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1At the end of the Second World War, Japan emerged crushed by the enormous losses it underwent in the Pacific and Hiroshima, and also by the mutilation of its public image as a result of compromises made with Nazi ideology.

2However, and contrary to what a society traditionally anchored in values of hierarchy, order, and authority may reveal, the American occupation and administration would facilitate a reconciliation founded upon the absence of a vengeful spirit and upon the unconditional acceptance of democratic norms. For the American administration, the aim was to clean up the ideological grounds of totalitarianism that had been brilliantly illustrated during the military conquests and which constituted the spinal cord of the imperial spirit, all without resorting to violence.

3The effort to do so was undeniably placed upon the backs of the youth. This was the case for several reasons. Firstly, although they were aware of the ravages of the war, the educated young, with few exceptions, did not take part in the war. Furthermore, since the behaviors and attitudes of young people had not yet been weighed down by tradition, it was easier for the occupying forces to manipulate the form and content as they saw fit, in particular through school and university programs. Finally, since the future belongs to the young adolescents and the postadolescents, it was up to them to establish and diffuse new democratic values, values that an adult population, already accustomed to the dominant imperial Japanese ideology, could only resist, even if an initial approach produced a sense of resignation which, although not particularly deep, was widespread.

4It was in such a historical, social, and cultural context that the disciplines of sociology and anthropology came into play.

5Firstly, a renowned anthropologist in the United States began studying the Japanese youth from the year 1945, a year in which Japan was still at war with the United States and the West in general. It was not until August that they surrendered following the American nuclear bombings. Ruth Benedict, an American anthropologist of a culturalist allegiance, paradoxically and against all disciplinary and educational orders, was going to undertake a study without any in situ fieldwork. She limited herself to a twofold approach: firstly through working with Japanese individuals living in America, and then in specialized libraries. As if this were not enough, she had an added major handicap, one that all ethnologists try hard to overcome at the start of any study: she could not speak or write in Japanese. The book resulting from the study was called The Chrysanthemum and the Sword and very quickly came out in English during 1946, and was translated three years later into Japanese. It was not until 1987 that a French edition became available.

6A few years later, in 1951, UNESCO ordered a French sociologist who had become known for his innovative studies on the subject of surveys and statistics to conduct a report on the attitudes of the postwar Japanese youth. A paradox emerged when Jean Stoetzel, although poorly versed in ethnographic techniques, carried out a study that completely conformed to all the requirements of the discipline. Not only did he go to Japan during 1951 and 1952, traveling from North to South, but moreover, he began learning Japanese, which he ended up mastering honorably.

7The book, which was supposed to consolidate all the data from the fieldwork and the conclusions the author had reached, was called Jeunesse sans chrysanthème ni sabre and came out in 1953. One may have noticed the explicit and hardly reverent reference to the title of Ruth Benedict’s book, from which Jean Stoetzel wanted to disassociate himself. However, in spite of this prevention, we should be attentive to the often elegant manner the French sociologist adopts from time to time to make a point of paying tribute to the American anthropologist, a tribute sometimes tinged with irony but also marked with a certain sincerity, recognizing the merit of having initiated a lineage of reflections upon contemporary Japan.

The Reasons for and the Methods of the Study

8It appears evident that the first difference between the two books can be found in the reasons that motivated each of their authors to take on the study. If, for a renowned American university professor, it was about showing that science was able to counterbalance the devastating effects on public opinion of a detested and misjudged Japan whose behavior in December 1941 at Pearl Harbor had created indignation and the feeling of betrayed confidence, this was not Jean Stoetzel’s motivation. Indeed for this man, it mattered more to ask oneself if, as Benedict claimed, the chrysanthemum was still the emblem of the imperial house and if the sabre, honorific medal of courage and war, still pervaded in the mentality of the Japanese youth, than to respond in urgency to the end of a conflict in which France did not take part, at least not directly. Could tradition, particularly in the moral realm, return to schools and universities, albeit under new a disguise? Would the youth “seize the opportunity for freedom that is offered to them?” (Stoetzel 1954, 12). “What are the attitudes of the young Japanese towards foreign countries? How do they behave in the face of national institutions? What are their most important and significant personal characteristics?” (Stoetzel 1954, 18).

9Such are the questions the French sociologist asked himself and such are the problems he intended to resolve through this field survey, which would reveal itself to be a true challenge aimed at distinguishing the disciplines of sociology and ethnology.

