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Japan's Cultural Identity: Some Reflections on the Work of Watsuji Tetsuro

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2011

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It has become customary among many Western scholars to consider Japan as part of an East Asian cultural area, or as a participant in Chinese or Sinic civilization. In a general conception of Asian culture viewed as consisting of East Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern cultural areas dominated by Chinese, Indian, and Islamic civilizations respectively, it seems obvious that Japan belongs in the first category. Yet most Japanese scholars use another classification which would divide Asian culture into four areas: Islamic, Indian, Chinese, and—as a separate category on the same level as the other three—Japanese. Without denying the close relation to China, the Japanese scholar is apt to emphasize the unique configuration of Japanese culture which makes it in some sense sui generis. This is only one among many manifestations of the widespread feeling in Japan that Japanese culture is “unique,” and “different.” This sense of Japan's uniqueness may give rise to pride, sorrow, or a feeling of loneliness; but that it is shared by Japanese with otherwise quite varying views is itself a fact of significance.

Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 1965

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1 George DeVos, “Role Narcissism and the Etiology of Japanese Suicide,” mimeo, 1964.

2 See Keene, Donald, “Hirata Atsutane and Western Learning,” T'oung Pao, 42, 1954, pp. 353380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 Tsunoda, Ryusaku, et al., Sources of the Japanese Tradition, Columbia, 1958, p. 596.Google Scholar

4 Hajime, Nakamura, The Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples, revised translation, Hawaii, , East-West Center Press, 1964Google Scholar, chapter 35.

5 This is a point which has been stressed by Masao, Maruyama. See his Nihon no Shisō (Japanese Thought), Iwanami Shinsho, 1961.Google Scholar

6 The interpretation of Fukuzawa and Uchimura owes much to conversations with Maruyama Masao and Ishida Takeshi as well as to Saburo's, IenagaKindai Seishin to Sono Genkai (The Modern Spirit and Its Limitations), Kadokawa, 1950.Google Scholar

7 See Takeshi, Ishida, Meiji Seiji Shisōshi Kenkyū (Studies in the History of Meiji Political Thought), Miraisha, 1954.Google Scholar

8 For a stimulating treatment of several aspects of Japanese fascism see Masao, Maruyama, Thought and Behavior in Modern Japanese Politics, Oxford, 1963.Google Scholar

9 Blacker, Carmen, The Japanese Enlightenment, Oxford, 1964Google Scholar, chapter 7.

10 Tetsujiro, Inoue, Chokugo Engi (Commentary on the Rescript), Keigyōsha, 1891.Google Scholar His Waga Kokutai to Kokumin Dōtoku (Our kokutai and National Morality), Kōbundō, 1925, was prescribed for use in the public schools by the Ministry of Education in the prewar period.

11 These works on the Yōmei, Shushi and Kogaku schools of Confucianism were published in 1897, 1915 and 1918, respectively, by Fuzambō. Armstrong, Robert Cornell, Light from the East; Studies in Japanese Confucianism, Toronto, 1914Google Scholar, is based largely on Inoue.

12 Nishida Kitarō Zenshū, Volume 12, p. 271, as cited in Tatsuo Arima, “Failure of Freedom,” un published doctoral dissertation, Harvard, 1962.

13 These matters are discussed in Volume I (1915) and Volume II (1917) of Tsuda's Bungaku ni Arawarctaru Waga Kokumin Shisō no Kenkyō (A Study of Our National Thought as Expressed in Literature), Rakuyōdō.

14 Sōkichi, Tsuda, Shina Shisō to Nihon (Chinese Thought and Japan), Iwanami, 1939.Google Scholar

15 A representative work of Gorō, Hani is Nihon ni okeru Kindai Shisō no Zentei, (Precursors of Modern Thought in Japan), a study of Kokugaku, Iwanami, 1949.Google Scholar

16 On Ienaga see Bellah, Robert N., “Ienaga Saburo and the Search for Meaning in Modern Japan,” in Jansen, Marius, ed., Changing Japanese Attitudes Toward Modernization, Princeton, 1965Google Scholar, where there are extensive bibliographical references.

