- Continued, part 6 -


The structural historical approach mentioned above, forces us to examine our ethnographical results within the wider framework of cultural history. What do we gain? Does this make any sense beyond our villages? In Japan such questions lead us into the realm of agrarian prehistory, historically, into that of early history and, as far as structural history is concerned, into Japanese cultural history.

From an archaeological point of view:with respect to the sources (Fig. 3, 5) still to be found in the uppermost layer, so to speak, it must be concluded that the perishable legal documents are survivals of a substrate of soft industries that are no longer accessible to archaeology. These "seats of the gods" are lost to the archaeologist at both the prehistorical and historical level. Secondary sources are found in stone tomb paintings, but they cannot be clearly related to the theme dealt with here. All the more fruitful is Japan’s early history.

From a historic standpoint:in the first chapter of the first reliable Japanese historiography of 720 A.D. (Nihonshoki; modelled on the Chinese imperial annals) we find a reference to the 'first seven generations of the gods' and an allusion to the 'origin of the world'. Two entirely different strata can be distinguished, one evidently referring to an autochthonous tradition and the other representing an imported accumulation. The primary microcosmic part mentions deities that are considered as "highly venerable knots", deities that originated from something "like a sprouting reed", or that "stand eternally in a country (or land)", or "own a country". <30> This is contrasted with a spatially extended stratum of Chinese "cosmogony", which suggests a primordial egg shape as the generator of all things. Evidently the autochthonous part alludes to what we ethnographically have still found to be vital traditions in Japanese agrarian villages. This suggests that what Japanese studies usually describes as 'Japanese creation myths', can basically be regarded as territorially motivated records of proto- and early history. The autochthonous genealogies of deities were in fact the code used to describe the status quo of pre- and protohistorical territorial politics in order to supplant it with the new territorial constitution imported from China:a spatially enlarged concept of an evolved (state) world with deeper temporal claims. The ultimate purpose of these "creation myths" was in fact to outdate the former local constitutions based on the founder principle and the tradition of sacred markers <31> and to legitimize the territorial claims of the newly formed centralist absolutist monarchy. Various edicts of the same period, the so called Taika reform (646), the Taihô- (701) and Yôrôcodices (718, coming into force 757), clearly inform us of the political situation:the emperor declared himself the absolute ruler and owner of the newly formed state territory. <32>

Topographical records from the 8th century (Fudoki) also point to sacred territorial rights in early historical and prehistorical times. Thus the Hitachi Fudoki exactly describes the founding of a settlement. At the edge of the mountain forest (yamaguchi) a sign is erected. In polar relation, the founder then declares the mountain as the deity's domain, and claims the cultivable lowland to himself. He will set up a shrine and promises the continuity of the cult for the deity. With this sacred act, the settlement founder intends to maintain his family's hold on the land for generations to come. The text provides a clear description of what is also ethnologically accessible in regard to the traditional village structure and its territorial provisions. A more detailed discussion of this text will be found in volume 4 of this series (Rice culture in Japan).

The introduction of Buddhism, and its new types of diffusion and centralism (temples, script), can now also be understood in different ways. As a new state religion, it annulled the local constitutions based on pre- and protohistorical local cults. It also supported the spatially large macro-cosmogonies imported from China, with the help of which the imperial family supplanted the earlier organization of the counties ('kuni') by centralizing them according to Chinese concepts. The 'microcosmic' concepts based on local settlement foundations with their local 'theogonies', that is to say with their ephemeral territorial-semantic legal system, lost their meaning. In this concrete context the vehement struggles revolving around the promotion of Buddhism in the 6th century and its eventual breakthrough and establishment in the 7th and 8th century gain a new dimension from a rather pragmatical and political perspective. Buddhism evidently had an important function in the territorial disputes between the new central institution and the autochthonous territorial system of the prehistorical "counties" ('kuni'). <33>


These are only some punctual hints leading to a new result. Structuro-historically reconstructed as a continuum, this sacred territorial law, so very important for the peasant village settlement, provides fruitful new insights for the reconstruction of settlement genetic continuums. A structural complex becomes visible which continuously extends from agrarian prehistory up to today and which characterizes social forms.


With these structuro-historical reconstructions based on the origins of settlements, one suddenly finds oneself criticizing conventional Eurocentric methods of depicting cultures:it becomes clear how, as in our case, the "methodological historicism" of Eurocentric disciplines have affected Japanese studies.

