Kindheit in der japanischen Geschichte: Vorstellungen und Erfahrungen

Author:Brown, Janice C.
 
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Kindheit in der japanischen Geschichte: Vorstellungen und Erfahrungen / Childhood in Japanese History: Concepts and Experiences. Edited by MICHAEL KlNSKI, HARALD SALOMON, and EIKE GROSSMANN. Wiesbaden: HARRASSOWITZ VERLAG, 2015. Pp. xv + 542. $133.

Whether by coincidence or design, recent scholarly work in international Japan studies has seen an upsurge in publications that focus on topics connected with childhood and Japan. Most notably, Mark Jones' Children as Treasures: Childhood and the Middle Class in Early Twentieth Century Japan (2010) and Sabine Fruhstuck's edited volume, Child's Play: Multi-Sensory Histories of Children and Childhood in Japan (2017) come to mind. The volume under review, with its shared German and English title, underscores the significance of this topic to scholars in both Europe and the US, a global view further enhanced by the inclusion in the volume of contributions from Japanese scholars, written either in German or English. In addition to its use of two languages, Kindheit in der japanischen Geschichte is distinguished from other recent works, such as those mentioned above, by its broad temporal spread. Unlike other volumes that focus primarily on the modern period, with some small foray into the early modern as in the Fruhstuck anthology, Kindheit in der japanischen Geschichte covers both pre-modern and modern equally; that is, seven chapters encompass the Heian/Medieval and Early Modern periods, while a further seven chapters treat material from Meiji to Heisei. Along with a substantial introduction, the reader is thus treated to a veritable historical feast as the volume unfolds, acquiring not only a wealth of information and insight provided by European, American, and Japanese scholars but also a comprehensive overview of a topic that has been relatively neglected in research outside Japan.

Given the paucity of work in this area until recently, one might wonder why childhood, why the child, why now? According to the editors' opening remarks, the volume came into being through a research project launched in January 2008 by Kinski and Salomon. The project attracted GroBmann to the editorial team, and further scholarly interest was generated through wide-ranging conference presentations and workshops, resulting in the compilation of the current volume. The editors see the focus on childhood as part of a new development in international Japanese studies. Taking up this matter further in the introduction, Michael Kinski provides an in-depth discussion of childhood historical studies, including their relevance to historical research more broadly construed, in which the exceedingly temporal nature of childhood as well as its various social and historical constructions over time renders the discussion of childhood problematic in ways not seen in investigations of other social categories, such as class, ethnicity, or gender. For example, the tendency to divide childhood into rigid sections depending on biological age, or the notion that until the age of seven children were considered to be "divine beings" has resulted in obscuring the fluid nature of childhood in general as well as the realities of that experience. A further consideration in this regard is that there are few child agents in the historical presentation of childhood, only adults writing in reflection on or in observation of childhood, and moreover, up until very recently, particularly in the case of Japan, those undertaking such writing were primarily men. An exception to this are the views of European and North American travelers...

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