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Reviewed by:
  • Values, Identity and Equality in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Japan ed. by Peter Nosco, James E. Ketelaar, and Yasunori Kojima
  • Annick Horiuchi
Values, Identity and Equality in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Japan. Edited by Peter Nosco, James E. Ketelaar, and Yasunori Kojima. Leiden: Brill, 2015. 376pages. Hardcover €114.00/$148.00.

The present volume is an outgrowth of the Symposium on Early Modern Japanese Values and Individuality held at the University of British Columbia in August 2013. Though the theme of individuality is not reflected in the book’s title, it is discussed in many of the papers that are included—a point I return to later in this review. Itō Jakuchū’s scroll painting on the front cover, with its seven cranes looking in various directions, underscores this theme.

As may be expected given the book’s exceptionally broad framework, the papers, like Jakuchū’s cranes, are not all looking in the same direction. But the volume is very well edited, and the division of the papers into four parts makes the reading comfortable. The parts entitled “Values in Practice,” “The Construction of Identity,” and “Erotic Emotionality and Parody” all focus on Tokugawa society and culture, while part 4, “Equality and Modernity,” is more particularly concerned with Meiji society.

Following the first chapter, an introduction named for the title of the volume, is chapter 2, “Waiting for the Flying Fish to Leap: Revisiting the Values and Individuality of Tokugawa People as Practiced,” by Eiko Ikegami. This is probably the paper that most faithfully respects the editors’ project. According to Ikegami, values are “ubiquitous” and “hidden everywhere,” in all sorts of social, cultural, and material institutions: it is like an ocean in which everyone is living. She explains that the most convenient way to discover how these values were “practiced” in Tokugawa Japan is to capture them at “revealing moments of enactments” (p. 31). Examples of such privileged moments include samurai vendettas and private quarrels, when warriors were moved by their “sense of honor” and had to assert their individual identity against a collective one. Another focus of Ikegami’s paper is the “free zone” created by the multiple hobby networks in Tokugawa society. Taking the example of Watanabe Kazan’s experience among the local literati of Atsugi, Ikegami notes that the Tokugawa system allowed the creation of “spheres of enclave socialization” in which “radical value enactments were possible” (p. 48).

Chapter 3, “Good Older Brother, Bad Younger Brother, Sibling Rivalry in the Hirata Family,” by Anne Walthall, offers an illuminating case study of younger brothers in samurai households. Walthall takes the example of Miki Kaneya, grandson of Hirata Atsutane and second son of Hirata Kanetane, head of the Hirata nativist school at Edo. Walthall focuses on Kaneya’s dependence on his family’s help in securing for him a social position as an adopted son—a younger male sibling’s gateway to marriage and the opportunity to become head of a household. She also draws attention to the social and domestic norms that Kaneya broke through his inability to fulfill [End Page 105] his intellectual duties, his loss of control when drunk, and his disrespectful attitude toward his father and elder brother. Utilizing methods from masculinities studies and from scholarship in the history of emotions, Walthall brings to light the familial and social values and rules that younger brothers needed to respect in order to live a respectable life under Tokugawa rule.

The next chapter, “Being a Brat: The Ethics of Child Disobedience in the Edo Period,” by W. Puck Brecher, considers the behavior of children and youths from a variety of viewpoints. Noting that Edo prints and storybooks include a significant number of images depicting misconduct by children, Brecher argues that children in Tokugawa Japan might have been less docile and disciplined than is usually believed. Drawing on a study by Ujiie Mikito, Edo no shōnen (Heibonsha, 1989), he points to evidence from popular literature and personal records of rebellion and violent aggression committed by youth groups, especially during periods of uncertainty. Brecher posits several factors that might have contributed to such behavior: indulgence of childhood mischief among commoners, the common belief that children are...


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