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The Invention of “Folk Crafts”: Yanagi Sōetsu and Mingei

Folk Crafts and Folklore Studies

Debate between Yanagita Kunio and Yanagi Sōetsu at the Japan Folk Crafts Museum1
Folk art et folk studies : débat entre Yanagita Kunio et Yanagi Sōetsu, à la Maison des arts populaires
Yanagita Kunio and Yanagi Sōetsu
Translated by Damien Kunik and Jean-Michel Butel

Abstracts

Discussion between Yanagi Sōetsu and Yanagita Kunio on their own discipline and methods, at the Japan Folk Crafts Museum (1940).

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Editor’s note

Original relevasse: Kunio Yanagita, Sōetsu Yanagi, « Folk art et folk studies », Cipango [En ligne], 16 | 2009, mis en ligne le 18 décembre 2011, DOI: 10.4000/cipango.355.

Full text

Introducing the debate by Damien Kunik

  • 1 Translation of “Mingei to minzokugaku no mondai” 民藝と民俗の問題 (The Issue of Folk Crafts and Folklore S (...)

1Between 1938 and 1940 Yanagi Sōetsu, along with several members of the Japan Folk Crafts Association, made three trips to Okinawa to study the local craft industry. Exasperated by the assimilation policy of the local Japanese authorities, he took up the defence of Okinawa’s regional heritage and local idiosyncrasies. The heated debate over the preservation of Okinawa’s dialects, which were being undermined by the promotion of standard Japanese, made the front pages on several occasions during this period.

2Having become a kind of “specialist on Okinawa”, Yanagi was approached by NHK in early 1940 to take part in a radio debate with another scholar interested in the Ryūkyū issue, Yanagita Kunio.

3Despite this being their first meeting, Yanagi and Yanagita already knew of each other through their publications. However, on this occasion it was not so much Okinawa that interested them as the distinctions between the approaches of their respective movements. The Okinawan debate was thus essentially put to one side in favour of a discussion on the nature of their methods. The present article is a translation of this particular section of the discussion.

  • 2 Regretting the limited circulation of the journal Crafts (Kōgei 工藝) run by Yanagi, Shikiba and Yosh (...)

4While Yanagi and Yanagita require no introduction, we would like to present the third participant in the debate, Shikiba Ryūzaburō 式場隆三郎 (1898- 1965), whose importance in the Folk Crafts Movement during the 1930s and 1940s is highly underestimated. A doctor and psychiatrist by profession, Shikiba was also a prolific writer and avid painting enthusiast. A translator and critic of the Marquis de Sade, author of several books on sex education for young girls and patron of the “Japanese Van Gogh”, Yamashita Kiyoshi 山下清 (1922- 1971), Shikiba left his mark on the Folk Crafts Movement with his complex personality. Along with Yoshida Shōya he jointly edited the Folk Crafts Monthly (Gekkan Mingei 月刊民藝), the so-called “machine gun”2 of the movement, from 1939 onwards. His political activism, which was instrumental in promoting the Folk Crafts ideology to the Konoe administration during this period, was discreetly forgotten post-1945. After the war, Shikiba founded the publishing companies Tokyo Times and Romance, the latter printing titles of a sensational nature. However, his omnipresence within the Folk Crafts Movement prior to the end of the war explains his appearance at this debate, which at first glance does not seem to concern him.

  • 3 All footnotes are the original French translators’ own.

5We have chosen to translate this discussion in the hope that readers will discover largely unknown aspects of the Folk Crafts Movement, such as its desire to define the discipline and affirm its identity, or its mercantile preoccupations, for example. By doing so we hope to provide an alternative to the consensual discourse regarding Yanagi’s movement, which qualifies it as a decorative arts movement with an ethereal philosophy. As readers will see, this is far removed from the day-to-day activities of the movement, which was more concerned with the success of its exhibitions and the distribution of its goods.3

What is “folklore studies”?

Moderator: Shikiba Ryūzaburō.

Attended by Higa Shunchō from Okinawa Prefecture.

