The Strange Child: Education and the Psychology of Patriotism in Recessionary Japan

The Strange Child: Education and the Psychology of Patriotism in Recessionary Japan

by Andrea Gevurtz Arai

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The Strange Child: Education and the Psychology of Patriotism in Recessionary Japan by Andrea Gevurtz Arai

The Strange Child examines how the Japanese financial crisis of the 1990s gave rise to "the child problem," a powerful discourse of social anxiety that refocused concerns about precarious economic futures and shifting ideologies of national identity onto the young.

Andrea Gevurtz Arai's ethnography details the different forms of social and cultural dislocation that erupted in Japan starting in the late 1990s. Arai reveals the effects of shifting educational practices; increased privatization of social services; recessionary vocabulary of self-development and independence; and the neoliberalization of patriotism. Arai argues that the child problem and the social unease out of which it emerged provided a rationale for reimagining governance in education, liberalizing the job market, and a new role for psychology in the overturning of national-cultural ideologies. The Strange Child uncovers the state of nationalism in contemporary Japan, the politics of distraction around the child, and the altered life conditions of—and alternatives created by—the recessionary generation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804798532
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 03/23/2016
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Andrea Gevurtz Arai is a cultural anthropologist and Lecturer in Japan and East Asian Studies at the University of Washington.

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The Strange Child

Education and the Psychology of Patriotism in Recessionary Japan

By Andrea Gevurtz Arai


Copyright © 2016 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8047-9856-3


Historical Crossings and Recessionary Effects

The child problem was a social category built up of examples provided by the media, popular commentators, educators, psychologists, and the government. What made this late 1990s social category so potent were cultural and institutional investments in the period of childhood and the idea of the child stretching back to the Meiji modernity project and forward to mid-twentieth-century anthropological knowledge about culture and personality. This combined production of knowledge linked the Japanese child's development to national identity, forcefully influencing late twentieth-century discourses of dependency. For a non-Western place like Japan, equalizing itself with the West at the end of the nineteenth century meant confronting Japan's temporal position as child — measured in civilizational and social evolutionary terms — against the "adult," civilized, full-in-time West. Moving out of what Stefan Tanaka has called Japan's "self-incurred immaturity" required a wholesale transformation of the archipelago's times and spaces. National unification (post-1860) was thus a project of the conversion of the cultural, temporal, and natural diversity that had characterized Tokugawa (1603–1867) society and politics. The social and cultural development of the child became representationally and practically conflated with the late nineteenth-century national unification of temporality and spatiality, as well as postwar standardization and homogenization. As children moved through the new education system, the child's development was seized upon as evidence of national advancement from heterogeneous temporalities into a homogeneous progressive time.

This transformation of the population involved mass movement from rural to urban spaces in the Taisho and early Showa periods (1912–1945). As David Ambaras shows in his insightful discussion of the history of juvenile delinquency in early to mid-twentieth-century Japan, young rural workers in the urban environment became the focus of state management and concern. Summing up this past in light of late twentieth-century social anxieities, Ambaras writes, "If today's Japanese are losing their ethical moorings ... they have been losing them for a long time — indeed for as long as authorities have been trying to anchor them."

Key theorists and historians of the modern category of childhood — Jacqueline Rose, Claudia Casteneda, Carolyn Steedman, Denise Riley, Stefan Tanaka, and Karatani Kojin — each situate issues of youth management and control within the new times of capitalist modernity and the structures and timelines of comparison that modern nation-states began to impose on each other. These authors pose key questions about the historically new attention — financial, emotional, and ideological — focused on the young. They show how the time of physical maturation became a metaphor for progressive human development and the quality of the national development of particular nation-states.

How did individual development become synonymous with the progression of national development for a non-Western state like Japan? In "The Discovery of the Child," Karatani Kojin argues:

Although the objective existence of children seems self-evident, the "child" we see today was discovered and constituted only recently. ... Of course children have existed since ancient times, yet "the child" as we conceive of it and objectify it did not exist prior to a particular period. The question is not what is elucidated by psychological research about children but what is obscured by the very concept of "the child."

As Karatani emphasizes, the child category, a historically specific body of knowledge about the period of growth newly named childhood, was not a Japanese invention but part and parcel of the practical, geographical, and temporal remaking of localities, and the territories of others, into national and imperial spaces. Forming children into citizen-subjects of the imagined communities of nation-states meant reconceiving the time of their growth as a time of national-cultural inculcation and training. Attention, investments, and emotional connection to the developmental time of the child in Western nation-states also became a means of justifying Western tutelage in other locations. Ashis Nandy and Hugh Cunningham reveal the utility of comparisons between the child of the poor at home and the childlike colonial abroad. The applicability of this child knowledge was not lost on nation-states in need of a figure that could stand for future growth, development of the state, and the timelessness of the nation. The child became the bodily and mental material of national cohesion and change.

