Japanese Sociology

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Japanese sociology divides roughly into four stages of development: pre–World War II, with emphasis on theoretical and philosophical orientations, influenced primarily by European (especially German) sources; post–World War II, with growing emphasis on empirical orientations, influenced primarily by the United States; diversification, with emphases on both theoretical and empirical orientations (on various aspects of the history of Japanese sociology, see, e.g., Halmos 1966; Koyano 1976; Odaka 1950); and globalization, with emphasis on theoretical orientations and an increasing number of empirical orientations, some encompassing cross-national and foreign area studies. In a general sense, the development of Japanese sociology reflects the country's social and cultural change, as well as shifting national policies. The significant Western influence generally exhibits a time lag in terms of its expression in Japanese sociology.


Japanese sociology began as a European import and reflected a conservative stance. This occurred shortly after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. E. F. Fenollosa (1853–1908), an American professor, first taught sociology at the University of Tokyo in 1878. Three years later, Masakazu Toyama (1848–1900) began teaching at the same university; in 1893 (just one year after the founding of the University of Chicago's sociology department), he became the first professor of sociology in Japan and is regarded as the founder of Japanese sociology. Toyama, and later Nagao Ariga (1860–1921), a student of Fenollosa and the first sociologist in Japan to publish, both introduced aspects of Herbert Spencer's organic analogy for society. The works of Spencer and John Stuart Mill were particularly significant during these early years and were translated frequently.

Tongo Takebe (1871–1945), successor to Toyama in 1898, introduced Auguste Comte to Japan, combining Comte's positivism with Confucian philosophy and social thought to fit Japanese society. In 1913 Takebe also founded the Japan Institute of Sociology, an organization replaced by the Japan Sociological Society in 1924. A new approach began to take hold in the 1910s—the psychological approach initiated by Ryukichi Endo (1874–1946), who drew on Franklin Giddings's theory of consciousness of kind to explain social phenomena.

During the 1910s, other Western sociological theories came to Japan, largely through the work of Shotaro Yoneda (1873–1945). Yoneda, who looked at society and culture from a sociopsychological perspective, was an important teacher who introduced the ideas of many Western sociologists to Japan, including those of Gabriel Tarde, Emile Durkheim, Georg Simmel, and Franklin Giddings. Yoneda laid the groundwork for the subsequent strong influence of the German school of sociology.

From this point forward, until the end of World War II, the German school dominated Japanese sociology. There were two major divisions that grew out of the German school: formale Soziologie (formal sociology) and, later, Kultursoziologie (cultural sociology). The major proponent of the former was Yasuma Takata (1883–1972), a student of Yoneda. Takata (1922, 1989) successfully changed the view of sociology from that of a synthesis of the social sciences to one in which sociology stood as separate and independent, drawing in particular on the work and influence of Max Weber, Georg Simmel, Ferdinand Tönnies, and Robert MacIver.

New influences, however, emerged in the 1920s. Formal sociology was deemed abstract and out of touch with the real world. As a consequence, cultural sociology gained a stronger foothold in both Germany and Japan. Pioneering the work in cultural sociology in Japan was Eikichi Seki (1900–1939). No doubt a reaction to the Depression of 1929, cultural sociology gained popularity for its closer ties with the social realities of the day. Although a theory of cultural sociology fitting the Japanese society seemed imminent, it never really unfolded.

While there were also French and American influences on Japanese sociology during the prewar period, they were minor compared with those of Germany. Jyun'ichiro Matsumoto (1893–1947) saw a need to synthesize formal and cultural sociology into what he would call "general sociology." At the same time, Masamichi Shimmei (1898–1988) sought to take Matsumoto's thoughts and combine them with Simmel's general sociology and the thinking of Karl Mannheim.

Because Western theory and thought dominated Japanese sociology in the prewar period, little of the work analyzed Japanese society. There were, however, a handful of notable empirical studies, especially in family and rural sociology, a tradition begun at the University of Tokyo by Teizo Toda (1887–1955). Toda had studied at the University of Chicago, where he learned about survey methodologies being used in the United States. Toda analyzed statistics on the Japanese family structure, using census and other then-current and historical data. Kizaemon Aruga (1897–1979) worked in the area of rural sociology, linking his findings with previous folklore studies and working toward clarifying the condition of social strata in prewar Japan. Lack of financial support, however, hindered the development of empirical research during this time.