Shikiba: Allow me to introduce today’s debate. The Folk Crafts Movement currently led by the Japan Folk Crafts Museum [Mingeikan 民藝館] and Professor Yanagita Kunio’s folklore studies are often confused. We thought it was important, therefore, to bring Mr Yanagita and Mr Yanagi face to face in order to clearly establish the differences between their approaches. In fact, this might prove beneficial to both disciplines.

  • 4 Here, no doubt due to his ignorance of the terms in use at that time, Yanagi employs an obsolete te (...)

Yanagi: I would like to know when the study of indigenous customs4 took off as a discipline.

  • 5 Esunorojī エスノロジー, from the English word ethnology.

Yanagita: It actually predates the appearance of psychology and can be compared to ethnology,5 I believe.

Yanagi: Is it still the focus of attention in England and the United States?

  • 6 Minzoku 民族.

Yanagita: Little interest is shown in the study of national customs in those countries. Instead, emphasis is generally placed on the study of ethnic groups.6

Shikiba: Professor Yanagita, what would be the correct term for what you do? The study of indigenous customs [dozokugaku]? Or perhaps folk customs [minzokugaku 民俗学]?

  • 7 In other words, undeveloped peoples, which in Yanagita’s eyes could not possibly include the Japane (...)
  • 8 As Yanagita explains, the Japanese word for folklore studies is problematic as its pronunciation is (...)

Yanagita: We consider the term “the study of indigenous customs” to be highly problematic, as in some ways it calls to mind the term aboriginal.7 We avoid it for this reason and prefer “folklore studies”, which comes with its own particular set of problems as it is a homonym of the term ethnology.8

  • 9 Genshi minzoku 原始民俗.

Yanagi: Am I correct in thinking that ethnology is primarily concerned with primitive peoples?9

  • 10 Respectively: mikaijin 未開人, hankaijin 半開人.

Yanagita: Yes, undeveloped or semi-developed peoples.10 However, in Japan nowadays such research can only be conducted through books. In contrast, although folklore studies may at times involve consulting written documents, it primarily draws on direct observation. The two methods thus differ in their basic principle.

  • 11 Shizengaku 史前学. Ōyama Kashiwa (1889-1969), a researcher who alternated between scientific research (...)

Yanagi: I believe Ōyama Kashiwa, for example, uses the term “prehistoric”11 studies to describe his activities.

  • 12 Taishitsu jinruigaku 体質人類学 and bunka jinruigaku 文化人類学.
  • 13 Kōkogaku 考古学.

Yanagita: In actual fact, his research is closer to anthropology. A distinction can be made between physical anthropology and cultural anthropology;12 I believe what you are referring to would be classed as cultural anthropology. Given that it is primarily a concrete study unconcerned with distinguishing between a study of the researcher’s native country and a study of another country, I consider it to be similar to archaeology13 and thus very different to our project.

Shikiba: Professor Yanagita, your books contain many references to language and vocabulary. Does this reflect a methodological stance?

  • 14 In reality, Yanagita was more attracted to language than to linguistics. Folklore studies subsequen (...)

Yanagita: There are many reasons for that, the first being that I have a passion for words and no doubt get carried away by my interest in linguistics!14 But it is also practical as a method. It would be nice to always have something tangible to study but sometimes that is not the case. A word, however, can lead to all manner of discoveries if we only examine the context in which it is used. Nonetheless, sufficient care must be taken with words as mistakes can easily be made. Prudence is necessary. In reality, folklorists should also examine tangible objects a little more often than we do, but in doing so we would run the risk of pigeonholing ourselves into this type of research. So for the moment we content ourselves with studying illustrations and photographs.

  • 15 Mingei 民藝.

Shikiba: Nevertheless, from a methodological point of view, any study that does not take into account real objects, such as folk crafts,15 could be considered incomplete, could it not?

  • 16 In English in the original text.
  • 17 The Attic Museum’s goal was to collect a wide variety of ‘folk tools’ (mingu 民具) in order to meticu (...)

