Miyamoto Tsuneichi: A renewed method for human sciences (I)

Voici le texte de l’intervention d’Alexandre MANGIN au congrès des Asian Studies à l’Université Sophia (Jôchi daigaku).

First, let me start with a quotation (the translation is mine):


“He was the traveller who, for a long time, and until now, has gone gone
the most all over Japan, in all directions and into its smallest corners,
indeed the kind of lands where nobody used to go. Very few are those who, at
such a point, have attentively thought about the stories that could be
interesting for us to listen to, or that we would like to listen to and that,
besides, we remember. It is difficult to discern and classify the subjects (kotogara)
that we would like the Japanese people, who will carry the future, to know in
priority, but for that too, [he], who is a great reader, did not waver and did
not take a wrong road.” [1]


The author of those lines is
Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962), considered to be the founder of Japanese ethnology
and folklore studies as an organized discipline, an author who is extremely
difficult to criticise for that reason, and because he produced a brilliant
work covering now some 37 volumes. Yanagita Kunio knew Miyamoto very well since
he was his master. But before trying to establish the differences between the
two and Miyamoto’s tribute to the ethnographical science of Japan, let’s
summarize Miyamoto’s life and his domain of research.


I Miyamoto’s life and research

A/ Miyamoto’s life

Miyamoto Tsuneichi was born on August 1st, 1907(nineteen
O seven) (Meiji XL(fourty)) in
Ooaza Nishigata 大字西方, on Suô Ooshima 周防大島 (a medium-sized island in the interior Sea of
Seto), Yamaguchi prefecture (Yamaguchi-ken
山口県), a rural area known in the old days for its
sculptors of wood. It is now suffering depopulation due to rural exodus and the
declining birth rate. Despite museums and research centers
[2] [3], it is a sad example of a dying
territory slowly going back to wilderness.

He was the
son of Miyamoto Zenjûrô
宮本善十郎 and his wife Machi まち, both of them agriculturists. The Miyamoto family belonged to the peasant
class (hyakushô
百姓), but his family name originates from two kanji characters that mean “at the foot (moto) of the temple
(miya)”. This tends to show that some ancestors of the family were
shinto priests (kannushi

In his early childhood, his father was absent, expatriated to the Fiji
Islands. His grand-father, a man of great wisdom, took to heart his education.
He infused in him the traditionnal values and knowledge of the rural class.

[cf carte]

born in a house without water supply nor electricity, with a family where
everyone was wearing the traditional costume (kimono), lived long enough to see the technological modernisation
of his country (even the first computers).

He seems
not to have disliked the frugality of this life, since he always praised it,
for it makes possible to know the true value of things and to respect
everyone’s work.

traditional education provided by his grand-father, based on example and a
benevolent understanding rather than on memorization, is complementary to the
school education. This relationship with his grandfather seems to have
compensated the more distant relations he had with his father, who was a former
agricultural worker back from the Fiji Islands after a disastrous experience[4].

Miyamoto family is not rich, but it is known for its hospitality : their house
is called a zenkon yado
善根宿 (the ill of the good will), i.e. a refuge for travellers passing by[5].

therefore belongs to this generation who, born in Meiji, having grown up in
Taishô and died in Shôwa, possessed the last representatives of an education
“Meiji-ish” (« à la Meiji ») which, according to TAKEDA Atsushi
竹田篤司[6], was characterised by unity and assumed the
contradictions (mujun
矛盾), the interruptions
切れ目) and the contrasts
(East-West, new-old, Western-Japanese)
[7] that it had fusionned, producing intelligence
知性), a power of observation (kansatsu-ryoku
観察力) and a power of reading (dokusho-ryoku 読書力) which will lack amongt the next generations[8].

Miyamoto was interested for
some time in composing poems, but ceased rather early. After quite brilliant
secondary studies, he entered the School of the Posts and Telecommunications of
Osaka. He studied too intensely, nourished himself badly and cought the
beriberi. Many times, he fell very ill and almost died
(1930, 1939, 1942,
He read a lot and started
to walk long distances, to go to villages and interview the elderly.
He then
entered the course of the Normal School in one year and found quite quickly a
post as an elemetary school teacher. From then on, he will go from one post to
anoher, without settling very long. In his classes, he introduced open air
lessons, which enabled him to initiate the children to the natural patrimony
and the objects of the past. He also creates with his young pupils a journal of
ethnographical studies, Toroshi, where the children write their
observations and publish their ethnographical drawings.

He founded the review Kôshô
Literature) where Yanagita Kunio will publish some articles. From 1932 on, he
endeavors himself to the field study of villages, where he goes on foot most of
the time. And he finally meets Yanagita in person in 1934. Yanagita’s
intellectual influence on Miyamoto is big, in particular concerning the history
of toponyms and the study of folk tales. 