For instance, for a long time Japanese studies interpreted the sources of the Shinto religion in mere terms of philologically and historically exact translations of old texts. This, however, only dealt with that strand of the imperial chronicles which had been ideologically and politically influenced by China. Apart from this, Japanese studies contented itself with cataloguing a few Shinto shrines and cults, again with special emphasis on imperial Shinto. Everything else was treated as a diffusion issuing from the centres of higher culture, which naturally were influenced by Chinese Buddhism. Otherwise, whatever was not accorded the status of higher culture was relegated to Japanese folklore, which mishandled the relevant material after the European manner. It is crucial that the factual territorial and political, as well as the aesthetic and harmonious implications of Shinto are totally neglected within Eurocentric projections. One of the few, who recognized the very particular character of Japanese agrarian traditions and their significance to the history of religion, was himself Japanese – Harada Toshiaki (1941, 1942, 1960, 1961a, b, 1965).

Specific characteristics of Japanese social structure are conventionally derived from classical or medieval feudalistic conditions. This purely historical deduction conceals the basic settlement genetical structures of Japanese society as they are still palpable in Japanese villages today. Only from this socioterritorial and structuro-symbolic complex the continuum of Japanese social structure can be understood. <35>

Similarly, Japanese studies projected onto various epochs and levels of Japanese art the stylistic concept that had evolved from European Renaissance. Through its exclusive interest in elitist art, this 'aesthetic historicism' of Japanese art theorists deprived them of any insight into the prehistoric agrarian foundation of Japanese art, and thus of its metaphysical and aesthetic essence. All types of Japanese art, whatever its dimensional level, its function is to create a view of the world in terms of polar harmony (for more details, see vol. 5 of this series).

In other words:if our cultural-anthropological methods only lead to 'contradictory pluralism', to an "eternal oscillation of theories" (Mühlmann 1968), then, this is evidently due to the 'methodological historicism' of the humanities, the reassessment of which is long overdue. Our Western methods were developed among the urban surroundings of Europe and are affected by this milieu.The essence of Shinto is completely misunderstood, if it is approached with the concept of 'belief'. In fact it is based on its history of rites and cults. As with Japanese studies’ depiction of Japan, the projection of this plexus of methodological historicism onto other cultures has created the mystification on which our emotions thrive, for better or for worse. This, however, is not science! The most important aspect of all this is that with this "methodological historicism", we deprive ourselves of the possibility of learning about the essentials of other cultures and - naturally - of ourselves. <36>


The Sino-Korean-Japanese continuum

The above–mentioned structuro-historical view of Japanese cultural history also implies to perceive East Asian cultural 'histories' in a larger framework and to question them on similar structural principles. Particularly that important transitional field between prehistorical village cultures on one hand, equipped with what we called the 'settlement core complex', and on the other hand, the protohistorical processes of the first urban centralizations, which reinterpret on a larger scale the spatial principles of village cultures by extending them spatially (heaven and earth). At the same time the cults now appear on a higher level in a richer framework of imported cultic and religious elements. This supports the new and much wider territorial-political claims (and vice versa).

With regard to ancient China, Köster (1958), with his excellent plea for a diachronic study of symbols in Sinology, has used very similar methods. He emphasizes the many concrete symbolic systems and their meaning for the Chinese world view and universalism, proving them a continuum extending throughout Chinese history. Of these, the most important is the "ming tang"–hut of the legendary period which essentially and basically shaped the particular symbolic structures of society and power in ancient China. Similarly, Köster describes the discussion dealing with signs, forms, and structures associated with the early local god "she", the earliest sign of which continues to live on in the modern sign for 'society'.

With the latter, we have arrived at an early stage of the great Sino-Korean-Japanese continuum of written characters (Fig.6a, b), some of which are fundamentally connected to China’s prehistorical and early historical clan and territorial organization. What did the earliest territorial signs of local gods look like? (Fig. 6c) A recent Japanese work on Sinology refers to the earliest form as a bundle of reeds (Moriya 1950:278f.). In other words, the insights we have won about peasant and village territorial organization in the peripheral regions of Japan could also serve as a useful hypothesis in Sinology.

This is not the place to deal with these fields of research in depth, we only mention them to support our notion of parallel continuums. In spite of this sketchy outline, it nevertheless becomes evident that our 'core complex related to the origin of settlements' leads us to the nucleus of early and prehistorical societies and into the centre of their ideological and political value systems. Has Japan - for plausible reasons - as a cultural-lag culture in comparison to the continent, preserved a type of agrarian village traditions, which was fundamental and essential to ancient China and constitutive to the formation of early states? It appears to be so. In its agrarian hinterland of relatively isolated villages, Japan until recently, had remained a 'marginal culture' in the sense of Ogburn! <37>

This also applies to China, or more precisely, to its 'marginal ethnic populations'. There too, similar 'core complexes related to the origin of settlements' can be observed (Aasen 1991). <38>

Neither is it surprising that many aspects of Korean cultural history accord with our structural approach. Myths are relatively sparse in early Korean history, they are explicitly focused on the lives and deeds of founder kings. <39> They usually descend from upper regions, heaven or mountains, <40> they conquer regions, start families and dynasties. They come close to being sacral and are deified by posterity. Lacking are myths of world creation and struggles about deities, which points to ruthless conquests from outside:there is no dispute between territorial claim and ancient local traditions (Hong 1994).

