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Japanese Childhood, Modern Childhood: The Nation-State, the School, and 19th-Century Globalization

Brian Platt
Journal of Social History
Vol. 38, No. 4, Globalization and Childhood (Summer, 2005), pp. 965-985
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3790485
Page Count: 21
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Japanese Childhood, Modern Childhood: The Nation-State, the School, and 19th-Century Globalization
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Abstract

This article explores the creation of a concept of childhood in Japan during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite the claims of modern Japanese commentators to the contrary, childhood as a distinct phase of life was not entirely absent from the Japanese cultural landscape. During Japan's early modern period, social and economic changes brought increased attention to children, resulting in the growth of schooling and child-centered rituals. Nonetheless, concepts of childhood were transformed by Japan's engagement with globalization in the second half of the 19th century. This engagement took place in the context of Western imperialism, which presented Japanese leaders with institutional models that generated wide-spread interest in childhood. Especially critical were the nation-state, which created the imperative of mobilizing individuals--and, by extension, children--in service of the state, and the school, which provided a means for accomplishing that goal. By the 1890s, schools, along with other social and economic changes resulting from Japan's integration into the system of global capitalism, had begun to generate new sensibilities regarding childhood. At the same time, social commentators in Japan began to participate in an international debate about issues relating to childhood, and found an eager domestic audience for their voices among the urban middle class.

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