Two years
later, he initiates research meetings dealing with “terroir” (kyôdo
郷土). He himself inters the researchers’ world. During one of these meetings,
he got to know SHIBUZAWA Keizô
澁澤敬三 (1896-1963), SHIBUSAWA Eiichi 澁澤栄一 (1840-1931)’s grandson. Eiichi illustrated himself as a
successful businesman as well as the Minister of Finance during the
Restoration. Keizô will become Miyamoto’s mentor, almost a “guru”. He invites
him to integrate, as a full time researcher, the
Achikku myûzeamu アチック・ミューゼアム (the Attic Museum) that he founded
on his property. It is both a museum, where Shibusawa stocks
mingu 民具 (traditional craft objects used by the rural
and a research
center on the ethnographical study of the rural people of Japan, entirely
financed by Shibusawa. He also is a specialist of the fish names and the
painted rolls (
emakimono 絵巻物). The same year, Miyamoto marries TAMADA Asako 玉田アサコ. He continues his field studies, having long interviews with the
elederly of the countryside, transliterating the most truculent of them
SAKON Kumata

Two years
later, his elder son
Chiharu千晴 was born. In 1939, invited by his
former teacher Mori Shinzô to go and teach at the Mandchoury University for the
Construction of the Country, however he gave up this idea under the pressure of
the clairvoyant Shibusawa. The same year, he leaves his wife and child to
settle near Tokyo, but he starts his fieldwork again. From 1940 on, he starts
to take photographs of the people and places he visits. He is interested in the
study, the classification, and the conservation of the
mingu 民具 (popular craft objects). He
multiplies his publications (articles, books and participation in collective
works of reference). In 1943, his daughter Keiko
恵子 is born.

During the
War, we know very few of his activities. We know, for example, that his house
is completely destroyed by a bombing. He loses not only his personal library,
but also all his field notes and films, irreplaceable documents. The next year,
he goes back to farming for a time, all the while studying the other farmers,
and then he initiates a series of conferences about agronomy for his fellow
farmers, in the stream of the
Shin-seikatsu undô 新生活運動[9] (Movement for a new daily life),
which allows him to finance his field trips.

His wife
then gives birth to a second son who dies while Miyamoto is travelling. He
continues his field studies, some on the account of public organisations (the
Ministry of Agriculture in particular) or of agricultural associations. In 1952
his third son Hikaru
was born. Miyamoto Tsuneichi is still very involved in study groups and
is a member of a large number of learned and scientific societies. In 1959, he
is diagnosed with an ulcer of the duodenum. The same year, he sarts to write a
PhD dissertation, Seto naikai tôsho no kaihatsu to sono shakai keisei
『瀬戸内海島嶼の開発とその社会形成』(The development of the islands of
the Interior Sea of Seto and the formation of their society), which will become
Seto naikai no kenkyû
『瀬戸内海の研究』(Research on the Interior Sea of Seto).

At the
same time, he wrote other publications. From 1960, his works receive awards :
such as the Essayists Club Award (Esseisuto kurabu-shô
エッセイストクラブ賞) and the Prize of the Chûgoku for
Culture (Chûgoku bunka-shô

In 1961, he obtains his doctorate (PhD) at Tôyô University 東洋大学 and leaves the Shibusawa residence.
He then works briefly at the Fisheries College of Tôkyô (Tôkyô suisan
東京水産大学) and
welcomes his family to come and settle with him. In 1962 and 1963 his two
masters Yanagita and Shibusawa pass away. The next year he finds a post as
lecturer at the Musashino Fine Arts University (Musashino bijutsu daigaku
武蔵野美術大学). Then, he starts working for television as a
consultant on a series of documentaries about Japan. And in 1967, he becomes
professor at Waseda University
早稲田大学. It is important to note that he makes his first field study abroad in
1975, at the age of 67. He goes to Kenya and Tanzania. Two years later, he
makes a second trip to
Chéju-dô제주도 [済州島][10], Korea, a
third one to Taiwan and a last one to China where he goes with his wife, their
only trip abroad together.

Not only
did he found associations and make the monkey shows revive in Japan, but he also
created the
Tôwa-chô kyôdo daigaku 東和町郷土大学, a people’s university providing for low cost conferences dealing not
only with agronomy, but with minZokugaku in general. It is the time when
he makes a revolutionary series of conferences creating a synthesis of his life
work as well as introducing the new perspective he intends to orient his
reseach to. His main hope was to develop interdisciplinarity, especially with
archeology and a new science, genetics.

