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  • The Silk Weavers of Kyoto: Family and Work in a Changing Traditional Industry
  • Millie Creighton (bio)
The Silk Weavers of Kyoto: Family and Work in a Changing Traditional Industry. By Tamara K. Hareven. University of California Press, Berkeley, 2002. xxvii, 347 pages. $55.00, cloth; $21.95, paper.

The profound value of The Silk Weavers of Kyoto: Family and Work in a Changing Traditional Industry can largely be attributed to Tamara Hareven's willingness to resist pressure to publish quickly. She spent 15 years, from 1982 to 1996, researching the lives of Nishijin weavers. She spent summer and winter vacations from her academic job conducting life history interviews with Japanese manufacturers, weavers, and others in the industry. A year's sabbatical in Kyoto allowed her to experience the entire annual seasonal and ritual cycle so important to Kyoto life and to Nishijin weaving. Even her mother asked why the book was taking so long. Her father reassured her that "it takes a long time to understand another culture" (p. 3).

Indeed, it takes a long time to understand another culture, and a long time to understand how a subculture, such as the artisanal culture presented in this book, relates to the overall culture and to similar occupational subcultures elsewhere. The time involved in this work grants the final product the immense ability to grasp and communicate the understandings of both of these. It is relevant that Hareven was willing to give this long framework to the study of a culture (Japan) that is often said to be characterized by an emphasis on long-term orientation. A long timeframe underlies her ethnographic subject, traditional Nishijin weaving in Japan. Learning initial weaving skills is believed to take at least three years, and it is said to require ten years before people begin to be proficient. Hareven's long-term involvement in her research thereby matches the long-term framework of both the overall culture and subculture she researches and presents in this book.

It also takes a long time to understand one's own culture in relationship to one's own life. Through this book, we are presented with the life histories of individual Japanese weavers who undergo a subjective process of placing their lives within a historic cultural framework through Hareven's interviews [End Page 461] with them. Such an understanding involves ongoing reflection and integration. Oral history as a method is not a precise recreation of historical events but allows a much deeper understanding of how individuals construct meaning for their lives, connect the past to the present, and are able to interpret both in relationship to their own culture and the frames it provides for them. In the end, the individual life histories in this book are laden with exceptional value "as historical, cultural testimonies" (p. 48).

In presenting these life history narratives, Hareven addresses how patterns of family and work in Nishijin have changed or persisted over the last century. The book is helpful for anyone interested in Japan; discussions of work, leisure, and family organization; gender; discourses of identity, tradition, nostalgia, and human connectedness to place; discussions of culturally derived aesthetic concepts; and ways individual construction of meaning is related to the cultural level of human existence. The book is rich with insights to all of these, while providing a comparison with weavers in North America.

Nishijin weavers are compared with weavers in the Amoskeag weaving mills in Manchester, New Hampshire. Hareven identifies attitudes, values, and orientations toward work and family that seem to arise from a culture of artisanal work as weavers. Shared value systems between Nishijin and Amoskeag weavers include a profound value placed on the idea of craft and of being a craftsperson, a continual search for improvement and creativity, and strong involvement of individual careers with family and collective goals. By identifying such shared elements, Hareven is able to address the ways members of the Nishijin world definitively share cultural elements with other Japanese, such as a stronger sense of personal interconnectedness, stronger conformity to the outside world, and a socialization into the "inside" and "outside" operational frames of Japanese life.

This book contributes immensely to studies on the organization and...


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pp. 461-465
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