Modern society is perverse, not in spite of its puritan-
ism or as if from a backlash provoked by its hypocrisy;
it is in actual fact, and directly perverse.
foucault, The hisTory of sexualiTy, vol. 1
On 19 March 1911 the founder of modern Japanese nativism, Yanagita
Kunio (1875–1962), wrote to the prominent natural historian and bota-
nist Minakata Kumagusu (1867–1941) asking for folklore samples from
his home in Wakayama in western Japan, where Minakata had settled
after returning from fifteen years abroad. Yanagita was especially inter-
ested in examples documenting the existence of strange mountain
people ( yamabito), goblins (tengu), and humanoid giants. He thought
these were all living descendants of a non- Ainu aboriginal race of Japa-
nese who were long ago forced into the mountains by the arrival of
plains- inhabiting settlers from Northeast Asia—Asians widely recog-
nized as the biological ancestors of nearly all Japanese. Yanagita prom-
ised to include any of Minakata’s samples supporting his hypothesis in
his new journal, Researching Native Place. With this journal Yanagita was
attempting to build on the popularity of his collection of Japanese folk-
lore The Legends of Tōno, published in 1910, to jump- start a discipline he
called minzokugaku, the study of native customs. Addressing Minakata
honorifically as sensei, Yanagita somewhat pompously proclaimed, “At
long last, a complete change in Japanese popular understanding [koku-
ron] regarding our customs is upon us. We here at the journal are com-
mitted to fundamentally transforming the conventional view of Japa-
nese customs from something defensive, into something positive and
future- oriented” (quoted in Minakata 1985, 6).
The year 1911 was also the last full year of the Meiji emperor’s reign
(1868–1912) and only six years after Japan’s victory in a bloody cam-
paign against Russia that made Japan an irrevocable imperial presence
introduCtion
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