Yanagita: Let us take the example of transportations:16 things that enable us to transport objects. In order to study them we must of course analyse the various types of baskets, for example. Not many remain these days since the advent of cars and trains, but until very recently a wide variety of baskets was used. The yokes used to carry these baskets differed significantly depending on whether or not they had a protuberance at each end. Where this was not the case, a particular kind of knot had to be tied. Thus many different types of poles existed. We would like to see an organised display of these objects. I don’t believe that the Japan Folk Crafts Museum handles such implements, but they are something that could be entrusted to the Attic Museum founded by Shibusawa Keizō.17 I am not entirely sure of Shibusawa’s intentions but his approach appears to resemble that of folklore studies. This is undoubtedly one difference between the Japan Folk Crafts Museum and the Attic Museum.

  • 18 Utsukushii tadashii mingeihin.

Yanagi: It is true that our objective at the Folk Crafts Museum is not to amass all manner of antique objects, but rather to collect only beautiful and honest folk crafts.18

  • 19 Shinshū, the mountainous region (Japanese Alps) of central Honshū, corresponds to present-day Nagan (...)
  • 20 Noto (in Ishikawa Prefecture) is a peninsula that extends into the Sea of Japan from central Honshū (...)

Yanagita: For my part, in terms of method I try to focus my efforts on the following point: culture does not advance evenly across all fronts like an army marching in serried ranks. If a blockage occurs somewhere, that aspect of the culture will fall behind. A comprehensive look at Japan shows us that its culture has progressed unevenly: development in the capital and the countryside differs significantly. The result is that, even in the absence of written documentation, identifying and comparing these “frozen” elements allows us to understand how Japan has evolved. Perhaps in the plains of Siberia or the United States, for example, we can consider culture to simply advance in an orderly fashion, with a line marking where its core elements have come to a halt, but in a mountainous country as diverse as Japan, each advance leads to a dead end. This phenomenon can be seen between Tokyo and the border of the Shinshū region,19 for example, where ancient cultural forms continue to survive. In this way, the cultural differences visible in Japan today can be used productively to retrace a history that is not dependent on written documents. What is more, no other country but Japan possesses several hundred islands each with its own distinct culture. In this sense, comparing the far-flung corners of Japan is particularly revealing and we frequently employ this method. We travel throughout Japan conducting our research and are thus in contact with people from every region. The north-east is often contrasted with the south-west, but in reality cultural forms in the two regions are extremely similar. Occasional differences stemming from the surrounding context do of course exist; however, these regions resemble each other because they are both located hundreds of miles from the centre. The same can be said for part of the Noto Peninsula and the Kishū region.20

Shikiba: What does folklore studies hope to achieve by adopting such a method?

  • 21 Gaku has been translated elsewhere as “studies” or “branch of knowledge” but can also be given th (...)
  • 22 Here the character employed by Yanagita is used as the equivalent of “-graphy”, as in ethnography. (...)

Yanagita: We hope to establish the history of Japan as a modern science. Whatever method we adopt, our aim is to accurately determine the past. This is our main bone of contention with the so-called “historical sciences”, which content themselves with written sources. Indeed, we have succeeded in understanding things that were not understood previously. Of course, one could argue that, strictly speaking, our current activities do not constitute a “science”.21 However, should the word “science” take on a rigorously defined meaning in the future, we are quite willing to abandon the name “folklore science” in favour of “history” (shi ) or “archivism” (shi ).22

The differences between “folk crafts” and “folklore studies”

Shikiba: Thanks to your explanations, Professor Yanagita, we have gained an insight into the nature of folklore studies. If I have understood correctly, and if we take the example of language, folklore studies considers that by cataloguing the dialects of each region and analysing those words that represent the oldest form of these dialects, we can discover the ancient form of Japanese words. Or does folklore studies aim to take action with regards the Japanese language, to supplement its regional languages and further strengthen modern Japanese itself? Is folklore studies a field that aims to understand the past, or does it look towards the present and the future?

