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  • The Japanese Association of Early Americanists
  • Naoki Onishi, President (bio)

Parochialism or localism seems to be the term most often used to characterize the study of early America here in Japan. Why is it necessary or important to study such old and dead topics buried almost three hundred years ago in a small corner of America, or that of America when the United States itself had never existed? Facing young Japanese students, who have been totally saturated with contemporary American popular culture, Japanese university professors have a difficult time stimulating their interest in the history of the United States, much less early America. The study of early America by geographical area such as New England is very remote and therefore aloof in their mental map, compared with that of the West Coast or the so-called Pacific Rim, where a strong affinity or tie with Japanese culture and history has been present. Furthermore, students in this country are, generally speaking, becoming more and more present-oriented, losing historical sense in their academic as well as daily life. If this is true about the understanding of their own country, it is far more difficult to direct their interest in the history of another country. Moreover, the recent strong trend of American studies in general seems to put focus on contemporary issues of American society at the sacrifice of, or even the neglect of, historical perspectives. Thus, what happened before the Revolution or before the Civil War seems so bleak and far-fetched that it is quite difficult for Japanese students to find some meaningful significance related to their own beings.

Before this presentist tendency set in, the situation was somewhat different because of the solid standing of Puritan studies in this country. Owing to pioneering scholars' achievement, Puritanism was considered to be the central core for a better understanding of the United States. It was the [End Page 337] theme of Professor Yasaka Takagi, who established American studies in Japan well before World War II as the first occupant of the Hepburn Chair of American Diplomacy in the University of Tokyo. A la Frederick Jackson Turner, he emphasized Puritanism and pioneer spirit as two pillars for understanding American democracy. He kept teaching this principle before, during, and after World War II. When the political climate surrounding him during these periods is taken into consideration, it is surprising to note how he could maintain his academic stance. In particular, the political pressure poised against him by the anti-American military government before and during the war must have been severe. Then, only a few years after World War II, authorities of early America such as Perry Miller and Bob Greene came to Tokyo to participate in the Stanford Summer Seminar held in the University of Tokyo. This seminar, which lasted several years in the summer season, contributed tremendously to revitalizing the academic endeavor of American studies in Japan. Spending a few weeks in war-stricken Tokyo in the hot weather, the distinguished invitees conducted exciting and inspiring seminars with young Japanese scholars. Perry Miller himself left an essay on his experience with the Japanese scholars. In contrast with the scholars in Germany, where he had a similar experience before coming to Japan, Japanese scholars were enthusiastically responsive to the American influence at that time, he wrote. Certainly, those American scholars left a tangible influence upon Japanese scholars, such as Professor Makoto Saito among others, who were to resume academic activities of American studies under such bad conditions. Due attention to the studies of early America, especially that on Puritanism has thus been considered to be the core of American studies ever since. After the Viet Nam War, however, every aspect in American studies underwent tremendous changes and transformations. We are all familiar with the drastic shift from myth and symbol school of American studies to that focusing on race, class, and gender. And arguments about the canon reformation in American literature have reshaped the idea of American literary history from its beginning. Under such circumstances, some scholars even began saying that history should not be necessarily the core of American studies. Reflecting teachers' disorientation, students' interest seems to be dispersed among various...


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pp. 337-343
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