- Kindheit in der japanischen Geschichte: Vorstellungen und Erfahrungen/Childhood in Japanese History: Concepts and Experiences eds. by Michael Kinski, Harald Salomon, and Eike Großmann
Beginning in the 1980s, a handful of sociologists, anthropologists, and historians anticipated what would become a key social, economic, and political issue for many years to come: the rapid aging of Japanese society. Subsequently, hundreds of large-scale surveys suggested the necessity to rethink aging, elder care, and death and dying; careful qualitative studies critiqued inadequate institutions and care programs for the elderly; and policymakers found themselves scrambling to create better and a greater variety of solutions designed to address the diverse needs of the elderly and their families. By the 1990s the tide had perhaps not turned, but the issue of an aging society was reframed, not as a problem of increasing numbers of older people, but as a problem of a lack of children—a whole generation appeared to have little will to reproduce or have enough children to sustain a socially responsible welfare state. Add a handful of child murderers, and the media and political spotlight quickly swerved.
Children and youth became the new pressing social problem, be they just dwindling in numbers, strange, ill adjusted, or murderous. This time around, however, contemporary scholars publishing outside Japan seemed to be struggling to catch up with Japanese-language scholarship on the issue. That said, a few anthropologists and historians have taken the bait.1 Aspiring historians of children and childhood in Japan will be well advised to make the current volume, Childhood in Japanese History: Concepts and Experiences, their starting point. To my knowledge, it is the first attempt in any language other than Japanese to survey the history and historiography of childhood in Japan. Encompassing the Heian period to the present, this Herculean effort interprets history broadly. In addition to several essays by historians, the volume includes insightful contributions from literary and theater scholars, sociologists, and a linguist. Half of the fourteen chapters are written in German, and half in English. Organized chronologically, the book is divided into three parts, with two chapters on ancient and medieval times, five chapters on the early modern era, and seven chapters devoted to the modern period. [End Page 265]
The superb introduction by Michael Kinski provides a critical examination of the history and images of childhood through the lens of cultural history and the history of thought. In a powerful sweep, Kinski qualifies the critique of Philippe Ariès's Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life (New York: Vintage Books, 1960) in recent scholarship; challenges the dearly held notion that historically children in Japan up to the age of seven had never been considered full human beings; makes a case about the uneven existence, gendered nature, and availability of sources across different periods (the further back in history one ventures, the more often texts on children are exclusively written by men); and also provides a clear and yet complex lay of the land for the history of childhood. The introduction also addresses another aspect of the historiography of childhood that is often presented as fundamental: the fact that the vast majority of records and analyses are not of children's utterances and writings, but of written material generated by adults. More often than not, they are adults' reflections on their own childhood, adult observations of children, and adult interpretations of children's roles in society. Kinski dismantles the false opposition between these two bodies of evidence and proposes a fluid continuity between them—with accounts by children on the one end and those by adults on the other. After all, even the child who writes a diary is likely to do so with self-awareness of conventions for writing such diaries, might be prompted to do so by teachers and/or parents, and might consider the possibility (or the actuality) that the diary will be read by others. By that same token...