  • 23 Yanagita is taking precautions in anticipation of the debate on Japan’s language policy in Okinawa (...)

Yanagita: Folklore studies is of course a discipline that aims to provide an accurate account of the past and for this reason the future is not part of our field of study. Although I often discuss the future of our language, I do not do so as a folklorist, for I am both a folklorist and an ordinary man. In short, I speak of such things as a patriot. While folklore studies may certainly inform my arguments, this does not mean that discussing the future of the Japanese language is one of the discipline’s objectives. That is why expressing my opinion on the debate over language policy risks creating confusion over my work.23

Shikiba: So there is nothing in folklore studies that directly implies a particular stance on culture, is that right?

  • 24 This assertion is curious as Yanagita wanted to establish folklore studies as a branch of knowledge (...)

Yanagita: That is correct.24 It is true that historians today sometimes discuss the future or how we should understand modern man; however, we do not consider this as being within the remit of history as a science. Historians today are also patriots and as such they want to participate in political debate, yet in doing so they simply use historical knowledge to support a political agenda. We believe that it is sufficient to accurately describe the facts.

  • 25 Keikengaku 経験学.

Yanagi: Folklore studies exists, then, as an empirical science?25

Shikiba: This is surely the main distinction between the Folk Crafts Movement and folklore studies. What do you think, Professor Yanagi?

  • 26 Kihangaku 規範学. Yanagi uses a term established since 1922 as the equivalent of the German word norm.

Yanagi: I see the Folk Crafts Movement as corresponding to a normative26 rather than an empirical science. Our aim is not to know everything that exists or has existed: on the contrary, our mission is to study the world of everything that ought to exist. The difference between folk crafts and folklore studies is clear on this point.

Yanagita: Extremely clear, yes. That is not our approach at all.

Yanagi: The Folk Crafts Movement thus shares similarities with aesthetics and attaches great importance to the debate on the intrinsic value of objects.

Yanagita: Yes, I imagine that is what you get.

Shikiba: What is the relationship between folklore studies and archaeology?

Yanagita: For the purpose of providing a clear distinction, I believe you could say that the difference resides essentially in whether the subject studied is tangible or intangible. The question is thus: is there or not something concrete to study? I would therefore class folk crafts as leaning towards archaeology, since the focus is on the tangible.

Yanagi: That is true, but only in so much as both study objects.

Yanagita: Folklorists, on the other hand, collect photographs and sketches of real objects, but only as a back-up, and we use them as illustrations only when words alone are not enough.

Shikiba: Professor Yanagi, what is your opinion on the relationship between the Folk Crafts Movement and archaeology?

Yanagi: The two disciplines do resemble each other in that both involve examining a large number of objects. However, I don’t believe that archaeology could be described as a normative science, nor does it attempt to discuss the value of objects.

Yanagita: There are nevertheless similarities between archaeology and art history. If we look to the past, their interest in textiles is but one example. Archaeology’s advocates were passionate about the subject and hoped that textiles could be preserved as far as possible in the future. However, you are certainly right in saying that archaeology does not claim to be a normative science, as you do.

Yanagi: For the Folk Crafts Movement, the issue of the future can never be eliminated.

Yanagita: Nonetheless, allow me to pose a question: do you believe that a time will come when the traditional folk wares collected here at the Japan Folk Crafts Museum will lead to the emergence of a new folk art?

Yanagi: We believe that, sooner or later, not only will new folk crafts appear, but also that old folk crafts possess something that must appear. That is why we are championing the Folk Crafts Movement.

The common characteristics of ‘folk crafts” and “folklore studies”

  • 27 Taishū-sei 大衆性, “characteristic” shared by the masses.
  • 28 Chihō-sei, or “regional character”.

