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Reviewed by:
  • An Archaeological History of Japan, 30,000 B.C. to A.D. 700
  • Mark J. Hudson
An Archaeological History of Japan, 30,000 B.C. to A.D. 700. Koji Mizoguchi. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002. xiii + 274 pp., illustrations, maps, bibliography, index. Hardcover $49.95. ISBN 0-8122-3651-3.

As archeologists, how do we begin to understand the real lives and experiences of people who lived in prehistory? In this book, Koji Mizoguchi uses the argument of German sociologist Niklas Luhmann that the human mind tends to see its mirror in the past in order to reduce the psychological "stress" of dealing with the Other. The task of the archeologist is thus to liberate him- or herself from the assumption of sameness. Mizoguchi attempts this task by developing a phenomenological approach to what he calls the "technologies of identity" in prehistoric Japan.

For Mizoguchi, identity is primarily the psychological identity of the Self and the main unit of analysis of the book is the "psychic system/mind" (p. 239). Other identities receive little attention: ethnicity, for example, is only mentioned twice in the whole book. The reconstruction of identity is approached through an analysis of how individuals in the past may have moved through changing social topographies and interacted with other individuals and groups. The theoretical basis of this approach is discussed in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 looks at how contemporary Japanese identities have influenced archeological interpretation in post-war Japan. The main body of the book then moves on to a reconstruction of identities in the Late Paleolithic, Jomon, Yayoi, and Kofun periods in Chapters 3 to 6.

Since many of the arguments made by Mizoguchi are so complex, it is hard to do them all justice in a short review such as this. Here, therefore, I want to focus on what I see as the main strengths and weaknesses of this volume. Perhaps the main strength of the book is that it gives us a way to approach past identities without using historical documents. Despite the originality of his approach, however, many of the basic conclusions reached by Mizoguchi are rather traditional. For instance the idea that identity is derived by reference to the Other, a concept which Mizoguchi takes from Luhmann, was developed in ethnographic studies of ethnicity in the 1960s by Fredrik Barth and others. Mizoguchi's discussion of the basic social [End Page 175] changes in each of the four periods considered also tends to follow accepted conventions. Thus, the increased fixity of social relations at the end of the Paleolithic is ultimately derived from ecological factors: the fact that food resources supposedly became more predictable at that time ( p. 70). The analysis of Jomon figurines around the "notion of 'cyclicality' and the regenerative power of the female" (p. 85) also follows the traditional approach in Jomon studies that has recently been criticized by Nelly Naumann in her book Japanese Prehistory: The Material and Spiritual Culture of the Jomon Period (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2000). The emphasis on rice paddies and mounded tombs in the discussion of the Yayoi and Kofun periods follows the familiar post-war Marxist problématique of the rise of class divisions in ancient Japan. And the conclusion that in the Kofun period, "the elite and commoners became each other's Other" (p. 238) is supported, for example, by a wide range of historical studies on elites in premodern Europe.

These frameworks are not in themselves evidence of any fundamental flaw in the book under review here. Rather, they are symptomatic of the very broad level of Mizoguchi analysis and also of the fact that the book does not attempt to develop a new theory as to why identities change over time. Human "identity" is a complex, multifaceted phenomenon that is above all contingent upon individual situations; there can be no more a single "Jomon identity" than a single Japanese or Belgian or Syrian identity today. In investigating the "topographies" of identity that were experienced by the inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago from the Late Paleolithic through to the Kofun period, Mizoguchi deals with only the broadest level, perhaps the shared "baseline" of identity for each period...