Archaeological History of Japan: 30,000 B.C. to A.D. 700. by Koji Mizoguchi.
Koji Mizoguchi's book is a very different history of Japan to that we have read before. In common with a number of books on Japanese archaeology, by Japanese archaeologists, it is still a book about the nature of identity amongst the inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago. The study of identity may be recent and currently very much in vogue in Anglo-American archaeology (cf. Meskell 1999, Thomas 1996); but there is already a long tradition of writing about the nature of Japanese identity in Japan (and in Japanese). Some of these works, the so-called Nihonjin-ron and its critiques, seek to define a unique and particular identity shared by all Japanese. They trace this identity to its roots in the Japanese past, usually to be found with the introduction of rice agriculture by the Yayoi population from approximately 400 B.C. The island nature of Japan and the apparent contiguity between the political expression of previous populations and the current Japanese nation state have lent strong support to the notion of a fixed or inherent 'Japaneseness' that is missing from most other countries - except perhaps Britain. Critiques of Nihonjin-ron, of which there are now a number, have set out to situate this writing in its current social, political and economic context to understand why it has come about and what purpose it serves. In comparison with these critiques, however, Mizoguchi does not seek to problematise the modern discourse, so much as to trace the nature of self-identification of the populations occupying the Japanese archipelago from the Palaeolihthic through to the end of the Kofun period. There can be no unique Japanese identity with deep roots into prehistory if it is clear that the populations themselves did not identify themselves in the same manner.
What we have in this book, therefore is the following through from a 'universal' sense of self identity that was fluid and based on individual abilities expressed through the practical activities of every day life, through to a time when quite separate identities would have been recognised between leaders or elites, those select few people who created and maintained links between regional groups, foreign polities (such as the Chinese dynasties) and even the divine and other world, and the many commoners whose existence was localised and defined according to the nature of rice agriculture and their reliance on others to mediate with the Other.
Unlike archaeologists who have considered identity through the literature on gender and the body, Mizoguchi's approach is rooted in the practice approaches of Bourdieu and Giddens, and is concerned with the identification of 'topographies of identity', and how they are created, maintained and transformed. In the language of practice theory, Mizoguchi's 'topography of identity' compares to the structure or habitus, a structuring and structured entity (through individual action and agency). The topography of identity has both physical and subjective structures. The subjective structure of Mizoguchi's topography of identity is intimately related to expectations; "the expectations of how one would behave at a locale, the expectation of how others would behave at that locale; and the expectation of how the others would expect one to behave at that locale" (p21). The physical structure comprises the spatio-temporal constellation of locales, the material setting of each locale, and the range of individuals who meet at such locales (p21). Changes in the subjective expectations or the nature of the physical setting, Mizoguchi argues, bring about changes in self-identities. Within this framework, material culture provides the conditions upon which expectations are formed and the settings in which they are activated. For Mizoguchi, therefore, tracing the nature of identities through Japanese history is 'simply' a matter of following through transformations in the topography of identity in its various components outlined above.
Mizoguchi investigates the shifting nature of identity following four broad periods of Japanese archaeology: Palaeolithic, Jomon, Yayoi and Kofun. During the Palaeolithic Mizoguchi argues that life was essentially uncertain: resources were unpredictable in their number and location and human societies were fluid in their response to this 'lack of fixity' (p64). Evidence from Palaeolithic sites seem to indicate a constantly mobile way of life, with human self-identities created and maintained through the personal resources, abilities and skills possessed by individuals. Where the archaeological record does seem to indicate distinct regional style zones in material culture, such as with the geographical distributions of knife-shaped tools or the later microblade manufacturing techniques, Mizoguchi argues that these zones do not mark the boundaries between societies with different identities but the limit of the areas occupied by constantly moving bands. This begins to change towards the end of the Palaeolithic. Evidence seems to suggest that accumulations of predictable resources (such as salmon) began and the first sites with evidence for longer periods of occupation. We also begin to see the use of material culture as metaphorical referents for particular aspects of social life: the 'MIkoshiba' hoard sites with metaphorical reference to the activities of 'cutting down trees and hunting animals' (p69). This is the beginning of identities and role-related expectations.
This process escalates with the Jomon. In the early Jomon fixity continues and there is, according to Mizoguchi, an association in Jomon identities between the regenerative power of women and the regeneration of resources, evidenced by the production of ceramic female figurines. Fluctuations in population numbers still seem to indicate that there was a potential unpredictability to life and any identity during this early Jomon. However, by the later Jomon (the Middle, Late and Final Jomon periods as determined by Jomon ceramic chronologies) fixity seems to permanently characterise life. Large core sites, such as the Nishida site, with highly marked spatial configurations and evidence for permanent occupation, attest to the growth of more permanent identities based on fixed roles. The association between stone-lined hearths, a locus of female activities, and the deposition of stone phalluses suggests a need to balance the relationships between men and women at a time of the development of fixed hierarchies.