Shikiba: I think that the distinctions between the empirical nature of Professor Yanagita’s folklore studies and the normative character of Professor Yanagi’s folk crafts have been clearly illustrated. However, despite the differing perspectives of folklore studies, which examine the past, and the Folk Crafts Movement, which equally focuses on the future, both disciplines clearly share common ground in terms of their choice of subject matter. First of all, folk crafts and folklore studies no longer focus solely on aristocratic culture but attach great importance to the culture of the masses.27 At the same time, they both recognise regional particularities.28

Yanagita: Exactly. And I would also add that we believe that the people of the past were much more intelligent than they are given credit for today. Intelligence is not simply about being well-educated, for example. People in the past were endowed with a kind of perceptiveness. This is upheld by followers of the Folk Crafts Movement and folklorists alike. Many people continue to believe that those who came before us were inferior to modern-day man and imagining that this was particularly true of peasants, tend to judge all kinds of things a little peremptorily. One can be perceptive without being able to read. Our predecessors’ memories, in particular, were remarkable. In fact, humans lost their ability to remember when they learned how to read. In any case, people in bygone days had extraordinary talents.

  • 29 The north-eastern region of Honshū.

Yanagi: Yes, we feel the same way. I was struck by a food-related experience during one of my recent trips to the Tōhoku region.29 People in Tokyo tend to imagine that there is nothing good to eat in the countryside, whereas this is far from being the case. Whilst I was in Aomori I asked to taste some of the local pickled vegetables [tsukemono]. Somebody then told me about the vegetables his family prepared at home and proceeded to bring me a dozen different varieties wrapped in a piece of fabric. They were all delicious! I love tsukemono and am quite picky about them at home, but I never have more than one or two varieties at any given time.

Yanagita: Country fare is generally extremely simple. There are only a few days in the year when anything other than ordinary food is consumed, hence why people are so happy on these particular days. However, there are many other occasions to rejoice, such as wearing a newly woven kimono for the first time, for example. As you can imagine, such occasions give rise to great joy. For me, it is precisely this joy that the objects at the Japan Folk Crafts Museum convey.

Yanagi: That’s right. The Folk Crafts Museum is currently exhibiting a selection of horse harnesses. It is said that when a new harness was used, even the horse rejoiced. Of course, it was probably just in the imagination of the driver, who was also very happy. Nonetheless, I think that a woman’s joy and satisfaction at seeing a man wear the kimono she has made must have been a very powerful emotion.

Shikiba: Discovering the value people attached to these objects is thus one element that unites folk crafts and folklore studies!

On the future of folk crafts

Shikiba: Professor Yanagi, could you tell us a little more about your trip to the Tōhoku region?

Yanagita: Where did you go?

  • 30 An area within the Tōhoku region that roughly corresponds to the part of Yamagata Prefecture that b (...)

Yanagi: I visited all six prefectures in the Tōhoku region. I only stayed for about a month but the circumstances were extremely interesting. My trip was organised by the Yamagata Research Centre for Snow Damage, which had set up an exhibition of new folk crafts in each prefecture. I attended in my role as adviser to discuss the potential for the future. In Yamagata, with which the research centre obviously has the closest links, there were not one but three exhibitions held in three different venues. Numerous items were exhibited, including many objects that we didn’t even know existed. Given the research centre’s close ties with the Ministry of Agriculture, the majority of objects – many of which were crafted in wood or bamboo – were naturally linked to farming activities and mainly came from the Shōnai region.30 We were able to hold an exhibition and discussion on annual rites and I think that next year we will be able to present a greater variety of objects. After that I would like to hold a major event at the Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo, for example, which I think will be an excellent opportunity for people to discover what exists in Japan.

Shikiba: No doubt.

Yanagi: I imagine that from a linguistic point of view this region must raise serious questions for Mr Yanagita, but for us, Tōhoku is certainly the region with the greatest wealth of folk crafts. We believe that rather than allowing these crafts to die out, in the future they must be given a new life, all the while preserving their regional particularities, in order to provide a source of income for Tōhoku villages.

Yanagita: There are many craftspeople in the Tōhoku region, as you say, but with a tendency to produce an increasing number of poor quality articles.

Yanagi: That is indeed increasingly the case.

Yanagita: And apparently high quality products only reappear during exhibitions…

Yanagi: Such a tendency does exist. However, the exhibitions I visited were primarily composed of items that really are used today, which shows that some wonderful techniques have been preserved.