17 Representative works of Muraoka, include Motoori Norinaga, Iwanami, 1927Google Scholar, and Nihon Shisōshi Kenkyō (Studies in the History of Japanese Thought), Iwanami, 4 volumes, 1927–1948.Google Scholar A selection of his essays has recently been translated by Delmer Brown for the Japanese UNESCO series.

18 Biographical material on Watsuji has been drawn from his own writings, from the introductory notes to various volumes of the Watsuji Tetsurō Zenshō, Iwanami, 20 volumes, 1961–1963, and the article on Watsuji by Shida Shōzō in the Asahi Journal, Volume 5, No. 5, 1963.

19 Nietzsche Kenkyō, Tokyo, 1913; Zenshō, Vol. 1.

20 Soren Kierkegaard, Tokyo, 1915; Zenshō, Vol. 1.

21 Nihon Kodai Bunka (Ancient Japanese Culture), Iwanami, 1920. Zenshō, Vol. 3.

22 Genshi Bukkyō no Jissen Tetsugaku (The Practical Philosophy of Primitive Buddhism), Iwanami, 1927; Zenshō, Vol. 5.

23 Koji Junrei (Pilgrimages to Ancient Temples), Iwanami, 1920; Zenshō, Vol. 2. Also Nihon Seishinshi Kenkyō and Zoku Nihon Seishinshi Kenkyō (Studies in Japanese Spiritual History), Iwanami, 1926, 1935 (Zenshō, Vol. 4), contain material on Buddhist as well as non-Buddhist aspects of ancient and medieval Japanese culture.

24 Polis-teki Ningen no Rinrigaku (Ethics of the Polis), Shōin, Hakujitsu, 1948Google Scholar; Zenshō, Vol. 7. (Parts of this appeared serially as early as 1936.)

25 Genshi Kirisutokyō no Bunkashi-teki lgi (The Significance of Primitive Christianity in the History of Culture), Iwanami, 1926; Zenshō, Vol. 7.

26 Confucius, Iwanami, 1938; Zenshō, Vol. 6.

27 Nihon no Shindō; America no Kokuminsei, Chikuma Shobō, 1944. Nikon no Shindō is in Vol. 14 of the Zenshō, Amerika no Kokuminsei in Vol. 17.

28 Houghton Mifflin, 1946. Incidentally the influence of Nietzsche and Dilthey lies behind both Benedict and Watsuji.

29 This would mean not a criticism of the war itself but of the direction of the war by the army bureaucrats who were probably seen by Watsuji as acting too much for themselves and not enough for the emperor. The “shin” in “Nihon no Shindō” is difficult to translate. While it means “subject” relative to the ruler, it implies “vassal” or “retainer” rather than common people. “Shindō” could therefore in the present context be translated “Way of the Officer” as well as “Way of the Subject.“

30 Already in Nihon Kodai Bunka he had developed this position. He criticized Motoori's absolute irrational faith in Shintō myth and argued for the continuous philosophical reinterpretation of myth, only emperor worship (or reverence) remaining constant. See the discussion of faith, and myth, , Nihon Kodai Bunka, Zenshō, Vol. 3, pp. 260279.Google Scholar

31 Rinrigaku, Iwanami, Vol. 1, 1937, Vol. 2, 1942, Vol. 3, 1949; Zenshō, Vols. 10 and 11.

32 Watsuji discusses religious organization in Rinrigaku, Part 3, Chapter 6; the state in Part 3, Chapter 7; Zenshō, Vol. 10, pp. 519–625.

33 Shaw, George Bernard, The Man of Destiny, in Plays: Pleasant and Unpleasant, Dodd, Mead, 1942, Vol. II, pp. 212213.Google Scholar

34 For a discussion of Spengler's terminology and its context in German thought see Kroeber, Alfred L. and Kluckhohn, Clyde, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions, Peabody Museum Papers, Harvard University, Vol. 47, No. 1, 1952Google Scholar, especially page 26.

