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  • What Is Modernology (1927)
  • Kon Wajirō (bio)
    Translated by Ignacio Adriasola

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4.1 Yoshida Kenkichi and Kon Wajirō, Uniforms of Waitresses at Cafes in the Ginza (Ginza kafē jokyū-san no fukusō), from Women's Graphic [Fujin gurafu] (November 1926). Kon Wajirō Archive. Courtesy of Kōgakuin University Library. All rights reserved.

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Preface: Kon Wajirō and "What Is Modernology"

Beginning in the 1910s and through the 1960s—as architecture first developed in Japan as a branch of engineering—Kon Wajirō (1888-1973) conducted research on decoration, ethnography, geography, fashion, and people's lifestyles. This was because, rather than focusing on architecture as material structure, he was interested in its relationship to everyday life and society: as a designer, Kon argued for the need to think about architecture from the standpoint of culture. In the 1920s and 1930s, Kon carried out his surveys of customs in urban areas and housing throughout Japan and its colonies. Kon designed standard housing and community facilities based on the principle of geographic rationalism, and in doing so he laid the foundations for the postwar study of housing and everyday life.

The following text, written in 1927, explains the approach proposed by "modernology" (kōgengaku) a research program developed by Kon in the wake of the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 that was concerned with the transformation of life and the city. Kon describes how, like archaeology, his modernology provides a method for the scientific analysis of material culture; an aid to sociology, it objectively studies the lifestyle and cultural phenomena of contemporary "cultured peoples" (bunkajin); and rather than focusing on the exchange value of objects, it examines the use value of an object at a given place in order to record the totality of life. From this essay, we understand how, undergirding the description of people's attitudes and belongings and its sketches of fashion and residences, modernology presented a positivistic worldview that arose from details that stood in opposition to the abstract ideals induced by modernization. Kon worked to stress the social basis of design during an era that saw the consolidation of mass consumption, because he recognized the everyday lives of common people and the spaces they occupied as a source of immense creativity. [End Page 63]

(Kuroishi Izumi)

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4.2 Kon Wajirō, A Comprehensive Illustration of a Newly-Married Couple's Household, Room #2, Image 3, 1925. Kon Wajirō Archive. Courtesy of Kōgakuin University Library. All rights reserved.

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I. Modernology
II. Approach to Research
III. Scope of Research and Relationship to Other Fields of Study

I. Modernology

"Modernology" (kōgengaku) is what we, fellow students of contemporary customs and manners, have named our approach and methodology, and the totality of the work that we have undertaken.1

We call it "modernology" because we deliberately wish to contrast this field of research with archaeology. While the study of the ruins and remains of ancient times has found a clear scientific method and evolved into the discipline of archaeology, the study of the things of today remains unscientific; it is in response to this situation that we have sought to establish here the methodology it deserves.

There is no need here for a lengthy discussion of what archaeology is. According to Professor Hamada (in his Introduction to Archaeology [1922]), archaeology is the study of the material culture of humans in the past, and through it, the study of such past.2 Rather than a science that sums up a single body of knowledge, it can be best described as a method of scientific research dealing with the evidence inherent in physical materials, and in this sense for what type of people research is being conducted is purposefully unclear; through this method, it is possible to take one's research in whichever direction: the application of archaeological research methods allows specialists to approach a variety of materials and reach their own conclusions. Moreover, it is in its negotiation with historical science that archaeology demonstrates its value; in other words, it can be said that its value lies as an auxiliary science.3

We therefore...


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