Yanagita: I think it is inevitable that the economic situation, as well as the way work is organised, will have adversely impacted the quality of such objects, but it would be a shame for the most gifted craftspeople to disappear completely.

Yanagi: From what I saw, there is a major revival of these crafts and a thriving production. What is more, these objects need not be reserved for use in the countryside; we could also encourage their use in the city. I believe it is absolutely vital that we consider making objects that can be used in our modern lives.

Yanagita: That would seem a very difficult task.

  • 31 Capital of Miyagi Prefecture in the Tōhoku region.

Shikiba: I recently visited Sendai,31 and seeing the exhibition held there, it seemed that many of the objects on display could be introduced into the daily lives of our contemporaries.

  • 32 This issue was discussed by the two men outside of this debate.

Yanagi: I have great hopes for slippers.32

Yanagita: Are you not worried that this commercialisation, for which, as you say, there is a market, is only possible for objects that can be used throughout the year?

Yanagi: That really depends on what direction we want the business to take. Take the example of nizo headwear, produced in the Aizu region. An order for 3,000 nizo has just arrived from the United States. Apparently they are used as beach hats in the summer. Real potential exists if we are able to adapt to demand in this way.

Shikiba: I don’t believe it is necessary for the Folk Crafts Movement to keep all of these traditional objects alive; instead we should simply use them to fulfil the needs of the contemporary world where a need really exists. We just mentioned slippers, but there is no reason for us to preserve the European concept of slippers indefinitely. If we think about it, Japan has many of its own straw plaiting techniques that could be used in slipper-making. In such cases, we should begin by reminding people of the existence of Japanese craftsmanship, thus paving the way to transforming the Western concept of slippers into Japanese slippers made using Japanese technology. In this way, the Folk Crafts Movement hopes to make Japanese culture more specifically Japanese; it is a movement that aims to strengthen Japanese culture. With this in mind, we must first train our eyes to be attentive to folk crafts as this will enable us to use our expert eye to select a variety of exceptional craft objects. From this moment on, we simply need to have faith: it is up to each individual to find ways of using such objects in our daily lives.

Yanagita: That is a very coherent position.

Shikiba: A cutting-edge architect recently visited us at the Folk Crafts Museum and was shocked to discover the various Okinawan fabrics, which he said were magnificent and extremely useable in interior design.

  • 33 Kasuri is a kind of “double ikat”: the weft and warp yarns are first dyed in specific places before (...)

Yanagi: We are absolutely convinced that objects which possess the true beauty of crafts never lose their novelty value, no matter how much time passes. If we take a new look at the traditional kasuri textiles of Okinawa, many of the motifs are extremely modern.33 There were also many surprising objects in the Tōhoku exhibitions I mentioned earlier. It would be a real shame, for the whole of Japanese culture, if these objects, which really do exist, were to arouse no attachment and were to be rejected under the pretext that everything is destined to change.

Yanagita: If a revived folk craft industry is indeed possible, people must of course be educated about it.

  • 34 Area to the west of Ibaraki Prefecture.

Yanagi: Furthermore, I believe that certain things can change if we follow this same logic. Take the silks from Yūki,34 for example. Although these extremely expensive items are not intended for the mass market, their reputation for quality means that they always attract buyers, no matter what the object is or how high its price. Selling large quantities at low prices is one strategy; another excellent one is to not be afraid to put a high price on objects that merit it.

Yanagita: It is possible to halt the decline of the craft industry as long as understanding people are in charge and provide their support. However, mechanical progress is rapid and I fear a day may come when even crafts are industrially produced.

Shikiba: Nonetheless, and I address my question to Professor Yanagi, will advances in machinery enable the ‘handmade’ appearance of crafts to be recreated?

Yanagi: They can imitate it at any rate.

Yanagita: You can’t tell the difference at first glance!

Yanagi: Be that as it may, crafts and industrial goods are fundamentally different. I believe that whatever advances are made, the value of crafts cannot be surpassed.

