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

Japanese Native Anthropology: Folkloristics among Cultural Movements from the 1930s to the 1960s

Joint Research Coordinator SHIGENOBU Yukihiko

Reserch Theme List


Native Anthropology/Folkloristics, cultural movements, local intellectuals


This research attempts to make clear the facts concerning the state of folkloristics before it was transformed into an academic discipline. We are aware that its existence clearly generated sympathetic responses from diverse cultural movements in different locations. Our aim is to describe the formation of folkloristics and determine its position in multifarious cultural movements occurring among people. Before folkloristics underwent academic transformation during the 1960s, it was involved with literature (including short forms of poetry and fiction), history (local history), archaeology, as well as natural history with a close connection to such humanistic knowledge, existing as a way to identify and select the actual products of folk knowledge in various locations. Such locally focused movements engaged in negotiations with the outside and established extensive ties with intellectuals in other locales. This was accomplished by forging contacts with individuals, as well as through their periodical publications or the local educational system.

In addition, early Japanese anthropologists had quite a few points of contact with these kinds of cultural movements. Through the discovery of legend, orally transmitted culture and the memories of elders, folklorists were able to self-reflect and reevaluate their own lifestyles. This practical approach began to grow in these local cultural movements. Through this research we hope to survey in the broad sense the development of humanistic knowledge in modern Japan, including folkloristics, and thus open new horizons through reassessment based on multidimensional dynamics.

Research Results

This Inter-University Research Project envisioned a history focused more on the specific techniques used, rather than the research output produced, to supplement the local knowledge that became the cradle in which Japanese Native Anthropology (folklore and early ethnology) was nurtured. The goal was to shed light on how historical materials were shared; how magazines (including self-published magazines) were used as media; how discussions and lectures were held; and how the selection of "central" figures was affected by local practice. Our aim was to reveal the systems and processes that lead to their centrality.

We investigated in detail each locality and subject. Thus, for example, we paid special attention to how magazines were created and used. Some local magazines functioned as foci for members living in the same area and who were closely connected and engaged in the same movements. There were also cases in which an individual independently launched a magazine and then solicited contributions from both within and outside the locality to create "connections" between them. In both cases the magazine became a "forum" for displaying solidarity. We demonstrated that when the connections between literature, folklore, local papers/gazetteers, and other publications are carefully explored, their relative positioning and ties that cross-cut genres become visible.

We also pointed how literacy gives rise to local cultural movements and classifications of historical and other materials that differ from those assumed by academic institutions. This different literacy deserves careful study. Through our Inter-University Research Project, we realized the significance of adopting a broader definition of history and/or documents: This possible new field of is neither the "history" assumed by early modern history nor is it rooted in the traditional dichotomy contrasting official and popular history.

By examining the "forms" taken by local cultural movements we envision a new approach to native anthropology, which takes into account the native who engages in research on his or her own culture, thereby revealing the humanistic significance of "native methods" that differ from academic methodologies.