Race and Civilization in Japan

At the beginning of the Meiji era, in 1868, Japan opened up to techniques and knowledge imported from Europe and the United States. From them on, the way the Japanese perceived their own place among other nations never ceased to evolve, as did their vision of people subject to their authority and that of the minorities in Japanese society.


Thus, the geography textbooks of the Meiji period show a progressive construction of the idea of race, imported from the West. As for the history of the Burakumin, an urban minority form the most underprivileged classes, it became the object of a new biological and racial interpretation. At the end of the 19th century, Asian nations, partly subjected to European colonization, entered in a process of evaluating their own cultures in relation to western cultures. Between 1880 and 1919, Japanese and Indian intellectuals forged an idea of universalism which rivaled the universalism propagated by the West, which was considered too favorable to the western economic and colonial interests. At the same time, in Japan, the law on foreigners, particularly the law on mixed and interracial marriages, continued to evolved until the Second World War, reflecting a hardening of what the Japanese state considered to be national identity and the rights attached to it.


Through five texts written by Japanese cultural anthropologists, the workshop “Race and Civilization in Japan” sheds a new light on the question of race, universalism and the perception of non-Japanese people in modern Japan.


Workshop coordinated by Yasuko Takezawa and

Jean-Frédéric Schaub