Yanagita: Machines are also used to decorate ceramics. You can easily be fooled sometimes…

  • 35 The discussion continues on the issue of Japan’s language policy in Okinawa. Since this passage doe (...)

Yanagi: In some ways the Folk Crafts Movement is opposed to machines, but I think that we merely need to work in a complementary way, proposing a world that is beyond the reach of machines. Although many of the objects we select are antique craft wares, it is not simply because they are antiques or handicrafts, but because many beautiful objects are the fruit of a time-honoured industry. Nor do we wish to content ourselves with simply saying that these objects are beautiful; we strive to understand what makes them beautiful and how that beauty was achieved. Furthermore, since we believe that in the future we must also create things of beauty, we analyse the criteria for beauty at work in these antique crafts and consider how we can use such objects in the future. That is, I believe, the task we have assigned ourselves.35

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Notes

1 Translation of “Mingei to minzokugaku no mondai” 民藝と民俗の問題 (The Issue of Folk Crafts and Folklore Studies), Gekkan Mingei, vol. 2, no. 4, April 1940; YSZ 10, pp. 735-747.

2 Regretting the limited circulation of the journal Crafts (Kōgei 工藝) run by Yanagi, Shikiba and Yoshida created a militant monthly publication with a wide circulation in order to promote the “mingei aesthetic” to the general public. In the editorial of its first issue, Shikiba introduced Folk Crafts Monthly as the movement’s machine gun (kikanjū 機関銃), or “weapon of mass circulation”. Despite being known for his pacifism and antimilitarism, Yanagi does not seem to have objected to the use of such vocabulary and offered to finance the magazine through the Japan Folk Crafts Association. In fact, the discussion translated here was published in Folk Crafts Monthly.

3 All footnotes are the original French translators’ own.

4 Here, no doubt due to his ignorance of the terms in use at that time, Yanagi employs an obsolete term, dozokugaku 土俗学. Literally meaning the branch of knowledge (gaku) pertaining to the customs (zoku) of a specific land (do), the term was initially used at the beginning of the Meiji era to refer to the field of anthropology concerned with cultural artefacts. However, it quickly came to mean the study of Japan’s periphery, then non-Japanese ethnic groups and aborigines. It was replaced by the term minzokugaku 民族学in the 1920s and subsequently disappeared. This explains Yanagita’s reluctance to reply to Yanagi and the need felt by Shikiba to redefine the two terms later on in the discussion.

5 Esunorojī エスノロジー, from the English word ethnology.

6 Minzoku 民族.

7 In other words, undeveloped peoples, which in Yanagita’s eyes could not possibly include the Japanese.

8 As Yanagita explains, the Japanese word for folklore studies is problematic as its pronunciation is identical to the word used for ethnology. They can only be distinguished by examining the Chinese characters used: in one case zoku refers to “customs” (of the “people”: min), in the other it refers to “families” or “lineages” (“family of the people”: ethnic group). We thus go from taking an interest in social practices to the idea that belonging to a particular group (potentially a race) is essential for defining identity. The contrast between dozoku/minzoku (which both use the same character for zoku) is of a different order. The initial focus on “do”– the land, that which is local or even autochthonous – was abandoned in the first quarter of the twentieth century, swept aside by the increasing emphasis on the nation and the concept of “people”. In fact, it is this very “people” that links folk crafts (min-gei) to the science of popular customs, or folklore studies (min-zoku gaku), through their names, objectives and concerns.

9 Genshi minzoku 原始民俗.

10 Respectively: mikaijin 未開人, hankaijin 半開人.

11 Shizengaku 史前学. Ōyama Kashiwa (1889-1969), a researcher who alternated between scientific research and participating in Japan’s military expansion (he was a captain in the army but also taught at Keiō), is primarily known for his contribution to archaeology throughout the 1920s and 1930s and for his work on the Jōmon period. In 1928 he set up a ‘Research Centre for Prehistory’ at his home, which was destroyed during the American bombings of May 1945.

