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  • 郷土 Kyōdo/Native Soil
  • Satō Kenji (bio)
    Translated by Jordan Sand (bio)

Kyōdo kenkyū (郷土研究、kyōdo studies) formed an important element in the composition of the neologism kyōdo (literally, “native soil”) in the 1910s. From there, the idea went on to penetrate the thinking of early Japanese minzokugaku (ethnology or folklore studies). In retrospect, the potential of this term lay in the way it contained two overlapping meanings, indicating not only the field that was the object of research but also the world of everyday life that configured the researching subject’s conscious sensibility. However, in the 1930s, when local folklore collection under the rubric of kyōdo kenkyū became the pedagogical fashion inside and outside of official circles, as kyōdo became an object of social interest, its range of meaning also inflated confusedly.

One important source for the development of the word is the lecture “Kyōdo Studies and Kyōdo Education” (Kyōdo kenkyū to kyōdo kyōiku), which Yanagita Kunio delivered in Yamagata in November 1932. In this lecture, the thinker who would come to be spoken of as the founder of Japanese minzokugaku directed two criticisms at contemporary trends of practice in what was then known as kyōdo education.

His first point was that kyōdo was a methodological concept rather than merely a geographical term, which meant one could not substitute for it the name of one’s hometown or of a specific existing region. For minzokugaku as a new historiography that took its materials from popularly transmitted stories, kyōdo was not a space that could be delineated by lines on a map. This assertion of Yanagita’s was greatly at variance with the concept of kyōdo being promoted in human geography and pedagogy at the time. In the same sense as language, kyōdo for Yanagita was a category that operated within the internal patterns of thought of individuals who inhabited it as a space. Below, I will reread kyōdo’s historical interest and contemporary potential on the basis of this interpretation of Yanagita’s. [End Page 78]

Yanagita’s second point concerned the tendency to confine the connotations of the new term to knowledge and information that was “unique” to a particular locale. Put simply, his target here was the kind of parochial focus on one’s own culture evidenced in “local pride” campaigns. Yanagita’s criticism thus dictated a comparative approach to folklore research. Yet the comparative method was no panacea. Naïve comparisons relying on dichotomous schemas can manufacture claims of local particularity that actually cloud observation rather than aiding it. Since Edward Said’s Orientalism, it has become plain that how we frame cultural comparison is always a matter of strategy that must be engaged in consciously and with care. Yanagita’s call for comparisons thus presents another reason to straighten out what sort of work is done by the word kyōdo.

Kyōdo Is Neither a Place Nor an Affiliation

Yanagita’s first point is known through the following famous and frequently quoted statement:

We were not taking kyōdo as our object of research. In contrast to this, many of you speak of studying the kyōdo. …We weren’t trying to study the kyōdo, we were trying to study something in/with the kyōdo (kyōdo de]). This something was the life of the Japanese, particularly the past record of this people (minzoku) as a group. Our plan was to seek to learn this anew in each kyōdo, or through the sensibilities of the kyōdo people (kyōdojin no ishiki kankaku o tōshite) (14:145).

How should we interpret the phrase he stresses here, kyōdo de? Here is one fork in the road of interpretation.

In the simplest reading, Yanagita’s remarks have been taken to emphasize the importance of research by folklore collectors in their own native places “in the provinces,” and his encouragement of this practice. The phrase was read, in other words, as an indication of the place where research should be conducted and, by extension, of qualifications for who could engage in that research. A suggestion of privilege...


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pp. 78-86
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