being approved by an administrator due to the flood of comment spam that the blogging world is currently getting (despite the numerous plug-ins installed to prevent it).

Stumbling to Glory

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:55 am

When an antiquated and undemocratic regime falls quickly, those who follow it often do so with little firm idea what they want or how they will achieve it. Slogans — “progress,” “prosperity,” “catching up with the rest of the world,” “freedom” — and a sense that there are places in the world where life is better — though those societies threaten the sovereignty of a nation in flux, while they inspire its inchoate leadership — are all the plan that really exists. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to suggest that there are many plans, for there are many individuals, each with a distinct (and sometimes small) constituency, who wish to speak to and for the nation. The old regime collapsed quickly but not entirely cleanly (some loyalists will fight on for months; anti-reform insurgencies and assassinations will continue sporadically for a decade), and there are social and legal and cultural obstacles to development, including clan leaders, hereditary classes, and a complete lack of traditions of democracy , civil discourse or universal rights.

Sound familiar? It should: Japan, 1868. From these unlikely beginnings arose one of the most powerful and important nations of the 20th century.

One of the great challenges of the historian is to remember, and recapture, the lack of inevitability of events. One of my favorite books, because it really was the first one in which I felt that uncertainty reconstructed and revealed, is Michio Umegaki’s After the Restoration: The Beginning of Japan’s Modern State. One of my great regrets about my undergraduate career is that I did not realize my interest in pursuing history seriously until it was too late for me to take any courses with Prof. Umegaki; we’ve never met, though our paths have certainly crossed. Umegaki describes the beginnings of the Meiji (1868-1912) state as a series of shifting coalitions, informal working arrangements, rapidly shifting ideas and priorities, policies promulgated by working groups which surprised half the leadership, and generally uncertain steps towards viable governance.

This contrasts sharply with the more conventional backwards looking view of the early Meiji state, which takes in the immensely successful first decade or so and sees in it all the necessary components of development: comprehensive social, legal, administrative, military and economic reforms, which were only shallowly applied at first but which were nonetheless the template for Japan’s seemingly meteoric rise to regional power status.

That the Meiji reforms were successful is largely incontrovertible (though we argue about long-term side effects and who should get credit). But that success was not always carefully planned, was rarely coordinated or forseeable. In fact, there are quite a few missteps, and shifts in policy along the way, as well as reforms that succeed in spite of, rather than because of, central (and centralizing) reforms.

There were foreigners, even some Japanese, who doubted Japan’s ability to manage its own affairs: Japan was subject to the odious “unequal treaty” system until the 20th century, for example. There were domestic and international observers who found Japan’s new leaders cliquish, unrepresentative, unrealistic, ineffective, disunified, oligarchic, and otherwise objectionable. But in spite of their missteps, and in spite of their uncertainties, they did succeed.

[Crossposted at Cliopatria]

Historiographical Triangulation

This could be good, or it could be awful. Or it might be a good first draft, but the effort certainly seems worth noting (emphasis added):

A middle school history textbook jointly written by scholars, teachers and historians of China, Japan and South Korea will be published in May, according to the Asahi Shimbun on Saturday.

The committee has been engaged in compiling the work since 2002 with the aim of establishing a jointly recognized interpretation of history among the three nations and prepare solutions for conflict over the past rather than engage in criticism.

“It is the first time the three countries have worked together on an account of history. It is not an exclusive description of history from a nationalist point of view, but a description for future coexistence that views history with an open mind and respects the opinion of each nation,” the committee said.

About 200 people, including teachers, scholars and civic group members, from China, South Korea and Japan participated in the work, holding a series of domestic and international conferences on the subject.

The textbook will deal with the 18th-20th century, when the Northeast Asian regions witnessed many ups and downs, including the rise of Japanese imperialism and World War II.

In its modern history of the three nations, the textbook details Japan’s colonial rule and resistance against it. The textbook will also present pieces by several scholars of the three nations, providing students with the chance to look into the opinions of each.

Because this project arose out of “an East Asia peace forum on history in Nanjing, China” I suspect more earnestness than precision. Because this is a journalistic description, I won’t take the apparent emphasis on Japanese colonialism to be the only focus of the book, though the existence of widely variant nationalistic narratives of the late 19th-early 20th century certainly justifies both the attempt to write this history as a committee and the need to provide the one-perspective essays which seem to me to dramatically complicate the reading for middle-schoolers.

Actually, I could imagine all kinds of ways in which collaborative history could result in heavily distorted narratives: an anti-communist narrative, for example (drawing on Taiwanese rather than mainland Chinese scholars), or a Marxist interpretation (perhaps less likely with South Korean participation: I don’t know whether South Korean academia shares Japan’s tendency towards oddly doctrinaire scholarship, but there are certainly leftists who could have been part of the process). It doesn’t sound like that’s what they’ve produced, though I would be very interested to see how they handled non-Asian involvement in Northeast Asian affairs.

I can’t tell if there’s an English-language version planned. Anyone want to sponsor a translation, or join a group translation project?

[Via HNN; Crossposted at Cliopatria]

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