10The second difference resides in the method.

11Stoetzel began by challenging the culturalist clichés, commonly accepted during the period he was writing his book, which he classes into two categories: “the psychology of people” and the “national character” (Stoetzel 1954, 15). To him, these constituted a methodological and epistemological delusion. In both cases we are in the presence of stereotypes, whose extremely unscientific nature is not consistent with the subject they are striving to clarify—whether this subject identifies the self or whether it identifies others—but rather with the methods that Stoetzel qualifies as, “irrational, arbitrary, and irresponsible” (Stoetzel 1954, 15).

12On this subject, the author of Théorie des opinions defended a rare conviction for an age marked by a somewhat romantic perspective on the social sciences. Getting to know one’s own community about which the researcher is speaking, and getting to know other communities, amounts to the same thing, since in both cases we are dealing with “a nonimmediate knowledge through signs” (Stoetzel 1954, 15).

13“Knowledge through signs,” is to be understood as an indirect knowledge through multiple anti-intuitive mediums and proceeding through cumulative layers. No self-presence is able to guarantee any sort of objective knowledge. On the contrary, the presence will more likely be deceptive, in that it leads us to believe in a phenomenal transparency of the subject that is nothing but an illusion. Stoetzel thus announced that he would proceed in the following way. The study was to be undertaken “on several different levels” and was to deal “with the attitudes of several groups of strongly heterogeneous subjects, in areas where cultural changes are especially prominent” (Stoetzel 1954, 21).

14In other words, in order to account for the “types of personal values” (Stoetzel 1954, 21), the researcher would operate by crossing over several parameters, for example age group and place of residence. Autonomous subjects can only be discovered through quantitative methods on the one hand and a multitypological cross referencing on the other. Far from being disinterested in individual subjects, on the contrary Stoetzel would concentrate on understanding them, but not by intuition, nor by the direct access which phenomenology claims to be spokesperson, nor by a mysterious culturalist approach that, by not explaining anything, in fact merits being explained. The ideal situation in order for the tests to produce the maximum number of positive results, as ethnographers are aware, resides in the monograph of a small quantity of subjects. The various approaches on exotic realities, including Japanese culture for a Westerner, are eventually epitomized at the level of “motivations, values, and mechanisms of the person” (Stoetzel 1954, 31).

15It is at this stage that Stoetzel undoubtedly offers a major contribution to socioanthropological studies on foreign and distant cultures. It is equally at this stage that the opinion survey starts to show its limits. For nothing can stop the subjects who take the surveys from giving allusive, incomprehensible, idiosyncratic, evasive, false, and self-contradictory responses. On the other hand, faced with foreigners as he was in Japan, Stoetzel advocates the projective technique that consists in using a series of tests, not to spot statements that are always more or less misleading in encounters like these, but to spot expressions, whose meanings are always “underlying” and so demand interpretations from the researcher that never exceed statements themselves (Stoetzel 1954, 153).

16The method adopted by Ruth Benedict is quite another story. It essentially consists in endeavoring to put oneself in the position of those who are being studied: “To adopt the enemy’s perspective on life” (Benedict 1987, 21). [1]

17Not that we should analyze “what we would have done in their position,” since we cannot be in their position, even if we can pretend to be. All that is needed is to study “how the Japanese behaved” (Benedict, 1987, 21). The bottom line is it is a fictional method comparable in every way to a historic novel.

18Let us observe here the conditional that marks the impossibility for Benedict to realize the empirical reality that she is discussing, but which escapes her since she is deprived of it by distance and absence. She speaks about Japanese individuals who live ten thousand kilometers away, by substituting them for those that are nearby. How, then, should one think about extraneousness and otherness? For the Japanese living in the United States are as much American as they are Japanese. In other words, the first original layer of their culture, insofar as there exists an authentic layer, was quickly covered up by cultural layers of adaptation to the host environment. How should this chiasmus be considered? Nevertheless, during her library research Ruth Benedict did learn many very valuable things; although of course this did not make up for being on original soil, it provided as much information of high quality. This was all the more the case because she read inquiry statements carried out by Japanese individuals. She therefore strived to try and reconstruct a “picture” in which all the elements judged adequate and pertinent should be represented, in order to achieve coherence and to give it a meaning. Somewhat like Wittgenstein, Benedict would try her best to impart from the jumble of traits, types, and events a configuration that would give the impression of a culture that was well composed, well organized, and focused on one question: “What is wrong with this picture?” (Benedict 1987, 24). The method seems more like a search for coherence than for correspondence to reality.

