2446 jomin

was extended to include the entire Japanese
population, even the emperor. In Yanagitas
observation, some aspects of ordinary peoples
life, rituals in particular, closely resembled
those of the imperial family hence the unity
of the Japanese nation.
After Yanagitas death in 1962, much of the
debate on jomin focused on the extended usage
just mentioned. Central to the debate was the
question of whether jomin constituted a specific
category of people who really existed at a parti
cular time and place or, by contrast, an abstract
category comprising the entire Japanese peo
ple across time and space. Fukuta supported
the former position, regarding jomin mainly as
honbyakusho (independent peasants), who, in the
Tokugawa period, possessed their own land and
house, as well as their descendants, who were
believed to embody their ancestors traditions in
modern times. He thus objected to Yanagitas
attempt to make jomin an all embracing cate
gory. Many folklorists supported Yanagita,
however, and interpreted jomin as meaning not
only the Japanese people, but also the totality of
their way of life. In their hands, jomin became
almost synonymous with Japanese culture a
view that later came to be called jomin as a
cultural concept.
This identification of jomin with Japanese
culture aroused much controversy among his
torians. Historians directed their criticisms
toward the folklorists indifference to the time
frame, which, according to the former, was
derived from the latters supposition of the
supertemporal nature of jomin. This concept
was so named after the folklorists assertion that
jomin was a transgenerational category. Indeed,
the aforementioned jomin as a cultural con
cept was divorced from a specific time frame,
hence unable to indicate when particular cus
toms were practiced a criticism similar to
that of essentialism in todays scholarship.
Another criticism made by historians, especially
those in the Marxist camp, was concerned with
the folklorists indifference to class, which
derived from the supposed superclass nature
of jomin. Given Yanagitas view that jomin
included the emperor, this was only expected.
All in all, the idea of jomin has the same weak
nesses as the anthropological notion of culture:
both tend to be essentialist and gloss over inter
nal differences and conflict.
Fukutas approach, by contrast, is free from
such ambiguities. It represents what has come
to be called jomin as a substantial concept.
This concept, however, has a different set of
problems. For one thing, the proportion of
the people Fukuta identified as jomin (i.e., inde
pendent peasants in Tokugawa times and their
descendants) has significantly diminished in
post war Japan as a result of urbanization and
industrialization. Since jomin is a pivotal con
cept in Japanese folkloristics, this demographic
change implies the loss of the disciplines raison
detre. At least, the dramatic social change that
has occurred since the end of World War II
has made it necessary to reconsider the folklor
ists customary emphasis on peasant culture.
Some scholars, most notably Noboru Miyata,
have tried to solve this problem by developing
new fields, such as urban folkloristics. For
another, the attempt to restrict the meaning of
jomin to a narrowly defined group of people will
eventually direct the researchers attention away
from the folk customs practiced outside that
category. Accordingly, the scope of research will
be considerably diminished, and folkloristics
may lose its popularity among readers at large.
Despite his familiarity with western scholar
ship, Yanagita seldom mentioned the literature
he had consulted in producing his voluminous
works. This omission was probably intentional.
Yanagita was convinced that folkloristics would
only prosper in a country like Japan, where the
old and the new coexisted, and that western
scholars would sooner or later be forced to
reexamine their findings in light of the Japanese
research. Yanagita wanted to be the leader, if
not the founder, of the world community of
folklorists. Considering the passive role Japa
nese academics conventionally played in the
international community, his ambition was
exceptional. However, Yanagitas failure to
properly acknowledge his intellectual debt has
brought about unfortunate results among his
followers the difficulty of assessing his achieve
ment in the global context and the subsequent
isolation of Japanese folkloristics from western
scholarship, which occupies a central place in
the academic world system (Kuwayama
2004). Thus, it is unclear if Yanagitas concept
of jomin, around which his scholarship devel
oped, has any connection with, for example, the
Annales School of French social history, which