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  • The First Stirrings of Folk Scholarship (Minkangaku) in Modern Japan (1983)
  • Kano Masanao (bio)
    Translated by David Henry (bio)

The journey toward the consolidation of minkangaku (Folk Scholarship) began in the form of a confrontation with orthodoxy in the academic world.1 People started sensing the loss of access to representation within the academic project at large, and in response they began to search for new avenues to articulate solutions to their problems. Even if early minkangaku scholars did not seek to deny mainstream scholarship per se, they strove to raise questions by asserting that the standard discourse did not account for all of society. In other words, they sought at least to reduce the pressure with which “academism” (akademizumu) threatened to completely monopolize scholarly discourse.2 The 1880s to 1900 formed a gestational period in which the first tentative iterations of minkangaku as a distinct movement within scholarship can be discerned. Minkangaku scholars had a complicated relationship with mainstream academic scholarship—the development of the two was at times intertwined—but in some instances the former developed parallel to but separate from the latter. We can point to three of the forms in which early minkangaku took shape during this time.

People’s Rights and Law Studies (Minkenhōgaku)

The first of these three forms is People’s Rights and Law Studies (minkenhōgaku), which took shape within the larger context of the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement (Jiyū minken undō). A fine grained look at what kind of mark the former left on the growth of the latter is no easy task, since it involves complex questions pertaining to the character of both. Given this complexity, I will limit myself to speaking only in general terms about why the iteration of minkangaku that gestated in this context was ultimately stillborn. Here, I would like to make four points:

  1. (1). During the formative years of Japan’s modern period, the social sciences (shakaikagaku) were overwhelmingly under the influence of translation culture. For [End Page 179] example, this impression can clearly be measured if we look at the “Annual List of Published Works” included with the Collected Works of Meiji Culture (Meiji bunka zenshū, 1927-32) for individual thematic volumes on Freedom and People’s Rights, law, economics, and politics. Through the end of the 1880s, translations accounted for half of the scholarly works published and much of the rest was still constituted by what amounted to explanations or expositions of European and North American social science. It is only within the “Annual List of Published Works” of the Freedom and People’s Rights volume that the number of original works surpasses that of translations. From this we can easily surmise that there was a strong desire expressed within this field toward independent cultural creativity. Even so, this took place within the larger boundaries defined by translation culture.

  2. (2). Within the considerable number of works on political science emerged classics like Nakae Chōmin’s A Discourse by Three Drunkards on Politics (Sansuijin keirin mondai, 1887). Although these works addressed political issues it would be hard to say that they actually constituted politics as a field of study. They did, however, help create the impetus for a new academic field.

  3. (3). Even if the study of People’s Rights and Law was not established as an organized scholarly discipline, it raised the general level of interest toward the academic process by widely encouraging people to engage in a range of communal learning activities.

  4. (4). Moreover, with so many people during the Meiji period (1868-1912) trying to achieve concrete political action there was little time left for organizing the systematic establishment of an academic field.

Given these limitations, Ono Azusa’s Theory of the National Constitution (Kokken hanron, 1882-85) and The Essence of Civilian Law (Minpō no honne, 1883) represent considerable achievements.3 The former work is known for advancing an original framework for constitutional studies drawing widely on the thought of Jeremy Bentham, J.S. Mill, Francis Lieber, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but was developed with careful explanation within the Japanese context of constitutional and popular rule, the role of the Japanese imperial house, the people’s...


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