19And so, this was the nagging question that drove the anthropologist’s reading and studies.

The Imbroglio of Culture

20Since culture serves as an epistemological weapon of combat and an operational concept, it seemed essential that Benedict should start here.

21What does she understand by Japanese culture? In paying minute attention to the text, it becomes evident that the concept of culture presents all the aspects of a disorganized and often obscure assembly.

22First of all, Benedict gives us to understand that the character traits of this Japanese culture can be found in a blind confidence in hierarchy, which represents an absolute kingpin (Benedict 1987, 40). Hierarchy indeed implies order and respect, moral and social values upon which we can rely. “Muga” then seals the action with excellence. It is an experience that does not “involve any feeling,” whether reflexive or critical, about one’s own actions. Muga is the loss of oneself (Benedict 1987, 280), a forgetting of self-observation. Perfection lies in this blind mechanism of action, by dint of having been experienced. This state of somnambulism seems to oppose the self-control so praised by Japanese nationalism. In fact, this is far from the case, since as Benedict writes (1987, 281) “their culture constantly screams out to its soul for circumspection.”

23By getting rid of this burden of self-vigilance and self-surveillance, that is, of the conscience, “a more efficient field of conscience opens up” (Benedict, 1987, 281).

24According to Benedict, by joining these two dominant aspects, muga and the abolition of self-awareness, Japanese culture is endowed with “the power of death,” which one must accept and live (Benedict 1987, 282). “Live as if you were already dead!” --such would be the Japanese cultural slogan.

25Paradoxically, and in spite of a strong opposition between the two anthropologists’ methods, Claude Lévi-Strauss does not differ too much from Benedict’s analysis when he writes:


The Japanese subject is centripetal . . . he symbolizes the final place where his sense of belonging is reflected. That way of constructing the subject from the outside comes out in both the Japanese language, which is inclined to avoid the personal pronoun, and the social structure, in which the “self-consciousness” (jigaishi in Japanese, I believe) is expressed in and through the sense everyone has—even the most humble persons—that he is participating in a collective project.
(Lévi-Strauss 2011, 51–52).

27This is how we arrive at a third essential aspect of the structure of this culture: the principle of superiority of the spirit over the body. Since the body “does not naturally possess the rules of well-being” (Benedict 1987, 261), only the will, the cornerstone of the spirit, can decree such a principle. The will is infinite, whereas the body is not. For this reason, although they are ineliminable, emotions must be put on the back burner.

28The same is true for shûyô, a self-discipline that allows one to achieve a taste of existence at the highest level. It is not a form of casualness, but on the contrary a form of training that verges on the incarnation of a second nature (Benedict 1987, 265). Shûyô can be thought of as the ultimate polishing of the body, which, since one cannot be rid of it, one must, as a “fine gleaming blade,” obey this principle of will (Benedict 1987, 266).

29It is important to notice that all of this analysis offers two aspects that a reader as well informed as Jean Stoetzel could not help but challenge. Firstly, Benedict barely talks about young people. Secondly, if the origin of this culture is question, it will be found to be rooted in nature. The attitudes of the Japanese appear to be “innate” (1987, 40); “a swing of mood is natural to them” (1987, 197).

30As for Stoetzel, he straightaway announces his conviction according to which “so long as we approach it from the desired perspective, no culture is impenetrable for an intelligence shaped through any other culture” (Stoetzel 1954, 9).

31It is not so much culture in itself that interests Stoetzel, but rather the distance that must constantly be reduced between the culture of the person conducting the inquiry and the culture of the other. There exists no otherness that is unattainable. All that is needed is to work methodically towards a reconciliation, without toning down the values encountered. Stoetzel is convinced that culture in the form of a fixed and self-referential block does not exist; quite the opposite. Even if he agrees to pay homage to Ruth Benedict for being concerned with the relationships between “cultural behaviors” and “systems or configurations of meaning or even the Gestalten” (Stoetzel 1954, 16) and for having noticed their formal ties, cultural behaviors must be dealt with as “flexible models, with many layers.” The search for cultural universals is of little interest to Stoetzel, because his quantitative method using projective tests only shows him the “facts,” which are always extremely varied (1954, 17). We are confronted here with a minimalist methodology, which very modestly confines itself to taking into account only the results arising from the data gathered on the ground.

