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  • Japan’s Inca BoomGlobal Archaeology and the Making of a Postwar Nation
  • Miriam L. Kingsberg

Over the past three decades, scholars of the history of archaeology have increasingly called attention to the impact of nationalism and the nation on the study of the material past.1 In the case of Japan, they have shown how the introduction of Euro-American techniques of excavation and analysis in the late nineteenth century helped to legitimize the sovereignty of an allegedly divine and legally all-powerful emperor. As Japan asserted imperial control over its neighbors, archaeologists pursued evidence of ancient contact with the Asian mainland to justify contemporary authority. Following the dismantling of the empire in 1945, Japanese researchers returned their focus to the home islands to seek the genesis of a unique ethnonational identity. The emperor disavowed earlier claims of descent from the gods, yet many sites associated with the imperial house have remained off-limits to archaeologists who might challenge certain established narratives regarding the birth of the Japanese state.2

Within this disciplinary genealogy, Japanese researchers’ ventures into global archaeology—that is, their investigation of material culture in regions not under Japanese [End Page 221] political domination or aspirations thereof—are largely conspicuous by their absence. In part, this lacuna reflects the fact that global archaeology has been, and to a certain extent remains, a relatively minor subset of Japanese archaeological scholarship. Additionally, global archaeology is frequently seen as disengaged or exempt from the ideological pressures of the nation-state, and thus less interesting from a historical point of view. The current article is a case study of Japan’s initial foray into global archaeology that attempts, first, to redraw the boundaries of “Japanese archaeology” beyond the home islands and adjacent territories and, second, to illustrate how even seemingly “objective” studies in “neutral” areas remain subject to domestic nationalist agendas.

In 1958, the University of Tokyo Scientific Expedition to the Andes (Tōkyō Daigaku Andesu Chitai Gakujutsu Chōsadan 東京大学アンデス地帯学術調査団, commonly called the Tōdai Andesu Chōsadan 東大アンデス調査団 and hereafter referred to as TAC) launched an unprecedented investigation of pre-Inca sites in Peru. Although Japanese emigrants in South America had long researched pre-Columbian history, Japanese in Japan had virtually no tradition of studying the ancient Andes. As a result, Peru appeared free from the discredited prewar legacies of colonialism and expansionism that tinged Japan’s traditional areas of academic interest in Asia. Ironically, the putative objectivity of global archaeology in Latin America formed the basis of its political appeal. Research in the United States’ “backyard,” on a topic of historical significance to Europeans, also promised the attention of the global academic community, which Japan sought to rejoin after the estrangement engendered by World War II.

The political valences of global archaeology extended well beyond the scholarly world. To the surprise of many mid-century observers, including archaeologists, the ancient Andes came to captivate the Japanese imagination. During the so-called Inca boom (Inka būmu インカ・ブーム), lasting from about 1958 to 1969, museum exhibitions, photographs, textiles, paintings, films, television programs, travel opportunities, and publications of all kinds stimulated and satisfied popular fascination with the pre-Columbian past. Public curiosity derived not only from the novelty of the topic, but also from the perceived relevance of the ancient Andes to Japan. Anthropologists and others had long speculated that the Japanese and indigenous Andeans shared a common ancestry. In the postwar period, this hypothesis took on new significance, offering ethnic kin in place of the Asian colonial subjects who had been seen as racial siblings of the Japanese prior to 1945. By associating itself with the Inca empire, Japan claimed a past more palatable than its own tortured recent trajectory of militarism, fascism, and war.

Yet even as Self and Inca converged, pre-Columbian civilization also represented the ultimate chronological and geographic Other for mid-twentieth-century Japan. The ancient history of the Andes thus offered an evolving foil for confronting the most pressing items on the early postwar intellectual agenda. At the outset of the Inca boom, Japanese social scientists sought common patterns in the extremes of [End Page 222] time and space as a means of universalizing and thus...


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