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Civilization and Monsters: Spirits of Modernity in Meiji Japan (Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society) First Edition Edition

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0822324188
ISBN-10: 0822324180
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Gerald Figal’s powerful study persuades us that superstition, monsters, and the fantastic are at the very heart of Japanese modernity—an argument conveyed in splendid fashion. This is an exciting, fresh, and aptly provocative work.”—James Fujii, University of California at Irvine


“Through the transmutation of ghosts, Figal brings out one of the central problematics of modern nation-states: what to do about pasts that are simultaneously evidence of backwardness and integral to the make-up of the nation. All scholars interested in Japan, historically and culturally, should read Civilization and Monsters.”—Stefan Tanaka, University of California, San Diego

From the Publisher

“Gerald Figal’s powerful study persuades us that superstition, monsters, and the fantastic are at the very heart of Japanese modernity—an argument conveyed in splendid fashion. This is an exciting, fresh, and aptly provocative work.”—James Fujii, University of California at Irvine

“Through the transmutation of ghosts, Figal brings out one of the central problematics of modern nation-states: what to do about pasts that are simultaneously evidence of backwardness and integral to the make-up of the nation. All scholars interested in Japan, historically and culturally, should read Civilization and Monsters.”—Stefan Tanaka, University of California, San Diego --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books; First Edition edition (January 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822324180
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822324188
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #889,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Zack Davisson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 1, 2008
Format: Paperback
"Civilization and Monsters" is not a book for casual readers. It is nothing less than the author's dissertation put into book form, with all the readability implied by that. The language is thick and academic, and presented in the form of various defensible arguments as dissertations often are. This is a book only for serious scholars, people who want to study about the subject rather than learn about it, and would make a great reference text for those pursuing similar themes.

That being said, the information contained here is brilliant, and Gerald Figal clearly knows his stuff. The subject is a fascinating one, the transformation of Japanese folklore during the modernization of the Meiji period where legislation was made regarding the non-existence of traditional creatures such as the mountain-goblin tengu. The Japanese government was embarrassed and worried about the persistence of such beliefs, especially as Japan emerged as a modern nation, and worked to erase them and replace them with scientific thinking.

As could be expected, "Civilization and Monsters" goes heavily into the themes of Inoue Enryô, the so-called "Dr. Monster" whose seminal six-volume "A Study of Yôkai" attempted to cure Japan of it's ancient superstitions by showing how monsters were nothing more than psychology, and his counterpart Kunio Yanagita, whose "Tono Monogatari" was the foundation of serious folklore studies in Japan, as well as Minakata Kumagusu, the botanist who felt that there was still room for mystery in science, as seen by the ever-changing slime molds he so desired. Later authors such as Lafcadio Hearn are also touched upon, but they are more footnotes than focus.
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Given the popularity of yokai in anime, and anime fandom in the US, it's surprising how few books exist on the topic. Civilization and Monsters is definitely a recommended book for those looking into yokai history and lore. It's not so much a history of the creatures, nor is it an index of monsters for reference, though. This book is an exploration of how yokai figured into the modernization of the Meiji period, and how modernity changed both the cultural experience of yokai, and the perception of folklore in Japan.

Figal does an amazing job tracing the educational reforms under Arinori, exploring the genesis of both Inoue Enryo's yokaigaku and Yanagita Kunio's minzokugaku schools, and spins a vast, comprehensive historiography of yokai as a product of Japanese culture. Those who have read Foster's "Pandemonium and Parade" will find much more information regarding the mutability of yokai in storytelling, and a much expanded discussion on the historical significance of yokai in the Meiji period. The book also explores the impact of science, social science, cultural exportation, art theory, and education on folklore, which is itself a fascinating look into Japanese history, social anthropology, and psychology.
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Format: Paperback
I have read this magnificent book twice, but it has been a few years since the last time. I'm here to leave 5 stars, and I will return with book in hand to write a more detailed, specific review.

For now let me just say that no academic book has ever been so thrilling on a visceral and creative level as "Civilization and Monsters." Though rigorously researched and argued, Figal never misses a chance to entice the imagination.
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