32Of course, “culture is reflected in individual behaviors” (Stoetzel 1954, 229), but not mechanically, nor directly. For the reverse is also true. It is indeed the “individual behaviors” that bring culture into “existence” and allow it to evolve. We are left with the impression that Stoetzel wants to state that in a way, individual behaviors precede culture, which will only ever be the deferred and always unrecognizable translation of them. If such an interpretation of Stoetzel’s text were correct, we would undeniably be confronted with a very modern, perhaps even postmodern concept of culture that would then become the a posteriori text used to synthesize, interpret, gather, and reconstruct the final meaning of individual behaviors in a given society, a meaning that would always be provisional.

Youth and Obligation

33Earlier on it was remarked that Japanese youth, as subjects of study, are missing from Ruth Benedict’s text, yet their presence pervades Jean Stoetzel’s work. This is undoubtedly not by chance, since in Benedict’s theory the focus is on researching culture in itself, of course including the youth, but without reserving them a particular status. For his part, Stoetzel puts emphasis on the youth, not only in response to the orders he had received, but above all because as far as substance goes, in it he sees the opportunity to discover a movement that is social and cultural, dynamic, conflicting, and self-contradictory, and which often goes against the current dominant mentality that is already anchored in a future that Japan will never escape from. As much as the Japan of tomorrow catches Stoetzel’s attention, the Japan of yesterday is what interests Benedict. It is important to observe that in place of the youth, Benedict highlights the constituent values of an immobile culture, as if history and social temporality alone could not affect the integrity of an origin dating back centuries.

34First of all, Stoetzel begins by remarking that the youth are from predominantly rural backgrounds, “at a proportion of two-thirds” (Stoetzel 1954, 69).

35Secondly, another surprise awaits us: “between the age of fifteen and twenty, around half of the individuals of both sexes already have gainful employment” (Stoetzel 1954, 73).

36Only a small minority continued their studies above the age of twenty. Thirdly, however, and paradoxically, the dependence of the youth on their family remained considerable. This youth endeavors to break free from the dominant values and ideals of the adults, but at the same time they willingly accept depending economically and socially on their seniors. For this reason, Stoetzel emphasizes the heterogeneous character of this youth, which is far from constituting a single whole. When it comes to love, the sociologist notes that it does not play a crucial role in their behaviors, in contrast to Benedict’s claims, “who made generalizations based on observations that are only true for the aristocracy or the rich bourgeoisie.”

37Stoetzel therefore presents us with a picture of considerable contrasts, with a host of nuances about Japanese youth. At the same time that the youth are motivated by a “will to power” (1954, 205), which is stronger than that of adults—strangely a point that Stoetzel does not dwell upon—they also adopt democratic values, which they are taught almost exclusively at school, values which seem to be inconsistent with this “inclination for the tragic,” (1954, 216) that is contrary to the values of responsibility and initiative that constitute the heart of a freshly acquired democracy.

38In short, self-confidence clashes with the needs of others, as do so many other contradictory characteristics.

39It would appear that this fractured entity that is Stoetzel’s young people was in opposition to Ruth Benedict’s study of all the different forms taken by obligation, a key category that completely structures and infiltrates Japanese culture.

40For Benedict, “on,” translated as “obligation,” seems to simultaneously synthesize and envelop several attitudes that are not always coherent amongst themselves. “On” encompasses “all sorts of debts the individual has, from the most serious to the most intimate” (Benedict 1987, 120).

41It is for this reason that in order to refine the translation, we can add to the concept of obligation the concepts of “loyalty, kindness, and love” (Benedict 1987, 120).

42In fact, it’s about making the idea plural and extremely diversified, encompassing “responsibility, debt and burden.”

43The Japanese individual would therefore seem to be bound from birth to adults, creditors, the elderly, and the spirits of the dead. The debt is not always real, since it often entails a noncontractual debit. The Japanese feel obliged to—, since they owe the very fact that they exist to everyone, enjoying the benefits of a society and a culture passed on by others. “On” should be understood as the other face of loyalty, a loyalty which connects the Japanese beyond just society. The principle is similar to a metaphysical concept of relationships. We are always indebted, even if we do not owe anything. And since “on” is not an accounting or divisible quantity, we never stop repaying it. This is why it is advisable to think of the “on” as an infinite entity, whose entirety cannot be exchanged for an equivalent quantity. It is life’s countergift, without there actually being a preliminary and visible gift. The debt is of a moral and existential order.

