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«    Russell, James Edward (2011) Cultural Property and Heritage in Japan. PhD Thesis, SOAS, University  of London  ...»

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Russell, James Edward (2011) Cultural Property and Heritage in Japan. PhD Thesis, SOAS, University 

of London 




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Word count: 94,808 2 Abstract This thesis examines the nature of cultural property and heritage in Japan, primarily on the basis of fieldwork conducted in the Iwami Ginzan World Heritage site in 2007-2009, which was immediately after its designation by UNESCO. The impact of the designation on the local community of Ōmori is examined. The site, located in the mountains of Shimane Prefecture, contains many items that are administered under various schemes of classifying objects that have been determined to be valuable on the national and regional levels. It thus provides a microcosm of cultural property policy and conflicting interests. Although the resident population is only four hundred, the village contains the ruins of extensive silver mines dating from the sixteenth century, and has maintained a core of buildings from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that have been recognized for their outstanding value. Official recognition changes the property relationship between residents and their built environment by exposing the objects to the reinterpretation of administrators and tourists, but establishes these objects as having unique characteristics worthy of preservation. At a time when technology allows exact reproduction, the identification of unique things of value is a process that converts symbolic to economic capital through branding, which is a method of staking a claim to a resource by restricting its use. Even though those in a community such as Ōmori may not want to engage themselves in this process and prefer to maintain taste preferences and property arrangements that differ from urban standards, the legal regime of cultural property transformation implicates them in its operation. Examples of cultural property from elsewhere in Japan are given, particularly to show how it is used in community improvement programs (machizukuri). The history and language involving cultural property and heritage are discussed.

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At SOAS, Lola Martinez advised me at every step of the process from potential student through course work, fieldwork and the final thesis submission. Her unfailing encouragement and guidance was a blessing. Steve Hughes and Kevin Latham read a preliminary outline of the thesis at the MPhil stage. Johan Pottier, David Mosse, Louella Matsunaga and Trevor Marchand provided feedback and useful comments during my years of research.

Prior to SOAS, I was fortunate to have acquired from several great teachers many of the tools that allowed me to produce this document: Carroll Quigley (Georgetown, History), Michael Zarechnak (Georgetown, Linguistics), Jim McCawley (Chicago, Linquistics), Zbigniew Gołąb (Chicago, Slavic), Akira Komai (Chicago, Japanese), Hal Williams (SMU, History) and Ed Countryman (SMU, History).

Two friends at Chicago influenced me far beyond anything we could have imagined at the time. Dave Blanchard introduced me to anthropology and James Lee casually suggested I might try Japanese to fill my non-Western language requirement.

Tom and Joyce Seaman provided crucial support while I lived in London and Oxford.

In Ōmori, Daikichi, Tomi and Yukiko Matsuba did so much to help I will not be able to repay their kindness for several lifetimes. What follows is really a story of their family, although they might not recognize it. Amy Katoh provided the initial introduction to them, when I was looking for a place to send my daughter to practice her Japanese without the distractions of big city life. Little did they suspect where this would lead.

My thesis readers and viva examiners, Michael Rowlands (UCL) and Christoph Brumann (Max Planck - Halle), were a delight and made the whole process seem worthwhile.

Finally, my family – Nancy, Dmitri and Saya – allowed me to pursue this program, even though it meant extreme dislocation and disruption to their lives. To the extent I have any sensitivity to personal relationships, and therefore am somehow qualified to investigate anthopological themes, it is because I have lived with them in Tōkyō, Dallas, Princeton and Berkeley.

–  –  –

Introduction The genesis of this thesis was a desire to document a set of attitudes and behaviours that I found in a Japanese village which to me, being accustomed to life in Tōkyō, seemed extraordinary; how could people be so engaged with creative activity and the aesthetics of their environment that they appeared to be almost oblivious to the ‘practical’ concerns of economic reality, or if not totally unaware of the forces driving the country at least not much interested in them? They appeared to have decided that there was a better life than accepting the pace and values of urban Japan, and it was based on a return to the strength of their own local traditions – a slow appreciation of community and perception of nature undisturbed by market calculation. I imagined myself eating great meals and taking quiet walks in the mountains. I did end up eating amazingly well, but the rest of the scenario changed abruptly when this peaceful village was designated a World Heritage site. When I arrived in July 2007 to begin proper fieldwork, the train station and several government buildings in Ōda City hung signs reading “Congratulations on World Heritage for Iwami Ginzan!” So, when I got to the village of Ōmori, which is the centre of the designated site, I imagined everyone was thrilled with this news. I began to congratulate people, but was soon told “this is not something to be congratulated about” (omedetai koto-ja nai). The shock of having their world disrupted by becoming famous, accepted as being of ‘universal human value,’ and now a premier tourist destination did not impress them. For the most part, they worried that a way of life was coming to an end, and it was because of the intrusion of a global notion of cultural property. My subject, therefore, changed to examine the nature of this concept from various angles and how it has come to be of increasing importance in the country. There is a formal, legal system that operates to list and define as cultural property those items which are important to various groups. But at the lowest level of community such definitions do not necessarily apply; wholly different values may operate and govern the relationships between people and their environment. Cultural property may be brought forth as a means to control the debate over specific items. This, however, is always a political move that frames a particular narrative and channels social action.

