I first visited Japan in July 1990 at the invitation of the British
Council (as a visiting foreign scholar) and the Faculty of Law, Hokkaido
University. There we met Professors Kenichi and Toshiko Nakamura, who
guided us round the northern island of Hokkaido and then we made our
first visits to Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and Osaka. Japan made a deep impression
on us and I immediately tried to integrate what I had experienced into
my thinking. The various writings on Japan since then can be seen in
chronological order in writings on
Japan and the Japanese The final synthesis of all the six visits
and many conversations finally became crystallized in my book 'Japan
Through the Looking Glass', published in 2007. There are also a number
of films taken from 1997 onwards, which can be seen by going to the
above 'writings on Japan'.
(The section below written in 1994)
Japan for a second trip in August 1993 and this clearly consolidated
my interest in trying to undertake a serious comparison of England and
Japan. Since this is the under-pinning of my book on The
Savage Wars of Peace, it is clear that this event is crucial
to understanding what happened. As well as the shock of Japan and the
many conversations which we had with Toshiko and Kenichi, the visit
was important from a data/bibliographical point of view because we were
beginning to get a better sense of what was interesting. So I managed
in a few weeks to gather together a very extensive set of materials
on Japan, without which my book would have been impossible, or at least
extremely difficult to write. In particular, we bought quite a lot of
books in Tokyo, and also I ransacked the University of Hokkaido library.
This was particularly interesting because it contained a number of the
older accounts which would have disappeared from the open shelves of
the libraries in England. I can't quite make out whether it was at this
point that I discovered one of the major influences on my work, Edward
Morse and particularly his Japan Day by Day, but it is probably
was that this trip acted as a kind of second layer of the sandwich started
by the previous one. Over the whole period from summer 1990 my mind
was bubbling with the comparisons of things English and Japan and trying
to make sense of them. I wrote various pieces - on Individualism, Tocqueville
in Japan, perhaps the piece on Norman Jacobs, as well as very long drafts
on all sorts of things - c.150,000 words or so all on the computer.
same time, from a standing start of no knowledge, I tried to build up,
with Sarah, a decent working library. In fact, by December 1993, we
had a library of about 400 Japanese books, an investment of over £5,000,
as well as all the numerous xeroxes of key articles which I had made
in Japan on the 1993 trip. I was beginning to index them into my database
and trying to sort them out in my mind. In terms of my book, all this
activity was essential. It constituted a wave of new, jumbled, exciting
and totally confusing data which I was trying to assimilate. In one
way, The Savage Wars, can by seen as an attempt to take just
a part of this wave and examine it in detail, just as I had earlier
done with my articles on law, individualism etc. etc. The richness and
speed of arrival of the Japanese data - by way of books, xeroxes, experiences
in Hokkaido, Tokyo, Ise, Nikko, Kyoto and elsewhere, and a deep conversation
with Kenichi and Toshiko at a really fundamental level, all this was
an enormously powerful influences. In a sense the momentum of these
discoveries and interests cannot be over-started. My book is an attempt
to absorb part of the impact of Japan. It is, hopefully, full of the
surprise of the other, confined to a particular sub-aspect.
all this, the figures of various travelers, Griffis, Bird and above
all Morse, need to be emphasized. I expect I shall come back to Edward
Morse, but it will be obvious that my book could not/would not have
been written without him. It was his trained eye which noted so many
of those minute details of Japanese material culture which provide the
clues I needed to solve the problem in my book. He was a trained observer
in the Agasiz and hence Holmsian/Poe, tradition - he fitted perfectly
into the model of the cultural detective. Through his eyes one could
pick up the clues, see beneath the surface of Japanese life. And the
world one saw there then illuminated, in a mirror, the hitherto somewhat
prosaic and hence incomprehensible world of early modern England. Our
debt to him extended not just to particular observations, but to a way
of looking and our understanding of him took a practical form in the
building of the 'Morse House' - based on his book on Japanese Homes.