44On” can be subdivided into two parts: “the repayment that we owe to our parents, ko” and “that which we owe to the emperor, chu” (Benedict 1987, 138).

45It is this type of unlimited repayment that we call gimu, another way of saying “on.” The gimu is a transcendental form of “on,” that we owe no matter what.

46Giri is another form of obligation that Benedict associates with the roots of Japanese culture. Unlike gimu, the Japanese individual must fulfill giri against his own will. We can translate it as “the righteous way” (Benedict 1987, 158). All giri is directed at the world to avoid having to apologize. By “honoring their contractual relationships,” the Japanese will not feel forced to apologize. Gimu, meanwhile, consists in “fulfilling intimate obligations contracted at birth” (Benedict 1987, 158).

47We find giri again in the strategy established to erase insults suffered to one’s name. The term is rather contradictory for a Westerner in that it includes elements we are accustomed to distinguishing between: gratitude, vengeance, benevolence, contempt, loyalty, animosity. It is a virtue that is one and the same, and varies according to the people and institutions at which it is directed.

48This is therefore how obligation, whether in the form of giri or gimu, and in spite of social class binds, symbolizes, and transcends the empirical behaviors of each Japanese individual. In any case, that was Ruth Benedict’s deep conviction.

49However, from 1949, three years after The Chrysanthemum and the Sword came out in the United States and only a year after its translation into Japanese, an important Japanese sociologist, Kizameon Ariga, would endeavor to challenge a significant portion of the affirmations in Ruth Benedict’s book. Ariga considers Benedict to be incorrect in claiming that gimu belongs to vertical relationships and giri to horizontal relationships, since according to him both of these relate to giri (Ariga 1949, 13–22, translated from Japanese by Stoetzel, personal communication). As for on, according to Ariga it indicates unlimited obligations, since as families are not particularly extended, family relationships are understood as hierarchical and not strictly familial ones. The terminology is therefore deceiving and Benedict allows herself to get caught in the trap of nominalism. She does not explain the unlimited obligation that arises from on, nor the priority towards the higher rungs of the hierarchy. Consequently, the author of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword would not be capable of realizing the reticence and the obstacles to democratization, those which rest on a good understanding of the hierarchical system.

50We can better understand the importance of giri after reading Stoetzel’s book, where he dedicates several pages to the subject. He formulates a hypothesis that would not be contradicted by Japanese specialists on the subject: giri belongs to “traditional aristocratic morals; spread via theater, literature, social contacts, but first of all in towns, then at a lesser degree in the countryside” (Stoetzel 1954, 196).

51This analysis better highlights the phenomenon of its slow disappearance, noticed by the author in the mid-twentieth century, whilst still taking into account the gradual erasing of aristocratic values.

Founding Values

52Stoetzel recognizes in Benedict’s book the essential merit in having shone light on what constitutes the heart of the “Japanese ethic” (Stoetzel 1954, 63). Without being a matter of what is commonly called “a system of conduct,” this ethic no less locks the “moral agent in a network of obligations and pluralist values” (Stoetzel 1954, 63).

53There are essentially three of these values, which it is advisable to understand as a greater set of adjustable, flexible, and plural, but paradoxically intangible values: honor, sincerity, and shame.

54Honor consists in never surrendering, for example during hopeless combat situations (Benedict 1987, 57). However, observers and historians have revealed numerous exemptions to this requirement, including in times of war, where the causes and the reasons were numerous: lack of courage, disease, refusal to sacrifice the whole brigade or regiment, and so forth.

55Sincerity (makoto) can only be understood in the perspective of an unconditional allegiance to the emperor (chu), who occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy. Chu is the highest obligation in the hierarchy of values, since it is linked to the emperor. It is even more distinguished than giri, since it demands nothing in return for its observance. As such, it situates itself in the register of altruistic values par excellence and allows any type of gain to be counteracted.

56Far from constituting a major sanction, as in societies where it would rely on a feeling of guilt (Benedict 1987, 253), shame (haji) is a virtue of thanks and not of redress (1987, 254). Its function is not to cultivate the religion of sin, but to serve in self-correction through the way one is perceived by others. This is to say that it is based upon the trust that the subject shows to others and that they are expected to return.

57In order to get a good grasp of the founding values, it is necessary to study the social functioning of kinship through the stratification of units, clans, and families that culminates in the hierarchical logic stems from the emperor, a true living god.