Two phenomena in particular worked against the development of Japanese sociology prior to World War II. First, Japanese sociology focused on European sociology rather than on studies of its own society. The second phenomenon, bolstered by government officials and scholars inclined toward nationalistic militarism, involved a distorted public image: that sociology and sociologists were associated with socialism because of the two words' similarity in the Japanese language ("sociology," shakaigaku; "socialism," shakaishugi). Many thought that sociology was the study of socialism or social revolution and that sociologists were socialists and, therefore, a sinister threat to national security. As World War II grew closer, and during the war, publications were often censored, academic freedom was severely curtailed, and meetings and conventions were forbidden.

POSTWAR STAGE (1946–1960s)

Defeat and U.S. occupation brought drastic social changes to Japan. The traditional family system collapsed, and land reform became the order of the day. Favorite prewar survey subjects centering on village and family were replaced by issues related to land reform and revision of traditional family values. Indeed, the traditional Japanese value system was pulled out from under the nation. "Democratization" was the new buzzword. The term "sociology" was released from taboo. Educational reforms in the 1950s now required sociology courses as part of the general university education, especially for freshmen and sophomores. More and more departments of sociology or sociology programs within other departments were formed, particularly at private colleges and universities. Suddenly, many sociologists were needed. American influences were rampant in all areas of Japanese society, and sociology was no exception. Many American sociological theories came to influence Japanese sociology, the strongest being that of Talcott Parsons.

As the importance of empirical study was growing in the United States, Japanese sociologists also began to develop a strong interest in empirical work. Social research, positivism, and functionalism were key words. Marxism had significant impact on Japanese sociology as well. "Democratization" and "modernization" were major fundamental themes in sociological studies. Japanese sociologists studied American research methods, ultimately leading to a rapid increase in surveys and research based on the results of these surveys. To many, the empirical studies of Japanese sociology moved the entire discipline from one of art and humanity to one of social science. However, many surveys were carried out for fact-finding purposes rather than hypothesis testing for theory construction.

Tadashi Fukutake (1917–1989) significantly influenced the postwar stage and the subsequent stage of Japanese sociology. Fukutake's studies focused on rural sociology (see, e.g., 1967) in the context of Japanese society's postwar democratization. Also influential was Kunio Odaka (1908–1993), a positivist, who played an important role in industrial sociology (see, e.g., 1975) as well as general sociology, especially during the period of extraordinary economic development from 1955 through 1965. Odaka and Fukutake were two of Japan's leading empirical researchers conducting field research in real social settings during this stage in the development of Japanese sociology.

Mentioned earlier, the Japan Sociological Society is a nationwide organization for Japanese sociologists. It holds annual meetings and publishes a journal, and it joined the International Sociological Association (ISA) in 1950. Two years later, a survey on social stratification and mobility was conducted under the auspices of the Japan Sociological Society, led by Odaka, in cooperation with the ISA. This survey was repeated three years later on a nationwide scale and subsequently every ten years.

In 1954, the Institute of Statistical Mathematics in Tokyo began a nationwide time-trend survey of the Japanese national character, a survey conducted every five years since, with the objective of analyzing changes (or lack thereof) in general social attitudes among the Japanese since World War II (Hayashi 1998). This ongoing survey pioneered the use of identical questions over time and as such became a model for the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Both these ongoing surveys continue as the most well-known nationwide social surveys in Japan.

Although the postwar period saw great social change in Japan, within academic circles, senior sociologists, most of whom belonged to the prewar generation, prevailed. A generational change among leading Japanese sociologists occurred in the 1960s, marking the end of the postwar period (Koyano 1976).