35 Zenshō, Vol. 7, pp. 10–14.

36 Nihon Seishinshi Kenkyō, revised edition, Iwanami, 1940, pp. 3–38.

37 Ningen no Gaku to shite no Rinrigaku, Iwanami, 1931.

38 Zoku Nihon Seishinshi Kenkyō, Iwanami, 1935, pp. 338–383.

39 Various terms used at different times to denote “Japanese spirit.“

40 Ibid., pp. 1–72.

41 “Bunkateki Sōzō ni Tazusawaru mono no Tachiba,” first published in Shisō, October, 1937, then reprinted in a collection of Watsuji's occasional writings, Men to Persona, brought out by Iwanami in December, 1937; Zenshū, Vol. 17, pp. 441–444.

42 See Yoshimi, Takeuchi, “Kindai no Chōkoku,” in Kindai Nihon Shisōshi Kōza (Symposium on the History of Modern Japanese Thought), Vol. 7, Chikuma Shobō, 1959, pp. 227281.Google Scholar

43 Zenshū, Vol. 13.

44 Gūzō Saikō (Resurrection of Idols), Iwanami, 1918, pp. 1213.Google Scholar

45 Zenshū, Vol. 13, p. 456.

46 Zenshū, Vol. 1, p. 8.

47 Zenshū, Vol. 1, p. 410.

48 Gōzō Saikō, p. 13.

49 Ibid., p. 237 ff.

50 For example, DeVos, George, “The Relation of Guilt Toward Parents to Achievement and Arranged Marriage among the Japanese,” Psychiatry, 23, 1960, pp. 287331CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Vogel, Ezra, Japan's New Middle Class, California, 1963.Google Scholar

51 Nihon Kodai Bunka.

52 One of Watsuji's Marxist critics, Tosaka Jun, found him especially dangerous just because he expressed “reactionary Japanism” in “a la mode, modern, chic scholarly methods.” Jun, Tosaka, Nihon Ideorogii-ron (An Essay on Japanese Ideology), Hakuyōsha, 1935.Google Scholar

53 Fōdo was first published in book form in 1935, though parts of it had appeared earlier in periodicals. In 1943 a revised edition was published which eliminated “traces of Leftist theory” which were “prevalent” in 1928 when the book was first written, according to Watsuji's preface to that edition. Zenshū, Vol. 8. It was translated by Geoffrey Bownas for the Japanese UNESCO series and appeared in 1961 under the awkward title, A Climate, though it is clear from Mr. Bownas’ preface that his own suggested title was the much more felicitous Climate and Culture.

54 This sort of thing called forth some sarcastic comments from Tosaka Jun as to the inherent superiority of the Japanese language to any other in intuitively expressing the truth, loc. cit.

55 Maso's, Maruyama term. See his Thought and Behavior in Modern Japanese Politics, Oxford, 1963, pp. 63Google Scholar and 304.

56 Sakoku: Nihon no Higeki (The Closing of the Country: Japan's Tragedy), Chikuma Shobō, 1951Google Scholar; Zenshū, Vol. 15, p. 3.

57 Nihon Rinri Shisōshi (History of Japanese Ethical Thought), 2 volumes, Iwanami, 1952, Vol. 2, pp. 695793.Google ScholarZenshū, Vols. 12 and 13.

58 The appendix to Vol. II of the Zenshū contains the major passages cut from the 1942 edition.

59 Loc. cit., p. 42.

60 The theoretical assumptions and terminology used in this paragraph are explained at greater length in Bellah, Robert N., “Religious Evolution,” American Sociological Review, 29, 1964, pp. 358374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

61 Abegglen, James C., The Japanese Factory, M.I.T., 1958Google Scholar; Ezra Vogel, op. cit.