7 The anthropology of Japan, although being concerned with rural life at its inception (Embree 1969 [1939]), has increasingly become pre-occupied with urban issues and viewpoints. But the understanding of such issues has neglected the perspective which can be achieved when rural input is added. This dichotomy between the countryside and the city is very much a central part of cultural property. How can we understand, for example, the way the landscape of Kyōto has been altered over the past thirty years? The pattern of development there has depended on legal practices and community improvement efforts that also apply on a smaller scale in Ōmori, where attitudes on what is lost or gained by change puts into relief what has happened elsewhere.

This thesis is not an ethnography of a village; it is a broad treatment of a subject that attempts to bring to bear both urban and rural attitudes, but my underlying assumption is that the understanding of the rural attitudes need more emphasis to redress balance away from an official urban bias. By this I mean that most treatments of cultural property and heritage assume that official lists produced by government bodies such as the Agency for Cultural Affairs pretty much settle the matter of what is recognized as important and worth consideration. The bureaucracy provides objective standards of classification, by this notion.

After all, if UNESCO says the landscape of Iwami Ginzan has universal value does this not mean it must somehow be better in an objective sense than, say, Mt Fuji, which so far has not obtained recognition?

An alternative appreciation can be sought from an investigation of the phenomenology of perception provided by those who live on a daily basis with valued items, both designated and not recognized by outside interests. What do people actually experience as important and remember as emotional elements in their lives? The answer is different for those who have lived in Ōmori, or have never been there before. Most of the time during my year and a half of fieldwork I lived with a family in Ōmori and spoke with residents of the village who introduced me to one another, following lines of inquiry as they came up in conversation.

These pursuits often pointed to connections with other places in Japan that residents thought had relevance to their own situation, and so I travelled around the country to learn about affairs in other places that were sites of cultural property, especially those that were already or wanted to be World Heritage sites.

When thinking about these issues, I was struck by how closely patterns I found in Japan seemed to mirror those in the West. Clusters of attitudes from history, such as Romanticism 8 and the 1960s counter-culture, seemed to echo those I was finding in Japan. This was no coincidence or delusion; it turns out that not only were some of the forces generating these attitudes in the West, such as rapid industrialization or neo-liberal policies of privatization, similar, Western theorists directly or indirectly influenced the situation in Japan. I trace some of these interconnections. It may seem a stretch to apply concepts from Heidegger to twentyfirst century rural Japan, but not only was he a direct antecedent of ways of thinking about place and space that his students brought to Japan and applied; the tools he used had an uncanny way of being relevant to the actual statements I was hearing in villages such as Ōmori when I asked about how people experienced their environment and appreciated their situation. This was particularly the case with language and history. So much depends when interpreting a culture on the specific understanding of words that do not map directly on concepts in another language, and the words and concepts keep changing. To a large part, this thesis attempts to unravel the linguistic background in the cultural property semantic space over time; as concepts such as seikatsu bunka arise, they have important repercussions in forming social awareness of certain issues, helping to coalesce awareness and direct action.

Besides language, the other useful perspective on cultural property, which is implicated by its very nature, is history. I try to excavate underlying understandings by digging back into how they may have come about.

This approach may upset those who want a more demonstrably idiographic explanation that extensively quotes informants. However, I found that asking people to explain the deeper motivations of their actions unrewarding for the most part, although they did provide clues in certain ways. For example, people kept telling me that an old patch of aizome (indigo dying) was amazingly important and the key to appreciating the whole aesthetic sense of Ōmori and the real meaning of cultural property. Why? Well, just look at it (you must be able to see the same thing we do). When I traced the work of Miki Kiyoshi back to the origin of seikatsu bunka I thought everyone must know about him, but no one did. Therefore, while I have tried to explain aspects of cultural property and heritage from the viewpoint of those engaged with these issues on a daily basis, I have not expressed only their literal understanding but looked beyond, in some cases, in an effort to produce a more general account. Some points, such as the contrast with city attitudes, were very much part of the regular discussion every night at dinner. However, other topics, such as place branding, are not necessarily connected to specific incidents encountered during fieldwork; they are part of my effort to look behind the 9 surface structure of many different aspects of cultural property and put it into a context that encompasses global concerns.

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