Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Join Date: Jul 2001
Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 19
When I first came to Japan, in 1980, I could not speak or read Japanese and there were far fewer signs around in English. So I became functionally illiterate. This was a big culture shock for someone like myself, who had just finished a Ph.D and inhabited a world full of books. So the English language department of the local bookstore became a kind of prop. There were two such bookstores, Maruzen and Kinokuniya, each with a slightly different selection of books. Maruzen's selection seemed more staid and unchanging. If included, for example, an expensive hardback written by a Japanese colleague (I gathered later for his doctorate): a historical syntax of Christopher Marlowe's verse. It was always there, forlorn and unbought, and I used to wonder about the odds of an English-speaking Marlowe specialist visiting Hiroshima and needing this book. The only time it moved was when Maruzen changed the selection. By comparison, the selection at Kinokuniya contained fewer such books and more paperbacks.
You will notice the date when I came, which was in the middle of a burdgeoning nihonjinron boom and all the right books were there: Benedict, Vogel, Reischauer, Tsunoda on the brain, Suzuki, Kindaichi, Watanabe, Nakane, as well as Kaplan & Dubro, Woronoff, and eventually Alex Kerr et al. Together with books on martial arts, especially illustrated manuals on judo & karate, but also including Kisshomaru Ueshiba's two books on aikido. The main publishers were Tuttle, Kodansha, Weatherhill... Later, as I learned more Japanese, I saw that the Japanese-language sections of the same bookshops--much larger than the 'foreign books' relegated to the uppermost floor, contained large sections on Japanese culture.
Now, in 2011, only Kinokuniya occupies the same premises and they have reduced the size of their 'foreign book' sections. The English grammars and dictionaries are prominent and there are smaller sections with English-language paperback novels, Penguin fiction and non-fiction, and the Tuttle, Kodansha, offerings on Japanese culture. When Japan's economic bubble burst, Maruzen disappeared completely, including the book on Marlowe's verse written by my colleague. Last year it reappeared, in a joint venture with Junkudo, but the only English-language offerings were the Tuttle / Kodansha books on Japanese culture.
Now I know nothing about the economics of Japanese bookstores, but I assume that they have buyers and that the publishers have people who go round with news of the latest publications, rather like those people who wait in the common rooms of Japanese colleges with their cases full of samples of English-language textbooks. They smile with a slight tinge of desperation, meishi at the ready, and assure you that their latest offerings are exactly what you need for next term's classes.
This is what the foreign visitors to Hiroshima are offered. There are short term and long term visitors and those, like myself, who have moved out of the visitor category and become residents. But they and their differing needs are left undistinguished by the bookstores here. Luckily, this column does not depend on statistics, either of foreign visitors to Japanese bookshops or of the books they buy. The buying and reading habits of the Japanese are more important by comparison.
Perhaps this is a suitable subject for a Ph.D thesis. There is a good book by David Edwards, entitled Modern Japan Through Its Weddings, published in 1989 by Stanford U Press. Edwards had Japanese ancestors, spent some 6 - 7 years in Japan, and worked for a year in a wedding hall. He participated, if this is the correct term here, in some 20 weddings. This is about the same number as those in which I myself have participated, as my Japanese students have graduated and married. 'Sensei' is one of the people who make the dull speeches before the kampai.
I did not use Edwards' book for this column, but it is could be argued that he is doing nihonjinron, just like you said that I could be, with this column. In his Introduction he states:
"My aim is neither social criticism nor expose; I wish merely to present an image of a socially meaningful performance that will command our attention until we can satisfactorily unravel the messages."
For this column, I would change "a socially meaningful performance" to 'a socially meaningful phenomenon.'