Since the 1960s, American sociology has gained an ever-stronger influence on Japanese sociology. With the exception of Talcott Parsons and his structural-functionalism, however, no major American sociologists have significantly influenced the theoretical aspects of Japanese sociology. Whereas Marxist sociology had tended to influence many of the younger Japanese sociologists from a theoretical perspective, "the entire history of [Japanese] sociological development to the 60s was criticized and thrown into examination by more or less radical criticism. . . . Thus many talented younger sociologists turned from Marxism to structuralism or structuralist social theory . . . [or] alternately accepted rather subjective methodologies and theories such as phenomenological sociology, symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology . . . [i.e.] phenomenological trends" (Shoji 1996). Interests among some Japanese sociologists also shifted from macro- to micro-sociological analyses. Multi-dimensional paradigms became prevalent, such as those of Michel Foucault, Jürgen Habermas, Niklas Luhmann, Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, and Alfred Schutz, all of whom have consequently influenced Japanese sociology. Much as the prewar emphases of the theoretically oriented Japanese sociologists tended toward the purely theoretical, the new attractions continued the inclination toward speculative and interpretive theory—more like social philosophy—as against the empirical science tradition represented by Fukutake and Odaka. Though Japanese sociologists have been quite keen on the general trends in Western social and sociological thought, there is about a ten-year lag from introduction to translation and analysis of the works of Western sociologists.

Along with the vast changes in Japanese society in the postwar period came a nearly unlimited number of topics for sociological study and investigation, particularly from an empirical standpoint. This, too, accounted for diversification in Japanese sociology and signaled the establishment of a number of subdisciplines in the field. Thus, as a result of American influences, economic development, and a host of other factors, Japanese sociology continuously diversified from the early 1960s on. This is partially attributable to the fact that the industrialization of Japan, into the early 1970s, led to serious social and environmental problems, which in turn led to student uprisings, increases in delinquency and other expressions of social unrest, and, in response, the emergence of environmental-protection, feminist, and other movements, even though many of these social phenomena and movements waned in the 1980s.

These circumstances brought forth a wide variety of challenging research topics for sociologists and coincidentally created a situation in which there are no especially influential figures in Japanese sociology, although each subdiscipline does have its major proponents. These scholars include, among others, Eiichi Isomura (1903–1997) in urban sociology; Michio Nagai, who later became Japanese Minister of Education, in the sociology of education (cf. 1971); Kazuo Aoi in the field of small groups; Kiyomi Morioka in the sociology of religion and the sociology of the family (cf. 1975); Saburo Yasuda (1925–1990) in sociological methodology (cf. 1964); Akira Takahashi in social movements; Joji Watanuki in political sociology (cf. 1976); Ken'ichi Tominaga in social stratification (cf. 1969); and Tamito Yoshida in communication.

From the 1960s on, the number of sociologists in Japan grew markedly, to the point where, based on memberships in national sociological organizations, there are more sociologists in Japan than in any other country except the United States. While there were about 300 sociologists teaching at colleges and universities in Japan in the 1970s, their number grew to about 1,000 by the late 1980s. The Japan Sociological Society's membership rosters totaled 870 in 1957; 1,931 in 1985; 1,945 in 1988; 2,200 in 1990; 2,450 in 1992; and 3,034 in 1999.

In 1988, Japanese sociology had about thirty subdisciplines. On the basis of first-, second-, and third-choice subdiscipline selections by the 1,945 members of the Japan Sociological Society at that time, the most prominent were: (1) rural sociology and community studies, 17.7 percent; (2) sociology of the family, 17.2 percent; (3) general sociological theories, 16.4 percent; (4) social welfare, social security, and medical sociology, 16.2 percent; (5) social thought and the history of sociology, 14.9 percent; (6) management, industry, and labor, 13.0 percent; (7) social pathology and social problems, 12.5 percent; (8) culture, religion, and morality, 12.4 percent; and (9) the sociology of education, 11.6 percent. Among other things, we see that sociology of the family and rural sociology held their significance from the prewar era.

Sociologists who study industrial sociology—including management; urban sociology; and social welfare, social security, and medical sociology—have increased in number continuously since World War II. And, over time, foreign sociologists have shown more and more interest in industrial sociology; the sociology of education; and social welfare, social security, and medical sociology, as these are seen as particularly successful elements of Japan's economic and social development.