In Japan, reconceptualizations of time and space meant that existing ideas and lived practices of temporality and spatiality became associated with a prior time. Localities were made the focus of this redefining and reallocating to an earlier temporal moment, as would be the case for Taiwan, Korea, and China several decades later. The transformative time of child to adult, formerly associated with the customs, locality, and the immediate spaces of the child's birth, was ascribed the role of representing the directional time of national progress. In other words, this time of growth, formerly locally defined and celebrated, which stood for itself, underwent a conversion. The Japanese child came to stand for the temporal values of a nation seeking to move itself out of the time of the child into which Western timelines of progress had inscribed it. To serve as an analogy for the new time, the child and childhood had to be transposed from their immediate time and space to a representational figure of the ever-forward in-common time (a key feature of Benedict Anderson's "imagined communities") that all Japanese were moving through and into. Applying this new time to Japan, Tanaka tracks how the category of the child emerged along with schools, clocks, calendars, and, of course, industry and the military. All played a part in charting, measuring, and inculcating the concept of in-common time and the practices of a shared identity. Conceptualizations of childhood and education changed again with the policies and ideologies of imperialism, total war, and ideological inculcation in Japan in the early twentieth century. The Meiji national education system played a major role in the inculcation of empire under the names of "family-state" and "national body."

In the 1940s and 1950s, Japanese childhood and education became the focus of a new anthropological approach to culture known at the time as "culture and personality." Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture (1934) provided conceptual underpinning for the idea that the mental makeup of different peoples was the result of their social environment and transmission during childhood, rather than of their racial or biological heritage. For Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead, culture was plural, psychological, and relative, rather than singular and hierarchical. Mead notes that their work was responsible for the introduction into everyday speech of the phrase in their culture. Childhood for the proponents of culture and personality was conceptualized as a "laboratory" for the study of cultures as "integrated," "articulated," holistic, and ultimately patternable by the knowing anthropologist. The pattern of a culture synthesized and essentialized difference. Each culture became understandable as a separate and bounded whole. In the process, however, diversity and contradiction were converted into coherence.

This anthropological approach meshed well with the immediate postwar needs of the U.S. government for a definitive view of their former enemy, Japan. The trajectory later turned on itself, however, as the Japanese claimed and appropriated the discourse on their national character, unique personality, and non-Western psyche. During the period of the 1940s when fieldwork in Japan and other non-Western locations became impossible, Mead and Benedict came up with a program for the "study of culture at a distance." Honed during their work in the field in the prior decade, the idea was to consolidate what they had learned and apply their new analytic tools to post-wartime needs. In this way, culture and personality became psychological studies of the "national character" of those societies with whom the Allies were (or had been) at war:

If culture was indeed "personality writ large," then collective psyche of an entire nation — its distinctive configuration of temperament, values, Weltanschauung — could be illuminated from the analysis of its literary, artistic, and religious creations.

Benedict's Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture is the most famous example. Commissioned by the U.S. Office of War Information in the mid-1940s, it continues to hold sway among psychologically informed approaches to the study of Japan. In Chrysanthemum and the Sword, Japanese child rearing becomes the key to the pattern and personality of Japanese culture that, as Benedict notes, a focus on the adult could never disclose: "Japanese childrearing makes clearer many of their (Japanese) national assumptions about life which we have so far described only at the adult level." One of the central characteristics of childhood and its contribution to understanding the configuration of culture in Japan, according to Benedict, was the uniqueness of the mother–child relationship. In "The Child Learns," (chapter 12), Benedict focuses on this special mother–child bond, establishing through it Japanese distinctiveness and difference from the West (for which the United States serves as her main example). Childhood, which in the West is a time of restriction and the forming of individuality, in Japan is characterized by freedom and learning dependence on others (starting with the mother), an unindividuation that will later be called groupism.

Benedict's characterizations of Japanese national character and culture influenced anthropologists and others writing and thinking about Japan well into the late 1990s. Praised by many for rendering comprehensible "the most alien enemy," Benedict's Chrysanthemum and the Sword, which she wrote without going to Japan or speaking Japanese, became (for Japan) what Sonia Ryang has called "a face saving alibi." Benedict's Chrysanthemum and its personality as culture approach provided the vocabulary for an emerging genre of native national identity writing in Japan by Japanese that began in the late 1950s and developed into a full-blown Japanese authored national character literature by the early 1970s.

