The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

A Comprehensive Analysis of Overseas Anthropological Studies of Japan

Joint Research Coordinator KUWAYAMA Takami

Reserch Theme List


Japanese studies, overseas anthropology, Japan as the other


The primary objectives of this joint research are to understand the actual situation regarding overseas anthropological studies of Japan, and to study issues related to representations of Japan as a foreign culture. Geographically, the bulk of the accumulated research is centered in the English-language speaking zone. For that reason, more than half of the team members are scholars with academic degrees from British or American universities involving Japan as the object of study. Furthermore, even while seeking to utilize the perspective of Japanese folkloristics studying Japanese culture itself, we intend to introduce a comparative perspective by examining research on Japan in other parts of East Asia. We have established the following specific research goals: (1) Creation of a detailed list of written records and bibliographical notes on those records–Creation of basic research materials for the committee through a thorough survey of the existing literature on Japan written in non-Japanese languages. (2) Identification of intellectual genealogy–Investigation of the theoretical, ethnographic, and political backgrounds of key written works to clarify the flow of Japanese studies outside Japan. (3) Overall reconsideration of cultural research–Reexamination of how cultural research should be approached through consideration of how one's own culture is portrayed as a foreign culture by outside researchers. (4) Creation of forums for dialogue–Thinking about how dialogues among those who are depicting and those who are being depicted can point the way to cultural representations acceptable to both sides.

Research Results

This three-and-a-half year joint research project concluded in March 2014. It was challenging to get the 16 members of this large research team together. Despite changes made in the direction of research, most objectives were achieved. A contemporary perspective was applied to examine some classical studies of Japan published in English-speaking countries during the Showa Era; namely John Embree’s “Suye Mura: A Japanese Village”, Ruth Benedict’s “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture”, and “Village Japan” by Richard Beardsley et. al. Other works that deal with relatively new themes, such as gender and whaling, were discussed also. At the same time, the project sought to determine whether anthropological studies of Japan in East Asia really existed, and to identify and assess the status of Japanology in South Korea and Taiwan. The research conducted in China will be discussed when a book containing the results of the project’s current research is published. In addition, it was concluded that Japan was among the first topics discussed by academic societies established in the UK around the mid-19th century. This illustrates the depth of research on Japanese history in the Western world.
The joint research project was intended to overturn the current lack of knowledge in Japan about the anthropological studies on Japan that have been conducted overseas, particularly in English-speaking countries. A book will be published to give an overview of the findings of the project.