58Ujis are “patriarchal units,” still called “clans,” that we can apprehend as many “communities of families with the same ancestor” (Stoetzel 1954, 47).

59Each family, dominated hierarchically by a leader, in fact constitutes a model for the uji, which is also headed by a leader. The clan of clans is that of the emperor, the true living God “who has managed to dominate others” (Stoetzel 1954, 47). It is this procession in the establishment of hierarchy, from the family to the empire, that serves as a model for the “subordination of religions” (Stoetzel 1954, 47). Or, to put it another way, it is because clans subordinate to one another that the religions do the same, the implication being equal. With “the whole Japanese social structure dominated in this way by the notion of hierarchy” (Stoetzel 1954, 56), it is ultimately based on uji, which can be understood here as “the clan-like institution of kinship.” A group of the same kinship is called dôzoku-dan, the extended family shizoku and the family business dôzoku-kaisha. It is important to remember these notions, since they work differently for Benedict and for Ariga. In fact, Stoetzel wants us to grasp the idea of a complete structure and organization of society as that of many families. This central idea in Stoetzel’s reasoning should be understood as the result of a simultaneous tripartition: “Kinship, determined by the blood, alliance, adoption, or service; hierarchy, based on the father-son model; participation in the protection of guardian deities or the community of worship” (Stoetzel 1954, 58).

60It is advisable to understand the relationship between these three ideas as a whole without cardinal precedence, with kinship certainly leading the hierarchy, but on a logical basis and not a semantic, natural, or chronological one.

61Ruth Benedict undertook a completely different analysis of the same categories. She begins by stating that the “prerogatives attached to generation, sex, and age are considerable”

62She then places the world of filial devotion at the heart of her reasoning, which paradoxically according to her only includes “recent ancestors,” insofar as it is only the present that matters (Benedict 1987, 145). Yet what is this filial devotion? For Benedict, it consists in “repaying one’s debt to one’s ancestors, by passing on to one’s children the same caring treatment that one also received” (Benedict 1987, 146).

63All of this seems to rest on the notion of kami, a term translated by the word “god,” as well as “leader.” Regardless of what is hiding behind the name, it is in fact the top of the hierarchy. Chu fulfills the function of binding the “double system of relationships between the subject and the emperor” (Benedict 1987, 153). The originality of this relationship in fact rests on the direct link that is established between the emperor and the subject, “without any middlemen,” following the example of a mechanism that binds the mystical person to the divine.

64All of Benedict’s analysis is ultimately undertaken to arrive at the essence of things, at least in her eyes. Indeed, the Japanese are “subdued and do not know what democracy is” (Benedict 1987, 154).

65The major obstacle in constructing a democratic process thus remains the obligation to “repay what we owe to the benefactor creditors” (Benedict 1987, 154).

66From then on, the whole of Japanese society is reduced to a single way of determining its structure and future: the countergift or the fact of returning it. It is this culturalist simplification that Stoetzel denounces in his study, which avoids delving into the subtlety of contrasts, contradictions, and a dynamic future.


67What can we learn from this comparative exercise?

68The sense of the foreign that we experience in reading these two books in not so much a product of the subject of “Japan” examined by both studies, but more about the gulf that separates these two perspectives, to the extent that we end up being persuaded that neither are talking about the same country.

69A second element of surprise results from the type of subject studied by the two researchers. In Stoetzel’s case, it was clearly about tackling the category of the Japanese youth head on and studying all its possible aspects, while scrupulously respecting the test results and the samples taken. In Benedict’s case, the subject dissolves in a generality named Japanese culture that includes all the categories, every age group, every social strata, and every cultural expression. In the latter case, the subject thus seems this way so that its richness stems from the abundance of the data, but also its disorder. The “ideal type” that Benedict dreams of achieving, following as closely as possible her theory of patterns of culture, offers a view of an admittedly dense world, but one whose splendor diminishes the precision of analysis and whose sumptuousness conceals the reality of the divided structures and mediations (Bennett and Nagai 1953, 408-409).

70Thirdly, although the concepts our two authors use are often identical, they are not treated in the same way. Stoetzel makes use of categories, whether in the form of how they appear in the Japanese language or in the form of those of the scientific vocabulary of the social sciences, and as much terms of an extensive dimension as in terms of aiding comprehensibility, with them being adapted to society’s historical development and the social sectors being studied. Benedict, on the other hand, grasps notions in a more global way that groups together and envelops, giving the impression of microrealities being overlooked.

