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

II What Miyamoto brought to the method and Miyamoto’s

Miyamoto’s method

methodology could be summed up like this : systematic fieldwork,
verification of the data with scientific protocols, redaction/writing and
diffusion among the scientists then among the people. For Miyamoto’s minZokugaku
aims to edify the people, so as to ameliorate its conditions of work and
existence, in the respect of the kyôdo (or terroir) and its
traditions, trying to check the rural exodus. His conception of science
posseses its morals.

In terms of method, it is important
to emphasize Miyamoto’s two major contributions to the discipline and, more
generally, to the human sciences.

1) Maps and photographs

With his series “Watashi no Nihon
” (My Maps of Japan), Miyamoto was doubly inovating : First, he
inserted big folding maps that were not glued in the book but just enclosed, so
that the reader could look at the map while reading every page. I think
Miyamoto drew those maps himself (otherwise the title of the series would not
make sense). And secondly, the pictures take half of the page and are present
on every page, constantly in dialogue with the text. [example]

It is interesting to compare the
original exemplaries (which have become rare), with the republished edition (at
Miraisha) of this series still a work in progress. In the new edition, the
photographs have not been resized, and the dates and exact locations are given,
whereas in the previous edition, the publisher tried to make the pictures more
“presentable” by resizing them. Working with the original films of the
photographs, the Miraisha’s publishers could restitute the subtlety of their
details, even if Miyamoto’s photographs were never taken with any esthetical ambition,
rather compulsively, their films absorbing most of Miyamoto’s budget. And
finally, the new publishers have added more furigana (or rubi),
i.e. the reading of some words, especially toponyms, that today’s Japanese are
not necessarily able to read easiliy. [here is an example]

Miyamoto considered maps and
photographs to be one of the indispensable ethnographical documents and he
would have liked to be able to record sounds too if he had had the money to do
it. Description – and quantified if possible – was more important, for him,
than abstract explanation, that made him rather an ethnographer than an


2) His field work (by himself) : a comparison with Yanagita Kunio

Miyamoto is known for his
participating observation of rural populations, lodging at the inhabitants,
like his predecessors
Furukawa Koshôken 古川古松健
Sugae Masumi 菅江真澄
(1754-1829) and, in a way, English writer Isabella Lucy Bird (1831-1904) (who
lodged in small inns), three authors about whom Miyamoto wrote books in which
he showed a deep admiration.

He is also famous for having been
the Japanese man who walked the longest distance during his life, i.e. the
equivalent of four times the circumference of the earth. He wanted to see
everything by himself, to understand the distances in his own body and evaluate
the quality of roads and paths by his feet. It helped him a lot when he wrote Shio
no michi
(The Routes of Salt). But he also consulted the archives,
especially private ones (komonjo

It is difficult for the French to
imagine how problematic it can be in Japan to base an approach on field work,
not to say that field work does not exist in Japan, but rather there is a
tendency here in Japan to delegate the field work to graduate students or PhD
students to go into the field in place of the teacher/professor and using their
data without giving them credit or just thanking them in the acknowledgments.
We had to wait until today to read about Yanagita Kunio’s tendency of using his
disciples’field notes without crediting them. Even with their consent at that
time, it seems today this practice is similar to theft or appropriation of
information. Miyamoto, similar to Shibusawa, was the first modern ethnographer
to mention every informant and assistant and what he learned from them.
Indirectly, this extreme honesty makes a contrast to the usual practice in
Japanese universities even today, where a student whose work was appropriated
by the professor, has no way to prove his right to his work. That, of course,
is one of the major taboos that subsist in the Japanese university system.

Beside that, his transcriptions of
his interviews of elderly workers of the countryside are interesting at a
triple point of view: ethnographical, historical and literary. The dialectal
structures of speech are conserved as well as all the details concerning the
daily life of the informant, even the most trivial ones.


B/ How is Miyamoto perceived in
Japan today?

Miyamoto, this too honest researcher
who – as we would say today in France – values transparency – represents a
threat to a certain number of professors in Japan, who therefore try to
minimize the value of his work with obvious disdain. I have two personal
anecdotes. The first time I was confronted with this attitude towards Miyamoto
was when I applied for a French adjunct lecturer position in a well known
public university. I was asked very few questions about my positionning in
terms of teaching the French language, but was violently attacked on my interest
in Miyamoto’s work and I will always remember this sentence (said in French) :
“Are you conscious that this is a controversial author?” No words could express
my surprise at that time, since I thought Miyamoto was only an ethnographer who
wrote about sandals and jars! I didn’t think that this would be subversive. The
second anecdote is about a free conversation I had with Japanese colleagues who
tought French literature (and had no link to the ethnographical world). I was
trying to tactfully formulate a sentence about his links to nationalism and his
will to make minZokugaku one of the
means to help Japan prevail in Asia. This is an objective explicitly written
about in his letters, speeches and articles which are available in public
librairies. When I said Miyamoto was more intellectually neutral, I was
suddenly told by one of my colleagues quite forcefully that I didn’t know about
Yanagita Kunio who “never spoke about politics in his works”. To be told by a
French literature professor what Yanagita had
written – but what I had read
with my own eyes – made me experience a kind of Pascalian vertigo! In this
example, Miyamoto was indirectly the catalyst for an extremely surprising and
disagreeable) experience.

Finally, speaking of
interdisciplinarity in Japan, even today this is, unfortunately, often wishful
thinking in the university : ethnography, sociology, history, geography,
genetics and agronomy rarely meet in big universities, whereas in small
structures such as the Kyôdo daigaku created by Miyamoto, the most improbable
but extremely stimulating meetings can happen.


In a word, Miyamoto cannot leave
you indifferent if you are working in the human sciences. His popularity
amongst the population, and especially the rural areas and the historians of local
history, tend to show that he is responding to a need.  He has a lot of followers among the young
researchers even today, people who do field work and direct observation as well
as crediting the informants as an indispensable part of their ethics. Examples
of his indirect heirs include the young researchers of Musashi University or
the elite researchers that constitute the Nihon jômin bunka kenkyûjo of
Kanagawa University, that inherited the intellectual heritage of the Achikku
myûzeamu. There, field work is privileged, honesty and modesty prevail, and the
young researchers are provided help.




As a conclusion


To complete this
presentation, I have to state that until now, in my works, I only studied
themes that appeared to me as the most representative of Miyamoto’s work.

there remains lots of others that deserve to be studied or studied more deeply.
I hope to to do so in the future, in complementary studies, as well as to
realize on certain points from a comparative analysis of Miyamoto and some
Japanese ethnographers with foreign authors. It would be a true joy for me, if
other people, one day, try it on their own, for I have no other aim than to
contribute, as well as I can, to a better understanding, if not to help to
recognize, a remarkable man, fascinating by his approach to his lifework as
well as by the breadth of his research that I call a kind of humanism. 

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