At the end
of 1980, his health declines. He has several stays at the hospital where he
dies January 30th, 1981, aged 73. He leaves a titanesque work (more
than 200 books
[11], 3000 texts if one includes the
[12], dealing with the most diverse
His disciples continue to cherish his memory today.

"Before I comment
on Miyamoto’s method, I would like to say some words about the substance of his


B/ Miyamoto’s domain of research

First, Miyamoto has a way of looking at things (manazashi
rather than a “thought” for he doesn’t try to elaborate a “system”. He is
looking for an understanding which sustains his description, privileging
details to general and abstract principles. His looking at things, therefore,
is not conscripted to a unique domain, but to the territorial limits of Japan,
even if he sometimes pays attention to the movement of populations on an
international scale. In fact everything that deals with the Japanese of the
past as well as the Japanese of his time can become, for him, subject of study.
The only exceptions are the upper classes (Court nobility – kuge
and warriors – bushi
武士, except if they are poor !) and what
relates to them. Miyamoto describes, as precisely as possible, the land he goes
through and its topography, as well as human activity such as economics (traditional
jobs, routes and flux of money, goods and people), techniques and customs,
objects and individual trajectories. Every time, he introduces the history of
what he speaks about. His minZokugaku which is as much a history as a
sociology, makes geographical comparisons, listing the common points and the
differences. He also adopts a diachronic viewpoint when he introduces the
evolution of the practices, their moves, changes and disapearance, so as to
keep a trace of them as well as to try to understand the reason for their
disapearance and to avoid that too many of those customs disapear. He is one of
the first ethnographers who introduced the history of travels and tourism, and
who, in the later part of his life, studied the origin of the cereals as a mean
to find traces of human habitations, taking into account the work of the
archeologists, the physical anthropologists (dealing with humain morphology)
and even the first geneticians.

What he left us today is a wonderful historical
material for ethno-history.

He also was interested in what should be considered as
national patrimony, a new notion that should not be limited to the upper class’
possessions, but should include the people’s material and immaterial goods,
such as techniques and all forms of oral transmission. He was extremely
conscious that this kind of patrimony was the most eager to disapear,
especially during the after-war period of growth.

All his life long, he never ceased to interrogete
himself about what the Japanese are and to try to rectify some preventions and
tenacious stereotypes, such as the myth of “Japan, a people of samurai”.
Trying to be as close to reality as he could, Miyamoto could not but shape the minZokugaku
to his image, curious and interested in many fields of knowledge, making it the
always changing living laboratory of humain sciences of Japan. Miyamoto’s minZokugaku therefore exceeds the limits
of what we call in Western countries “folklore”, “folk studies” or “folklore
ethnography”. It includes a large part of rural sociology and local History.

[1] Preface to the Kôdansha gakujutsu
bunko edition of Furusato no seikatsu, 1986, reprint. 2002, p. 10-11.

[2] Suô Ooshima kyôdo daigaku 周防大島郷土大学 (University of
the native district (the French word “terroir” is a more accurate tranlation)
of Suô Ooshima).
Cf. First Part, chapt. I, and annex.

[3] For more details on Suô Ooshima, see SANO
Shin’ichi, Dai-ôjô no shima
『大往生の島』(A passing away island), Tôkyô, Bunshun bunko 文春文庫, Bungei shunjû, may 2006, 291 p..

[4] This painful episode will be
related many times, particularly in Kakyô no oshie (1947).

FUJIMOTO Kiyohiko, « Bukkyô to iryô : " Miyamoto Tsuneichi no ikikata
to kotoba 
" ni
 »「仏教と医療 宮本常一の"行き方とことば"に学ぶ」(« Buddhism and medical treatment : studying "the way of
living and the words" of Miyamoto Tsunéichi »), in
Tsuneichi no messêji
, chap. II, p. 26.

Professor of French philosophy at Meiji University (Meiji daigaku 明治大学) and essayist (born in 1934).

TAKEDA quotes some words of biologist IIJIMA Mamoru 飯島衛.

Meijijin no kyôyô 『明治人の教養』
(Meiji Men Instruction), Tôkyô, Bunshun shinsho, Heisei XIV (2002), 198 p.. Cf.
in particular chapters I & II p. 1 to 22.

[9] Poet, short story writer and
scientist MIYAZAWA Kenji
宮沢賢治 (1896-1933) too tought agronomy
from  a humanist viewpoint.

[10] Cheju-do : read in Japanese indifferently Saishû-tô さいしゅうとう or Cheju-do チェジュド.

According to personal recension.

[12] According to Sanada Yukitaka さなだ ゆきたか, in Miyamoto Tsuneichi no densetsu 『宮本常一の伝説』(The Legend of Miyamoto Tsunéichi), Kyôto, A’un-sha 阿吽社, August  2002, 330 p., preface p.

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