Derived from lists of publications in the Japanese Sociological Review between 1984 and 1988, publication of articles originating from the various subdisciplines broke down as follows: (1) sociology of the family, 7.4 percent; (2) social thought and the history of sociology, 7.2 percent; (3) general social theories, 6.5 percent; (4) the sociology of education, 6.5 percent; (5) urban sociology, 6.2 percent; (6) rural sociology and community studies, 5.8 percent; (7) industrial sociology and management, 5.2 percent; (8) social pathology and social problems, 5.1 percent; and (9) social welfare, social security, and medical sociology, 5.1 percent. Articles totaled 7,426 (books, 927) during the five-year period, most of which appeared in Japanese.

Unlike in the United States, in Japan there is no rigid screening or referee system for publications, with the exception of a few well-known journals such as the Japanese Sociological Review (Shakaigaku Hyoron, the official journal of the Japan Sociological Society), The Study of Sociology (Shakaigaku Kenkyu), and Sociology (Shoshioroji). With regard to presentations at meetings of the Japan Sociological Society, the five regional associations, and the associations of the various subdisciplines, there have been, in many cases, no rigid referee systems. Heated debate is rare, and thus academic stimulation from published or presented controversies is quite limited.

By the late 1980s, 33 of Japan's 501 colleges and universities had doctoral programs in sociology. The major institutions with such programs included the public universities of Hokkaido, Tohoku, Tokyo, Hitotsubashi, Tokyo Metropolitan, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Kyushu, and the private universities of Waseda, Keio, and Hosei. Also during the period, there were about 700 graduate students studying sociology, 490 of whom were doctoral candidates (see Committee on Education for Sociology 1988). In general, two years are required to obtain a master's degree and an additional three years to finish coursework for doctoral programs. A much higher percentage of those who complete a master's program at public universities go on to a doctoral program than do those at private universities. Most who obtain master's degrees do not complete their doctoral theses within three years. Rather, after finishing their doctoral coursework, they obtain teaching or research positions and often complete their doctorates at a later stage in their careers. Forty-one persons obtained doctoral degrees in sociology during the period 1977–1986. During this time, there was a surplus of sociology graduates versus the number of teaching positions available. In the late 1980s, of those teaching at Japanese universities who obtained their doctoral degrees from Japanese universities, twenty-four sociology professors held doctoral degrees in literature, about thirty held doctoral degrees in sociology, and several others held doctoral degrees in related fields. Compared to other social sciences such as economics, the number of professors who obtained their doctoral degrees in sociology from foreign educational institutions is limited. For instance, only about twenty Ph.D. holders who taught at Japanese colleges and universities in the late 1980s obtained their degrees in the United States, although their numbers have been increasing.


As a whole, Japan has recently seen substantial movement toward globalization (or internationalization), and Japanese sociology is no exception. However, before exploring the implications of globalization for Japanese sociology, it is appropriate to look at the changes that took place in the 1990s.

In 1997, out of 586 universities and colleges in Japan, 65 had master's programs and 47 had doctoral programs in sociology. In 1997, more than forty-five Ph.D. degree holders (obtained from non-Japanese universities) in sociology were teaching at Japanese universities and colleges. Also, more than sixty-five doctoral degree holders (obtained from Japanese universities) in sociology were teaching at various universities and colleges in Japan. It should be noted that these numbers are not at all significant compared to those in the West.

The Japan Sociological Society polled its members in 1998 for their preferred subdisciplines and research fields. They identified (1) general sociological theories, 15.6 percent; (2) sociology of the family, 15.2 percent; (3) communications and information, 15.1 percent; (4) social thought and the history of sociology, 14.7 percent; (5) social welfare, social security, and medical sociology, 14.3 percent; (6) culture, religion, and morality, 13.6 percent; (7) social psychology and social attitudes, 13.1 percent; (8) rural sociology and community studies, 12.2 percent; and (9) cross-national and foreign area studies, 11.3 percent. Note that the first three choices, including communications and information, are effectively tied for first place. We can see, compared with the figures from 1988, that management, industry and labor, social pathology and social problems, and the sociology of education all dropped out of the top nine fields, having been replaced by communications and information, social psychology and social attitudes, and cross-national and foreign area studies. That communications and information made such a showing is particularly notable and reflects the changes in information infrastructure (the Internet, among others) that are in large part responsible for globalization.

