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Bönker-Vallon, Angelika (2012): Wissenschaft als Mittel der Selbststilisierung. Ethnozentrische Tendenzen im Denken Watsuji Tetsurōs und Yanagita Kunios. Master of Arts, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
(Munich University Japan Center Graduation Theses) [PDF, 1MB]

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The philosopher Watsuji Tetsurō (1889-1960) and the folklorist Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962) are generally regarded as paramount personalities in Japanese intellectual history. Influenced by the modernizing efforts of the ending Meiji era (1868-1912) and the starting Taishō era (1912-1926) they epitomize the initial period of cultural self-reflection which intends to dif-ferentiate Japan from the West and would reach its climax in the years before the Second World War. In this sense Watsuji and Yanagita, trying to guarantee a unique Japanese cultural identity, are among the most prominent representatives of a so called "cultural particularism". A closer examination of their respective approaches reveals, first of all, crucial differences, even contradictions in what they took to be "Japanese identity." Watsuji, for one, emphasizes a distinctively Japanese ability to absorb foreign ideas and integrate them in the already exist-ing national culture. Yanagita, in contrast, aims at determining an original, singularly Japanese culture without foreign influences. Thus, the concept of Japan as a nation of culture and civilization on par with Western cultures competes with the idea of an ancient native popula-tion whose morals are still alive in Japanese rural communities. Secondly, the question is ad-dressed which methods, especially scientific, they employed in their respective constructions of cultural identity. Watsuji accepts the paradigms of Western philosophy wholesale, and con-sequently the ethnocentric tendencies inherent in Western thought and science are equally accepted. They find their way into his presentation of the peculiarities of the Japanese mental-ity and landscape, and reflect Western forms of intellectual distortion as a mirror image. Yan-agita, then again, is faced with the task of establishing Japanese folklore. In order to demon-strate the uniqueness of Japanese culture he disregards any possibility of intercultural compar-ison and classification. Although alternative typologies of Japanese folklore were under dis-cussion at the time, Yanagita decides to follow a scientific program that leads to the exclusion of foreign influences and ethnocentric implications. Yanagita's and Watsuji’s considerations thus laid the ground for the development of the so called Nihon-ron.

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