71Finally, since neither of the two authors abstains from making interpretations, Stoetzel takes methodological care to only do so after having incorporated the empirical data, while Benedict employs prejudice, value judgments, and vague analytics as the hermeneutic operations in a reality that had not been thought through beforehand.

72For example, when Benedict neglects to distinguish between what “people say they do and what they actually do” (Bennett and Nagai 1953, 408), she brings out the weaknesses in her theory of patterns of culture. Does culture belong to practices or to representations? And do these representations refer to the practices from which they are sometimes derived, or indeed do they denote other practices?

73It is as though Japan were immemorial, static, and always equal to the founding values that are profiled in Benedict’s analysis. The conception that is given off from the notion of Japanese culture therefore appears liberated from the crises, tensions, and regimes of historicity that characterize all anthropological approaches.

74We will have at least learned that in the social sciences the methods and lines of enquiry are often deployed by disciplines that we would not expect to use them. Thanks to an authentically ethnographic approach, a quantitative sociologist revealed a reality of great complexity. The anthropologist on the other hand, bereaved of field data, offers us a philosophical and abstract reflection of a Japan that is more dreamlike than real, more idealized than present, and whose beauty leads us to the confines of an unexpected fiction.


  • [1]
    Translator’s note: All quotations from Ruth Benedict’s work are back-translations from the French-language version of this article.

In this paper we juxtapose two readings of immediate post-war Japan. The first, that of Ruth Benedict, is still famous because it adopts the original approach of studying a Japanese society she did not actually visit. The second, that of Jean Stoetzel, uses the method of statistical sociological inquiry, supported by very detailed fieldwork, particularly in relation to young people. This double reading of the same subject shows us that in social sciences, methods and inquiries are very often practiced “back to front”. The quantitative sociologist has shown, thanks to a genuinely ethnographic approach, a very complex reality. The anthropologist, bereft of field data, gives us an abstract and philosophical reflection on a Japan more dreamed than real, more idealized than present, and whose beauty takes us to the borders of an unexpected fiction.


  • culture
  • fieldworking
  • Japan
  • methods
  • youth
  • values


  • Ariga, Kizameon. 1949. “La Conception de Benedict sur la hiérarchie dans la structure sociale japonaise.” Minzokugaku-Kenkyû 14 (1949): 4, 13–22 (in Japanese, translated by Jean Stoetzel, personal communication).
  • Benedict, Ruth. 1987. Le Chrysanthème et le Sabre. Paris: Éd. Philippe Picquier.
  • Bennett, John W., and Michio Nagai. 1953. “The Japanese Critique of the Methodology of Benedict’s ‘Chrysanthemum and the Sword.’” American Anthropologist 55: 405–411.
  • Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 2011. L’Autre Face de la lune: Ecrits sur le Japon. Paris: Ed. du Seuil.
  • Mead, Margaret. (1959) 1973. Writings of Ruth Benedict: An Anthropologist at Work. New York: Equinox Editions.
  • Mead, Margaret. 1974. Ruth Benedict. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Stoetzel, Jean. 1954. Jeunesse sans chrysanthème ni sabre. Paris: Plon-Unesco.
  • Affergan, Francis. 2012. Le moment critique de l’anthropologie. Paris: Editions Hermann.
Francis Affergan
Francis Affergan, Université Paris-Descartes Centre CANTHEL
Francis Affergan is professor of ethnology and social and cultural anthropology at the Université Paris-Descartes-Sorbonne-Paris-Cité and a research member of CANTHEL (Sorbonne Center for Cultural Anthropology). He worked for thirty years in the French Antilles, and in particular in Martinique, where he studied cultural conflicts, memory and slavery, the dynamics of identity, and aesthetic, funereal, and bodily expressions. He also focused on the phenomena of mental health, phenotypic disease, and intermixing.
In addition, he leads research into areas of theoretical anthropology, including developments in cognitivism, textualism, pragmatics, and descriptive phenomenology. He has published eight books, including Exotisme et altérité (Paris: PUF, 1987), La Pluralité des mondes (Paris: Albin Michel, 1997), Martinique: Les identités remarquables (Paris: PUF, 2006), and Le moment critique de l’anthropologie (Paris: Editions Hermann, 2012) as well as fifty articles and contributions to collected volumes.
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Uploaded on on 19/05/2014
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