During the period 1989–1996, publication of articles originating from the various subdisciplines broke down as follows: (1) social thought and the history of sociology, 8.7 percent; (2) the sociology of education, 7.2 percent; (3) sociology of the family, 6.6 percent; (4) general sociological theories, 6.6 percent; (5) urban sociology, 6.2 percent; (6) communications and information, 5.6 percent; (7) culture, religion, and morality, 5.6 percent; (8) management, industry, and labor, 5.4 percent; and (9) rural sociology and community studies, 5.2 percent. These figures were derived from lists of publications in the Japanese Sociological Review. Notice that, compared to the publications listed from 1984 through 1988, social pathology and social problems and social welfare, social security, and medical sociology dropped from the top nine while communications and information, and culture, religion, and morality appeared. That communications and information did not rise to the top here is not surprising, as publishing traditionally carries with it varying degrees of time lag.

As in the United States and western Europe, aging has become a serious issue; in 1998, about 16 percent (i.e., 20 million persons) of the Japanese population was over 65. Therefore, more and more sociologists are involving themselves in this field and contributing to national and local policy formation.

In Japan, there are no major university research centers such as the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan or the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, nor does Japan have any colleges or universities that are especially well known for their sociology departments or programs. However, there are some survey sections within organizations (e.g., research institutions, government organizations, the press and mass media) that have carried out major surveys since the 1950s, some on a continuing basis, including surveys targeting trends in social attitudes. Among others, these include the Japanese Prime Minister's Office; the Institute of Statistical Mathematics, as mentioned above; the Mainichi Press; Jiji Press; and Nippon Hoso Kyokai, a Japanese broadcasting organization (see Sasaki and Suzuki 1991). Each one of these endeavors is independent and generally does not provide its data to outside researchers, making secondary analysis of such data a difficult task in Japan. This hinders those in graduate training, as they often lack access to such data for thesis work.

On occasion, surveys, including cross-national studies, are funded by agencies such as the Japanese Ministry of Education, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and the Toyota Foundation. On a regional or local basis, funds are sometimes provided by prefectural or municipal governments. Findings from some of these studies have had significant impacts on policy formation at the local and national levels. Most research grants for sociologists, for both domestic and international (cross-national and foreign area) studies, are provided by the Japanese Ministry of Education. The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science provides grants for foreign area and cross-national research projects, for joint research conferences and seminars, as well as travel allowances for visiting scholars.

Japanese sociology does not enjoy a wide-ranging reputation in the rest of the world. This has been attributed to lack of integration and coordination, as well as a descriptive rather than analytic focus. Indeed, Japanese sociology has relied substantially on foreign influence, particularly that which is au courant, and has not excelled in the development of original theoretical or empirical ideas, rather having a stronger commitment to theory interpretation than theory testing and theory building. With the exception of a few research groups doing cross-national studies, in general Japan's sociologists have had limited contact with researchers in other nations. This can be attributed primarily to the language barrier and lack of experience in exchanging ideas. Despite these apparent shortcomings, sociology is comparatively popular in Japan, where there is a strong demand for books on the subject. As a consequence, Japanese scholars often feel little need to publish in foreign languages.

Broader publication—in English, in particular—will be essential to the mutual exchange of ideas and research results now and in the future, as well as to enhancing the reputation of Japanese sociology. To encourage scholars, the Japan Sociological Society has published the Bibliography of Japanese Sociological Literature in Western Languages in 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1994 (see Japan Sociological Society 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994). Research Committee meetings of the ISA have been held from time to time in Japan, and occasionally Japanese sociologists have served as ISA Executive Committee members. Japanese sociologists will need to host, and invite their foreign colleagues to, more international meetings and conventions, as occurred in 1991 when the 30th World Congress of the International Institute of Sociology (IIS; founded in 1893 and the oldest sociological association in the world) met in Kobe, Japan, for the first time in the history of Japanese sociology. In 1998, a Japanese sociologist became the first IIS president ever elected from Asia.

