Thank you for the response. I have a few comments. First of all, as I stated to Fred Little, I planned to look at all the book-length critiques of nihonjinron
in English, but eventually gave up this idea as the writing progressed. Even then, having omitted Eiji Oguma, to have given every critique its due would still have made the column far too long. The second point is that I discovered when writing the column that the term nihonjinron
presents a broad spectrum and also denotes something with wave-like characteristics, which ebbs and flows depending on another set of factors. Miller settles on the ‘unique’ Japanese language; Dale settles on just about everything; Befu settles on ‘civil’ religion; Sugiyama-Lebra settles on things no Japanese would admit to believing: a label which no Japanese would want to have.
First, I have a point that others might find helpful regarding the article. I've noticed among some foreigners living in Japan that the term nihonjinron often gets to be used (in English) to mean only Japanese uniqueness (i.e.: nihonjinron = the belief that Japanese people are special/unique). For that reason, I'd like to draw attention to the fact that this article could also be regarded a form of nihonjinron or "theories/discussions about the Japanese".
PAG. I suppose you could interpret nihonjinron
in the very broadest sense to mean ANY discussion of Japanese. Dale has been criticized for this by Ian Buruma in his book review, a part of which I quoted. I wanted to avoid this and so I preferred a more minimalist definition, quoted below. It is the assumptions lying behind the nihonjinron
discourse that matter—and I myself do not share these assumptions.
“Neither Dale himself, of course, nor virtually any of the scholars whose works are discussed the next few sections believe that they are doing nihonjinron
: they are explaining and criticizing the phenomenon from a variety of viewpoints, and with varying degrees of success. Some of the scholars are native Japanese; others are not. Like Dale, I have argued above that academic discussion about Japan and its culture and history—with a careful definition of terms and a suspicion of theories that go beyond the evidence, is not quite the same as nihonjinron
and this is why I have given the term a more minimalist definition than Dale does: exemplified in the general belief that Japanese culture, whatever this means, is ‘uniquely unique', exhibiting a uniqueness, whether or not this is expressed in a similarly ‘uniquely unique' language, that other similar cultures do not have.”
I think that there is a significant difference in the kind of demand from readers of English in Japan. Surely English-readers are making bigger lifestyle changes when coming to Japan and are a lot more concerned with learning about local language and culture than they are when visiting the Netherlands (e.g.: most of my friends on stag nights in Amsterdam) for example.
PAG. I think it is difficult to make such a broad judgment. In Hiroshima, for example, there are several quite distinct foreign groups, with different needs. Nevertheless, all the ‘foreign’ books are stacked together, they are all in English and, as I stated, are all about Japan. (This is Maruzen’s store in central Hiroshima. The Junkudo store near the station has a larger selection of English-language books, especially fiction, but the proportion of books on Japan is large.) Of course, the Dutch generally are far more fluent English speakers, so in a store like Scheltama’s in Amsterdam, books in English and Dutch are arranged side by side, but there is no special section on Dutch Culture, featuring works on windmills, clogs and van Gogh. To put it another way, if one believed that Japan had a unique homogeneous culture, which foreigners as a distinct category needed to know about, then the organization of a typical provincial Japanese bookstore would display this belief quite well.