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Child's Play

Multi-Sensory Histories of Children and Childhood in Japan

Sabine Frühstück (Editor), Anne Walthall (Editor)

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Few things make Japanese adults feel quite as anxious today as the phenomenon called the “child crisis.” Various media teem with intense debates about bullying in schools, child poverty, child suicides, violent crimes committed by children, the rise of socially withdrawn youngsters, and forceful moves by the government to introduce a more conservative educational curriculum. These issues have propelled Japan into the center of a set of global conversations about the nature of children and how to raise them. Engaging both the history of children and childhood and the history of emotions, contributors to this volume track Japanese childhood through a number of historical scenarios. Such explorations—some from Japan’s early-modern past—are revealed through letters, diaries, memoirs, family and household records, and religious polemics about promising, rambunctious, sickly, happy, and dutiful youngsters.
Sabine Frühstück is Professor of Modern Japanese Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her publications include Colonizing Sex: Sexology and Social Control in Modern Japan and Uneasy Warriors: Gender, Memory and Popular Culture in the Japanese Army.
Anne Walthall is Professor Emerita of Japanese History at the University of California, Irvine. Her publications include The Weak Body of a Useless Woman: Matsuo Taseko and the Meiji Restoration, and Japan: A Cultural, Social, and Political History.
"I do not know of any collection like this in English, dealing so comprehensively and from so many angles with the topic of the history of children and childhood in Japan, which is a very under-researched subject. The authors are all experts in their particular period of history and bring a high level of scholarship to bear, offering new analyses and original material."—Peter Cave, author of Schooling Selves and Primary School in Japan

In autobiography, the role of childhood is to furnish a point of departure, a way of beginning a narrative emplotment of one’s life together with all the other lives in which one is implicated. In Child’s Play, 'childhood' assumes many roles and guises, and many points of departure. Readers who perceive child and childhood as biological and/or chronological categories of human life will find their assumptions challenged from the first chapter onward. Also undercut in this volume are facile equations of women with children. The authors comb through diverse resources, from diaries and cartoons to religious polemics and sport PR, written across generations in times of peace and of war. Collectively, they demonstrate the significance of Japanese cultural institutions and practices for a more comprehensive, and sobering, understanding of the artifice and operations alike of “childhood.”—Jennifer Robertson, author of Robo sapiens japanicus: Robots, Gender, Family, and the Japanese Nation

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