With the Yayoi period, rice cultivation begins in the Japanese archipelago. Traditionally Japanese archaeologists have looked to the Korean Peninsula for the origin of the Yayoi and the source for incoming Yayoi populations. Instead Mizoguchi looks to the patterns within Yayoi archaeology to determine the nature of Yayoi identities. The appearance of a fully developed rice paddy field system indicates the organisation of considerable labour power, indicating some form of social hierarchy. Indeed the Yayoi represents the beginning of an emergent inequality between leaders and commoners, and the tension between the two. Leaders cement their hierarchical position by acting as the mediators between the community and the other, whether that be the spirit world or foreign powers, such as the Han Dynasty in neighbouring China. Commoners are made to believe that the success of their community rests on the success that leaders have in this mediation. New identities are created linking storage jars (for rice), the colour red and human burials. Yayoi burials are often accompanied by weapons indicating coercion, and prestige goods derived from China deposited ('destroyed') in graves to indicate the faith that leaders have in their ability to continue their links with this particular Other. During the Kofun period, the dependent relationship between leaders and commoners is finally split, and the foundations of a royal state are fixed.
Whilst this history starts from the Palaeolithic, the real substance of this book is in Mizoguchi's interpretation of the Jomon, Yayoi and Kofun periods of Japanese archaeology. These periods form the archaeological substance for common discussions of Japanese identity. In traditional discussions, the Jomon is an 'other' life, a world of rich crafts (especially ceramics) and embodied knowledge. The Yayoi with its rice agriculture forms the basis of the modern Japanese rural way of life and is characterised by strategic knowledge and social order, whilst the Kofun period and its well-known keyhole-shaped monumental tombs witnesses the origins of the imperial heritage of modern Japan. Burial is key to Mizoguchi's decipherment of the nature of identity, particularly in the Yayoi and Kofun periods. Linear cemeteries in the Yayoi, with burials progressing through the cemetery from north to south show a concern with a memory for lineage. Mourners at a burial will see the body being lowered into the grave against a backdrop (context) of previous burials. The development and seclusion of Kofun keyhole-shaped burial monuments allows Mizoguchi to identify the separation of the elite from the commoners to the extent that commoners can no longer judge the effectiveness of their leaders in their role of mediators.
It is still very rare to find a book in English about the archaeology of Japan. This is a great pity given the great riches of Japanese archaeology. If, however, you are looking for the most up to date, general archaeological introduction to the archaeology of Japan, Mizoguchi's book will not be the answer to your quest. A brief examination of the figures in the atlas of Japanese archaeology produced for the Japanese Association for Quaternary Research (Ona et al. 1992) will give some idea of the extraordinarily rich archaeological record that now exists in Japan, and a better feeling for the full range of archaeological evidence present. Mizoguchi's An Archaeological History of Japan, however, is closely focussed on an argument and using the evidence purely in relation to this argument, and readers would for the moment find Imamura's book, albeit brief itself, a better general introduction to the nature (chronology, geography and variety) of the archaeological evidence that has been excavated in Japan (Imamura 1996).
This book, however, provides a quite different perspective on Japanese archaeology to those currently available. The closest parallels to An Archaeological History of Japan are not to be found in Japanese writings, but in the recent literature on Prehistoric Europe; the works of John Barrett, Richard Bradley and Julian Thomas all spring to mind and to quotation within this text. This is not surprising since Mizoguchi's own archaeological identity embraces his PhD thesis on the nature of Neolithic identities in Britain with particular reference to the nature of burial practices and memory through time (Mizoguchi 1993). It is also no surprise, given this background, that the text comes alive when Mizoguchi reflects on the character and sequencing of elite burials in the Yayoi and Kofun periods. It is here that Mizoguchi seems to have a real feel for the evidence and is at his most successful in constructing the topography of identity. Whilst reading I was most frequently reminded of Richard Bradley's The Social Foundations of Prehistoric Britain (Bradley 1984); Mizoguchi's approach is clearly a more recent development of Postprocessual thinking in archaeology, but it has that same breadth and focus on the longer term patterns that characterise this earlier work by Bradley. And even though it is about the development of identities, it takes the perspective of the broader structures, in the Giddens sense of the term, that characterise this other work. In this sense, not only should this book be recommended reading for archaeologists of Japan, it also makes an ideal and original case study for those interested in the archaeology of identity in general.
The breadth and scale, however, that provides much of the clarity and strength in this book is also its key weakness. Mizoguchi describes the structures of identity for each period, but the absence of a detailed examination of a large range of the full variety of the evidence for the period leaves out much sense of individual negotiations of identities. Individuals are reduced to examples of larger social groups, whether they be leaders, commoners, elite in the Yayoi and Kofun periods, or men and women in the Jomon and Palaeolithic. Theoretically we must imagine that individual agents are negotiating their own personal identities, but practically, this cannot be explored in a narrative of this scale. In this sense, the social and physical topography of identity that Mizoguchi aims to reconstruct is necessarily simplified. For the Jomon period, I can see criticisms that will be made concerning the 'stereotypical representation of men and women' as takers and givers of life respectively. It is really only in the discussion of burials in the Yayoi and Kofun periods that the beginning of a more detailed discussion of the negotiation of identities (in this case among the families of leaders or elites) becomes visible. The evidence, however, is clearly present to begin such an archaeology and it one that we can look forward to. For the moment, this is a major and challenging development in the archaeology of Japan that deserves to be on many bookshelves.
Review Submitted: February 2003
The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.
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