Japan's globalization has fostered opportunities for sociologists through studies of Japanese communities with growing contingents of foreign workers and studies of communities with Japanese administrative and managerial personnel in foreign countries. In these instances, Japanese sociologists are able to examine social, ethnic, and multicultural issues stemming from these circumstances. In this respect, Japanese sociologists are able to contribute to policy implications for community formation in the globalizing environment. Recently, too, the number of Japanese sociologists conducting cross-national and/or foreign area studies has increased (see, e.g., Japan Sociological Society 1997). In 1992, the Japan Sociological Society began publishing the International Journal of Japanese Sociology, its only English-language journal and one of the few in Japan to employ a referee system.

Although the language barrier also hinders foreign scholars from coming to Japan to study, again, this is changing, and more and more such activity has been observed recently. In 1998, there were about 340 Japanese sociologists who reported internationally comparative sociological research or foreign area studies as one of their top three research interests, although many of these were not officially collaborating with other nations' researchers. Of these, the most popular areas of emphasis were ethnicity and nationalism; rural sociology; community studies; social history and ethnology; and sociology of the family, culture, and religion. The popular locations for study were Asia, the United States, and western Europe.

There are also less pragmatic reasons why Japanese sociology has not enjoyed a wide-ranging reputation in the rest of the world. Despite a history now spanning more than a century, Japanese sociologists have made few efforts to integrate their considerable empirical research findings with sociological theory. Japanese sociology has had a long history of importing "fashionable" theories from the West. Japanese sociologists with theoretical orientations have tended more toward social philosophy, with its emphasis on pure theory. Japanese sociological researchers, on the other hand, have tended to limit their studies to specific features of Japanese society, often without sufficient hypothesizing aimed at investigating the underlying social structures and processes thus potentially revealed. This lack of originality, this reluctance to carry through to a complete synthesis of empirical findings and structures and processes, has contributed to Japanese sociology's limited outside appeal. The foreign influences inevitable in and attendant with globalization will no doubt encourage Japanese sociology to finally integrate empirical research results with original thought about Japanese social structures and processes, toward the construction of viable theories of Japanese society as well as society as a globalizing whole. This suggests the need for greater theoretical and methodological training—in the context of their synthesis—in Japanese graduate sociology programs.

While Japanese sociology commands a significant amount of useful empirical data, it is nonetheless disparate. The establishment of a central data archive would be imperative for secondary analysis, graduate training, and empirical study in general. As data gathering becomes increasingly expensive, the usefulness and need for such archives will become even more important.

In conclusion, in terms of the disciplines within Japanese sociology that will take on greater and greater importance, cross-national and foreign area studies will certainly become more popular. Along these same lines, time-trend studies will increase in popularity, in an effort to discover what changes and what does not change in society. Major research funding is likely to continue to center around empirical studies, both within Japan and comparatively with other nations. Finally, whereas Japanese sociologists traditionally have seldom been consulted in the industrial, business, and governmental environments, this will change as Japanese sociologists acquire greater methodological skills and theoretical knowledge, as well as empirical research experience and findings. And, from a strictly practical standpoint, growth in the number of teaching positions in sociology has not kept pace with the growth of sociology's popularity in Japan, nor with the output of sociologists from Japanese and foreign graduate schools, forcing many to seek teaching positions in junior high and high schools or nonacademic positions in government, research institutes, and industry. This diffusion of the discipline outside the traditional academic environment will no doubt impact Japanese society as a whole, and it could well become a twoway medium for idea exchange.

While Japanese sociology will no doubt become more pervasive and useful in Japanese society, it will nevertheless take time. The same is true outside of Japan, as Japanese sociology becomes more internationalized and demonstrates greater tangible offerings to the sociological community in the rest of the world. Certainly more and better cross-national and foreign area studies will emerge, as this is an area where Japanese sociology has already made particularly beneficial contributions. In turn, in the tradition of comparativists such as Machiavelli, Marx, Weber, and Durkheim, who sought to construct universalized theory based on comparison, Japanese sociology may finally be able to make its mark. Given the methodological expertise demonstrated by Japanese sociology, these efforts may ultimately assist Japanese sociologists in positing social theories of use to the rest of the world's sociological community. Of course, such a vision requires that Japanese sociology strive to broaden its horizons internationally—for Japanese sociologists to recognize that they must cooperate and join with the global sociological community to achieve these objectives.


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Masamichi Sasaki

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