Doi's Dependency and Kawai's Independence

In the 1950s work of Takeo Doi, the child's development, beginning with the earliest relationship with the mother, is made fully exemplary of the uniqueness of interpersonal relations in Japanese society and culture. A Freudian psychologist by training, Doi gained his insights about Japanese culture during his own "anthropological" experience as a student of psychology in the 1950s in the United States. Doi's "discovery" of amae (rendered in English as "dependency" and "indulgence") repeats the Benedictian culture and (or as) personality, a patterning of national character approach, with a reverse essentialist difference. In the writings of Doi, Benedict and Mead's in their culture took on a new force in the Japanese postwar high-growth economic climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In his first and most famous book, The Structure of Dependency (Amae no Kozo), Doi, like Benedict, neglects the historical trajectory and histories of modernity, imperialism, and colonialism of the Japanese nation-state, as well as the pre- and postwar processes of rapid modernization, urbanization, and the nationalization of local cultures. Amae, maintained Doi, was the foundation for Japanese socialization processes and interpersonal relations, as well as the explanation for cultural coherence and continuity. The ongoing repetition of this difference was provided by the body of research on cross-cultural child development, socialization, and early education, in which, for the most part, historical moments and their specific meanings were generalized to create a sense of continuity and stability. Dependency, according to Doi, was an old principle, expressed in the uniquely Japanese term of amaeru, from the root amae or sweetness. Doi popularized the verbal form extending the word sweet to the innocent reliance on others. As the contingencies of history would have it, Doi's theory met fertile discursive ground in Japan that the "culture and personality" school of anthropological theorization about Japanese culture had made available.

The recessionary period, which began in the early 1990s, marked the waning of Doi's culturalist theory of dependency. Doi had depicted Japanese culture as national character, though the operations of the nation-state are hardly mentioned. He had characterized the Japanese as members of a consumer capitalist society who somehow retained a deep and culturally inflected psychological difference, despite the fragmenting and individuating processes of consumer capitalism. One of the key components of this psychological difference, according to Doi, was a non- or anti-individual dependency. The persistence of Doi's dependency through the early 1990s was due at least in part to its neglect, borrowed from earlier psychological theories of culture, of the complexities of modernity in Japan, among them the complicated trajectories of individual and collective.

Yoshino Kosaku and Tessa Morris-Suzuki argue that Doi's influence, was a product of its time, not to mention the sheer number of his publications, over twenty self-authored volumes. Kosaku refers to this time in the early 1970s as the second moment of Japanese postwar cultural nationalism and the genre of writing known as Nihonjinron, or Japanese discourses on Japaneseness. Kosaku calls the late 1940s and 1950s the first moment or the "introspection boom," a time that coincides with translations and commentary on Ruth Benedict's Chrysanthemum and the Sword and the (1945–1952) American Occupation's remaking of Japanese educational and constitutional systems.

The first moment was also characterized by the introduction of modernization theory into Japan and East Asia as Michael Latham and Victor Koschmann cogently outline. Latham shows how modernization theorists borrowed from Benedict's patterns and personalities. Western modernizers in Japan and elsewhere saw in the idea of holistic cultures the potential of "a spectrum" along which the "traditional" might move toward the "modern" rather than an "immutable barrier" between "savagery" and "civilization." The modernizer's task was to carefully guide non-Western nations along the proper developmental path to capitalist modernization. In the case of Japan, this required a turning away from and redefining of the prewar past. In American modernizing terms, Japan's prewar period was a nonmodern feudal time, a "dark valley" that could and should be moved (temporally) beyond. In this conception, Japan's occupation of and war in Asia was simply backward, never mind the fascism of the national body, family-state, and pure blood lines, rather than colonial and imperial.

The second moment identified by Kosaku is characterized by a focus on groupism, verticality, and dependence versus Western individualism, horizontality, and independence. Tessa Morris-Suzuki describes how cultural nationalism of this second moment was inflected with policy and technology narratives as well. In her Beyond Computopia, she describes the search for a "unifying theme" by Japanese industry that would share discursive space with Doi's dependency for the low-growth late 1970s. The narrative and industrial shift that emerged in post-1973 in Japan was at the time called the "information society" (what we now refer to as the knowledge economy). Former Prime Minister Nakasone, a champion of the information society narrative, admonished American heterogeneity and lauded assumed Japanese homogeneity and groupism for its superior information flow. A technical fix for postindustrial conditions, the information society narrative in Japan borrowed from Doi's dependency theory and other cultural nationalist ideas, wedding them to a utopian vision of human capital development, which by the mid-1990s had come to a crashing halt.


Excerpted from The Strange Child by Andrea Gevurtz Arai. Copyright © 2016 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: The Strange Child, Education, Neoliberal Patriotism 1

1 Historical Crossings and Recessionary Effects 21

2 The Ministry of Education and the Youth A Incident 42

3 Frontiers Within 60

4 Collapsing Classrooms 80

5 The Cram School Industry in the Age of Recession 110

6 The Recessionary Generation: Times and Spaces 139

Conclusion 172

Notes 177

References 200

Index 223

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