Korean studies on folklore clearly show that here too, elements of a settlement core complex traditionally survive in agrarian village cultures. In villages, there is 'Maul Jikimi' (Hwang 1993), the tutelary deity of the village, often represented by stelae made of wood or stone enwreathed with ropes or by fibroconstructive arrangements close to trees at the entrance to the village (see also Chie 1980). They are cyclically renewed in joyful festivals of local cult associations. Similar evidence is given by Hagiwara and Chie (1974). Remarkable for various reasons is the cult festival revolving around the agrarian deity of Mil-Tang, which focus on a precisely shaped reed pillar (Fig. 6d). Systematic research in certain regions would undoubtedly prove the more widespread existence of such traditions. In the courtyard of traditional farmhouses in the central and northern part of South Korea <41>, there are fibroconstructive signs in the form of thatched huts which represent the tutelary deity of the house and the courtyard. Very similar signs are to be found in Northern and Southern Japan, where they are known as the deity of the courtyard (yashiki-gami), or, objectively, as 'straw shrines' (wara-miya; Naoe Hiroji 1963, 1966).

From such phenomena it can be concluded with good reason, that the whole Sino-Korean-Japanese continuum preserved a basic structural complex in its agrarian settlements which, in the case of Japan, we described in depth and detail as the 'core complex related to the origins of settlement'. We can further conclude that this complex served as the basis to the first centralistic formations of early history, providing constitutional centres and administrations on a higher level. However, these centres had to incorporate the prehistorically established value-centrality into their extended systems to obtain acceptance and support.

The Near Eastern-Egyptian-European continuum

If, as indicated above, the term 'anthropology' is claimed for our basic theme of "the horror of basket-making" <42>, then we should ask whether our instruments, 'structural history' and 'structural ergology', are not also feasible in other, quite different cultures. This is outlined in the following.

We will test the method in the European sphere. A very important guideline here is the 'ethno–archaeological' model (Fig. 7) developed by K.Narr (1973:47 and 1975:12), which demonstrates the diffusion of both peasant village and urban historical cultures from the near East (and Egypt) to the Mediterranean and onward to Western, Central, and Northern Europe. <43> We shall term this model 'Narr's Diagonal'. The two main borderlines run roughly diagonally:‘ceramics’ emerge between hunting and gathering cultures, ‘town’ and ‘writing’ between peasant and urban cultures.

On a large scale, the model demonstrates the retarded state of Northern Europe, its 'cultural lag' in comparison to the Mediterranean region. Similar to the formerly inaccessible mountainous valleys of many nations - in contrast to the progressive cities of the lowland - where ancient cultural conditions can still be found, even today, Central and Northern Europe acquired script and founded towns only relatively late. Accordingly, it should still be possible nowadays to discover in Central or Northern European agrarian village areas fragmented survivals of conditions of the Stone or Metal Age. These would have to be searched for in value–central and therefore conservative environments:ancient cult and festival traditions.

Secondly, the model uncovers the great problems of historical periodization. Within larger and smaller areas, conditions are never homogenous, as many historians often naively assume. From about 3500 until 2500 B.C., the population of Central and Northern Europe exclusively dwelt in isolated and essentially autonomous agrarian village cultures (Neolithic, farming, axe, megaliths, ceramics), whereas in the region between Euphrat and Tigris, many towns have already developed as centres of empires, comprising large temples, systems of gods, first scripts, and complex social hierarchies (priests, king). There are the first dynasties of Egypt during this period. In a narrower sense too, one has to assume the existence of a similar heterogeneity. Peasant village culture does not simply die out with the rise of towns. Close to medieval towns, which accumulated Mediterranean elements and evolved themselves away from rural settlements, we can assume the continued existence of village life, little influenced by the urban sphere, where consequently traditions remained relatively intact. It is only today that modern media communication wipes out the differences between urban and agrarian life. In preindustrial times, there certainly was a strong continuity of agrarian traditions preserved around towns, as studies of folklore clearly show. The fact that we no longer understand these traditions in their agricultural–historical meaning has to be attributed to their fragmentation, as well as to the interpretative distortion of their material by Christianization.

In other words:the strict classification of our past according to homogenous periods cuts up the cord of time and its neighbouring strings of variously conservative continuities and turns the sections into something quite different by applying value systems <44>. Continuity is lost.

Narr's diagonal clearly shows that different cultural phases can exist simultaneously side by side, and yet have comparatively few interferences. Marginal zones thus can eventually preserve ancient traditions in relative independence. Unfortunately folklore prefers to cultivate its well–defined small gardens of national folklore romanticism instead of joining forces with ethnology and realizing the challenge of working comparatively within larger spheres (e.g. Europe - Asia). <45>

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