My book is in many ways dependent on him - an extension of his insights
- not least his realization of the importance of latrines!
have identified one tremendously strong intellectual and emotional current
which was flowing through the years 1990 to 1993 and which the book
is merely one expression of, namely trying to understand a civilization
as unusual and complex as Japan, and to see how it compares to England
and elsewhere. This is one central theme of my book, and it can only
be understood in the context of the two visits of 1990 and 1993, the
conversations with Kenichi and Toshiko (which are on disc), the collecting
of books and xeroxes on Japan, the growing interest in all things Japanese.
As always I learn most from observing/following Sarah, whose Quaker
temperament and aesthetic senses were even more attracted to Japanese
art and literature than were mine. I found Japan immensely intriguing
intellectually. Sarah found it attractive on all levels and together
we built up a good working knowledge of the place and people from constant
discussion, reading and adventures together. Thus by December 1993 the
flow of interest was at its peak. I had tried to write various pieces
on various aspects of England and Japan - kinship, law, individualism
etc. - and they were exciting. I thought I would turn my attention to
another limited aspect of the comparison, demography. But on this occasion,
instead of being cut off, as one usually is, by the path/seam running
out, I found that the subject expanded in my mind.
(Written in 2006 - in continuation of above)
During the years 1994-5 and early 1996 I did not visit Japan, but thought about the place constantly as I wrote my most complex and largest book, referred to above, 'The Savage Wars of Peace'. The book was published in 1997 and in that year I was invited to spend three months as visiting Professor of Anthropology at the University of Tokyo by Takeo Funabiki, then Head of Department. Living in a 'traditional' Japanese house and commuting to the University and seeing small town Japan deepened my knowledge and involvement with Japan, although I still continued to be puzzled. The visit was also enriched by the visit of Gerry and Hilda Martin, with whom we traveled round Japan and with whom I continued a wider search for the origins of the modern world.
I wanted to understand the civilization better and on my return to England read further. In 1999 I was involved in a television history series covering the whole world and spent ten days filming in Japan (see 'Global History' on front page of website) and this gave me access to many aspects of japanese live, particularly schools, traditional crafts etc, which I had not really seen before. I was also forced to synthesize and correct my growing knowledge of Japan.
Around this period I was also engaged in a detailed study of Japan's greatest practical philosopher, Fukuzawa Yukichi, in collaboration with Toshiko Nakamura, and used him in tandem with F.W.Maitland to try to understand how the modern world came about.
In 2003, guests once again of Hokkaido University ('Global Governance Project') and in particular Toshiko and Kenichi Nakamura, we again visited Japan for the fifth time and met and talked further with our many Japanese friends and colleagues. Kenichi and Toshiko also spent periods at Clare Hall in Cambridge, as they had earlier done at the Nissan Institute in Oxford, and we continued our conversations in England.
We planned that when Toshiko came to Clare Hall in 2005 we would work once again on Fukuzawa and write a short biographical book on him. When the time came, it soon became apparent that not much more could be said about him, so we decided to see if we could not, at last, bring together all our conversations, travels and writings in a short synthesis. This was a return to the attempt I made in the year after my first visit to write a book comparing Japan and Europe.
Between April 2005 and September 2006 I wrote and re-wrote the book which has become 'Japan Through the Looking Glass'. Kenichi and Toshiko felt it would be helpful to try out parts of the rough draft on their colleagues, particularly Professor Watanabe Hiroshi, who had given me advice over the years. So we spent two weeks traveling round Hokkaido, Tokyo and Kyoto universities in March-April 2006 learning more about Japan.
The final book is in the form of a semi-autobiographical account of my intellectual adventure to understand Japan and explains in detail what Japan means to me, especially in the final chapter. All I need to add here is that the encounter with japan has enormously enrich Sarah and my life. It has filled me with new ideas of hitherto impossible combinations. It has been like stepping into a parallel world, as I have described, and stands as one of the most exciting intellectual and cultural adventures of my life.
Some of our experiences in Japan are to be found in the photographs and films which can be seen under the list of writings on Japan referred to above.