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Journal of World History 12.2 (2001) 465-467

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Book Review

The Ruins of Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands.

The Ruins of Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands. By MARK J. HUDSON. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1999. Pp. ix + 323. $31.95 (paper).

Mark Hudson's book Ruins of Identity is an important contribution to the English-language literature in Japanese studies. Hudson tackles the complicated and controversial issue of Japanese ethnic identity, specifically when it was formed and under what conditions, what he calls ethnogenesis. He argues that this process occurred in two stages. The first stage of development took place during the Yayoi period (commonly 300 B.C.E. to 300 C.E.), when what he calls a "core population" evolved. During this period, rice cultivators migrated to Japan from the Korean peninsula, either displacing or absorbing the Jo¯mon peoples who were already there. The second stage was the early medieval period (twelfth century), when, he argues, the first attempts at the cultural construction of Japanese ethnicity began. Hudson's book provides valuable insights into the origins of Japanese ethnicity, which is especially significant given Japan's long history of "ethnic solidarity" (p. 243).

This book has a number of strengths. As one might expect, Hudson has a sophisticated definition of ethnicity, that he attempts more narrowly to define in precise, scientific terms. He discusses the problems inherent in the issue of Japanese ethnicity in the context of peoples who seem to defy inclusion. He briefly discusses two important groups of peoples who fall into this category: the Kumaso/Hayato of Kyushu, and the Emishi of northern Honshu. These were groups of peoples residing in the Japanese islands, perhaps biologically related to the core population of central Japan, yet were excluded by that same core population from consideration as ethnically Japanese. He complicates our understanding of the Emishi, moreover, by arguing that they were not a coherent ethnic group in the premodern period. Instead, the term Emishi was a catchall category used to signify barbarian peoples of northern Japan not yet under the control of the Yamato state (p. 199). Hudson shows how biological evidence indicates that some, if not most, of the Emishi were closely related to the core population (the Japanese), while others were more related to the present-day Ainu of northern Honshu and Hokkaido (p. 198). His discussion, in fact, of the Ainu is an important part of the book, and he devotes an entire chapter to it. He concludes that the formation of an Ainu ethnic identity occurred during the twelfth century mostly via their contacts with the Japanese core population in central Japan. [End Page 465]

Another significant contribution of this book is Hudson's critique of the Japanese myth of cultural uniqueness. One of the themes of Hudson's study is the inability of Japanese scholars, especially archaeologists, to appreciate more fully the various types of evidence that problematize the notion of an unchanged and homogeneous Japanese ethnic identity since the late Jo¯mon era. Debates on Japanese ethnogenesis in Japan itself have been influenced by "nationalistic discourses in Japanese society" (p. 23). Even in Japan's own history, he notes, the idea of a single "ethnos" is a relatively recent development (p. 13), citing the example of Tokugawa nativism (Kokugaku) and the thought of the nativist Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801). Slipping once again into an objective analytic modality, Hudson observes that there is no scientific evidence to support the idea of "culturally specific traits" of the Japanese from the beginnings of Japanese history (p. 236).

Perhaps the two most important contributions of Hudson's book to Japanese studies are his contextualization of Japanese ethnogenesis within the greater East Asian region, and his synthesis of data from a wide range of disciplines. In his chapter on Ainu ethnogenesis, he looks at the contacts that the Ainu had with peoples to the north in Sakhalin and Siberia, their contacts with the Mongols and the Chinese, especially during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), and, of course, contacts...


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