The Cultural Politics of Proprietorship: The Socio-historical Evolution of Japanese Swordsmanship and its Correlation with Cultural Nationalism
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis provides a detailed socio-historical analysis of the evolutionary process of traditional Japanese swordsmanship (kenjutsu) from the inception of distinct martial schools (bugei-ryuha) in the fourteenth century, to its gradual progression into a modern competitive sport (kendo), and a subject of study in the current Japanese education system. The following questions with regards to the development of Japanese swordsmanship were analysed: 1) How did schools dedicated to the study of martial arts (bugei-ryuha) evolve, and why was the sword so important to the early traditions? 2) What was the process in which kenjutsu become “civilised”, and how did it relate to class identity in the Tokugawa period (1600-1868)? 3) In what way did kenjutsu transmute when class distinctions and national isolationist policies (sakoku) were abolished in the Meiji period (1868–1912)? 4) What were the cultural and political influences in the rise of “state” and “popular” nationalism, and how did they affect the “re-invention” and manipulation of kendo in the first half of the twentieth century? 5) How did post-war private and national cultural policy affect the reinstatement of kendo and its usefulness in inculcating a sense of “Japaneseness”? 6) What are the nationalistic motivations, and perceived dangers of the international propagation of kendo with regards to cultural propriotership?
Through applying socio-historical concepts such as Norbert Elias’s “civilising process” and Eric Hobsbawm’s “invention of tradition”, as well as various descriptions of nationalism to the evolution of kendo, this thesis demonstrates how the martial art has continued to maintain a connection with the past, while simultaneously developing into a symbolic and discursive form of traditional culture representing a “cultural ethos” considered to be a manifestation of “Japaneseness”. Ultimately, kendo can be described as a kind of participatory based mind-body Nihonjinron. Japan’s current reaction as it ponders the repercussions if it were to somehow lose its status as the suzerain nation of kendo, i.e. as exclusive owners of kendo - a martial art perceived as one of the most representative forms of traditional Japanese culture – is also assessed in this thesis.