12 Taishitsu jinruigaku 体質人類学 and bunka jinruigaku 文化人類学.

13 Kōkogaku 考古学.

14 In reality, Yanagita was more attracted to language than to linguistics. Folklore studies subsequently established many glossaries listing various regional terms by theme (marriage, fishing, etc.).

15 Mingei 民藝.

16 In English in the original text.

17 The Attic Museum’s goal was to collect a wide variety of ‘folk tools’ (mingu 民具) in order to meticulously analyse how they were made and used; see Damien Kunik’s article in this volume of Cipango.

18 Utsukushii tadashii mingeihin.

19 Shinshū, the mountainous region (Japanese Alps) of central Honshū, corresponds to present-day Nagano Prefecture.

20 Noto (in Ishikawa Prefecture) is a peninsula that extends into the Sea of Japan from central Honshū. Kishū corresponds to the south-easterly tip of Wakayama peninsula, which lies in the Pacific Ocean. The two areas lie directly opposite each other if we take the Kyoto-Tokyo axis as the centre. Since both are located at an equal distance from the capital and at the tip of a peninsula, folklorists believe that these two ‘lands’ cannot help but resemble each other. Yanagita was convinced that the further away one moved from the capital, the further back in Japan’s past one went. He reasoned quite logically that the oldest remnants of Japan’s ancient civilisation lived on in Okinawa or in the lands of the Ainu, and advocated studying Japan’s peripheries in order to understand the true meaning of its ancient traditions. This stance clearly denies the ability of each particular area to evolve and ignores the establishment of networks (administrative, religious, trade, family, etc.) which, each in their own way, have helped to transform the areas they link over the course of Japan’s history. In any case, the idea of cultural progress radiating out in concentric circles from a central hub – the imperial capital – is no longer considered a serious hypothesis today.

21 Gaku has been translated elsewhere as “studies” or “branch of knowledge” but can also be given the meaning of “science”, as Yanagita does in this sentence.

22 Here the character employed by Yanagita is used as the equivalent of “-graphy”, as in ethnography. He long fought for the use of the term minzoku-shi, in other words the discipline that aims to identify and describe folk customs (hence our translation of “archivism”) with a view to enabling regional comparisons. Shi more literally brings to mind the idea of taking note.

23 Yanagita is taking precautions in anticipation of the debate on Japan’s language policy in Okinawa which concludes this discussion (non-translated section).

24 This assertion is curious as Yanagita wanted to establish folklore studies as a branch of knowledge that benefitted its era by attempting, through so-called “emergency” surveys (kinkyū chōsa 緊急調査), to rediscover the practices that previously cemented Japanese society, which was being weakened by urbanisation. It therefore applies strictly within the scope of this dialogue.

25 Keikengaku 経験学.

26 Kihangaku 規範学. Yanagi uses a term established since 1922 as the equivalent of the German word norm.

27 Taishū-sei 大衆性, “characteristic” shared by the masses.

28 Chihō-sei, or “regional character”.

29 The north-eastern region of Honshū.

30 An area within the Tōhoku region that roughly corresponds to the part of Yamagata Prefecture that borders the Sea of Japan.

31 Capital of Miyagi Prefecture in the Tōhoku region.

32 This issue was discussed by the two men outside of this debate.

33 Kasuri is a kind of “double ikat”: the weft and warp yarns are first dyed in specific places before being woven together to form a pattern. This technique is particularly prevalent in the Ryūkyū Islands.

34 Area to the west of Ibaraki Prefecture.

35 The discussion continues on the issue of Japan’s language policy in Okinawa. Since this passage does not concern the links between mingei and minzokugaku, we have taken the liberty of ending the translation here.

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References

Electronic reference

Yanagita Kunio and Yanagi Sōetsu, « Folk Crafts and Folklore Studies », Cipango - French Journal of Japanese Studies [Online], 1 | 2012, Online since 24 May 2013, connection on 18 October 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cjs/297 ; DOI : 10.4000/cjs.297

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Cipango – French Journal of Japanese Studies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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