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Reviewed by:
  • Child's Play: Multi-Sensory Histories of Children and Childhood in Japan ed. by Sabine Frühstück and Anne Walthall
  • Mark Jones (bio)
Child's Play: Multi-Sensory Histories of Children and Childhood in Japan. Edited by Sabine Frühstück and Anne Walthall. University of California Press, Oakland CA, 2017. x, 302 pages. $39.95, paper. Open Access.

The essays in this edited volume present a series of snapshots of Japanese childhood, from the worlds of acolytes in medieval monasteries to aspiring young soccer players during the "lost decades." Not all contributions deal [End Page 544] directly with child's play, as the title seems to suggest, but all do attempt to reinvigorate a floundering field—the history of childhood in Japan.

French Annales historian Phillipe Ariès birthed the field known as the history of childhood. Ariès's classic text L'enfant et la vie familiale sous l'ancien régime was published in 1960 and translated into English in 1962 with the title Centuries of Childhood. Ariès's central conceit was captured in the phrase "the discovery of childhood." This phrase posited that at a particular point in the past—the seventeenth century, in Europe's case—the child came to be seen as a being different in nature and need from the adult. The book and the phrase quickly inspired European and American historians. Their goal was less to recreate a child's-eye view of the world and more to explore the adult actors who distinguished the child from the adult, created a public understanding of the child's nature, and built the child's world. These historians adopted the methodology known as social constructionism, and they intertwined the history of the adults who constructed modern childhood, from child psychologists and highly educated mothers to children's authors and toymakers, with a series of important historical transformations in the family, education, consumer culture, science, mass media, class formation, and state building.

Despite its prominence in American and European historiography dating back to the 1970s, the history of childhood only appeared in Englishlanguage scholarship on Japan starting in the late 1990s. The monographs of Kathleen Uno (1999), David Ambaras (2005), and Mark Jones (2010) hewed closely to the methodological approach of social constructionism, and together they illuminated the adult interests at work in the development of child day-care centers (Uno), the policing of juvenile delinquency (Ambaras), and the birth of a middle-class version of childhood (Jones).1 After the publication of these three monographs, the following decade witnessed only sporadic interest in children's history. The field appeared to be fading until this volume appeared. Frühstück and Walthall have gathered a group of scholars interested in deepening our knowledge of the construction of Japanese childhood and also taking up thorny and unresolved issues in the field of children's history.

A number of solid essays in this volume follow the established methodology of social constructionism, focusing on the adult construction of the child's image and world. Jinnō Yuki examines the material and philosophical struggles of two Taisho-era interior designers, Kogure Joichi and Moritani [End Page 545] Nobuo, to design a child's room in the home that centered on the needs of the child as opposed to those of the adult. In a point that echoes a similar observation by historian Gary Cross in the case of American childhood toys, Jinnō asserts that the ideology of child-centeredness was pivotal in giving birth to a child-centered industry that catered exclusively to children and, thus, contributed to the gradual process of expelling adults from the child's material, spatial, and social world. Harald Salomon's essay on the golden age of childhood film in wartime Japan explores how popular films and their directors shaped the public understanding of the child's nature. Films such as Tsubota Jōji's 1937 Kaze no naka no kodomotachi (Children in the wind) promoted a psychologically nuanced, realistic portrait of the child, whose essence was associated with resilience and cheerfulness as much as fragility and struggle. Salomon concludes that these sunny films, and their corresponding vision of childhood, were...


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pp. 544-549
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