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Japan: Culture, Education, and Change in Two Communities


reviewed by Victor Kobayashi - 1970

coverTitle: Japan: Culture, Education, and Change in Two Communities
Author(s): Theodore Brameld
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: , Pages: , Year:
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Theodore Brameld again exhibits his admirably passionate ambition to come to grips with the big problems of education, culture, and society in the emerging age. Throughout his career, Bra­meld has not only consistently attempted to answer the major philosophical questions concerning the meaning of life, society, prog­ress, and education in the twentieth century, but has also tried to make practical prescriptions as to the direction men of good will ought to take in order to solve major world crises such as the threat of nuclear annihilation. He has played moralist, prophet, so­cial critic, and a teacher of "explosive ideas" while persuading his colleagues that an analysis of the structure and dynamics of cultures using the tools of the anthropologist may offer solutions to critical social problems.

In this book, Brameld displays all of these facets once more, this time focusing on Japanese society and with the emphasis on an­thropology. In his previous books, such as Cultural Foundations of Education, he offered the reader important insights as to his ap­proach in building a basic theory of social reconstruction that wove together the key fields of philosophy, anthropology, and education. His Remaking of a Culture was an attempt to apply his theory to the problems of Puerto Rican society. These two works alone ought to place him among the leading pioneers in the groping effort to ap­ply philosophical anthropology to the practical problems of educa­tion. The reader, however, is cautioned not to look for important breakthroughs or fundamental developments in Brameld's theory-building in this book on Japan.

The strength of the book lies in its descriptive accounts of the political and economic life of two Japanese communities undergoing the strains of modernization. One is a fishing village with social turbulence brought on by the introduction of modern techniques of fishing that have proved so efficient that the traditional fishing grounds have been nearly depleted. Brameld demonstrates his talent as a journalist when he describes the chain of events brought on by the new technology. Examples: how the community copes with the problem by resorting to illegal acts such as fishing in another com­munity's territory; the creative and fascinating venture into seaweed cultivation. The further tension that is created when the algae growers suspect that wastes poured into the river from an upstream industrial area may have caused a poor crop adds to the drama that Brameld unearths from this unknown Japanese community tucked away in a corner of Japan. The other community that he studies has built-in elements of tragedy, pathos, and the human will to sur­vive: it is a burakumin society, made up of the Japanese equivalent of India's Untouchables. In describing the pulse of both communities, Brameld expresses explicitly a personal sensitivity (that is usually hidden in his highly pedantic academic prose which is generously provided in this book as well as his others). Brameld is at his best, for example, when he describes how a woman reacts when he com­ments on the beauty of the people in the burakumin community:

Outsiders, she says, often mention that the people of Kawabara are unusually handsome, but whenever they do "we feel a little strange." Such compliments, however kindly intended, only serve to emphasize once more that "we" are different from other Jap­anese. The fact is that "we" would rather, much rather, not be different at all.

Brameld is most irritating when he displays academic piousness in his almost defensive attempts to show his good intentions and his ameliorative interests in dealing with people. For example, he writes that his research endeavors in Japan not only aimed at the acquisition of data but also comprised a "very modest" attempt at "anthropotherapy." He tried to practice, he says, a kind of group therapy so that his Japanese research subjects were not only informants but were also subjects who were to be stimulated into dealing more creatively with their social problems. He defines anthropotherapy as a "process of community diagnosis and prognosis through which participants learn with guidance and stimulation to confront their own intra- and inter-cultural problems and act upon them with greater vigor and deliberation than they would otherwise." In short, he also has attempted to play educator-therapist (or is it do-good missionary?) while concurrently taking on the stances of anthro­pological researcher, social critic, and theory-prover. It is no wonder, then, that the officials of the expanding new Japanese religious sect, the Soka Gakkai (which Brameld considers a significant cultural phe­nomenon), would refuse to cooperate with him in his studies/ therapy. They were being asked to play the role of Green Berets in­vited to participate in a Vietnam Teach-in sponsored by a group of hard-core doves. What is annoying is not the attempt to integrate various approaches into his study; the rough edges, the pasted-on schizoid qualities undermine the import of Brameld's messages, for the different approaches appear to negate or to be unrelated to, rather than to complement, each other.

This same criticism applies to the weak conclusion of the study. It is especially disappointing since Brameld creates enormous expectations in the reader when he claims that an analysis of a culture and its value system may lead one to gain a greater ability to tap "the potential power of education to bring about, in concert with other powers, the renewal of cultures on a planetary scale." The re­lationship between his specific analyses of the two communities and his prescriptive statements about what needs to be done in order to breathe fresh life into the culture is not established. In fact, the analyses seem irrelevant to Brameld's conclusions, for the conclu­sions (such as the need for greater democratic participation of peo­ple in community life) could have been surmised by studying his past writings; they do not stem particularly from his research in Japan.

This deja vu quality of the book, fortunately, however, may be only appearance; Brameld seems to show signs of an awareness of the weakness and the somewhat contrived quality of his conclusions. There is a studied air of vagueness and reluctancy in the prose of his last chapter, where he attempts to "channel both descriptions and prescriptions of our total investigation through one central institu­tion—Japanese education." Actually, Brameld does not deal much with classroom life or the activities of youth in his investigation of community processes. Frequently the same thought flashes in the reader's mind as he moves through the pages: "Brameld himself per­haps is beginning to doubt and to question and to feel uneasy about the adequacy of the theoretical foundations of his studies as he had formulated them in this book's parent volume, Cultural Foundations of Education." If this thought is valid, then it may offer a reason why Brameld seems most at home when he simply describes what he sees in the general day-to-day life of the people in the two com­munities.

But given Brameld's tremendous energy and intellectual commit­ment, one can reasonably hope from him in the future a recon­structed Brameldian theory that is more exacting in its integration of cultural descriptions, evaluations of present cultural patterns, and prescriptions for educational action. Perhaps Brameld needs to re­consider his power philosophy that draws much of its strength from John Dewey. It may very well be that a power outlook that em­phasizes, possibly to the point of distortion, the control of environ­ment by people, may be what the major world crises are about. Perhaps what may be needed also in his theory is an injection of com­munications-cybernetic conceptions of the sort anthropologists like Gregory Bateson have been playing with.  Nevertheless, whatever it may be, it will be worth waiting for.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 71 Number 3, 1970, p. 526-528
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1794, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 1:05:08 PM

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