Everyday Things in Premodern Japan: The Hidden Legacy of Material Culture

Japan was the only non-Western nation to industrialize before 1900, and its leap into the modern era has stimulated vigorous debates among historians and social scientists. In an innovative discussion that posits the importance of physical well-being as a key indicator of living standards, Susan B. Hanley considers daily life in the three centuries leading up to the modern era in Japan. She concludes that people lived much better than has been previously understood—at levels equal or superior to their Western contemporaries. In an accessible style and with frequent comparisons with Western lifestyles, Hanley illustrates how this high level of physical well-being had important consequences for Japan’s comparatively smooth transition to a modern, industrial society. (Amazon.com)
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University of California Press
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Average: 4 (1 vote)


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Interesting information...slow read

Field of Interest/Specialty: Family and Consumer Sciences
Posted On: 01/10/2020

I teach Family and Consumer Sciences at the middle school level.
Everyday Things in Premodern Japan is written as an academic study of how the everyday material goods of premodern Japan may be able to tell us the quality of life in Japan prior to industrialization, how premodern Japan was poised for industrialization and how the Japanese standard of living may have compared to that of the West both contemporarily and pre-industrialization.
As it is an academic study, I don’t see middle school students or most high school students using this book as a direct resource. However, it provided excellent background information for myself. The beginning was very slow and although it was never an “easy” read, it was vey interesting. I pulled a lot of information that will help me as I plan lessons and develop questions to draw out students’ thinking. Especially when discussing resource management and the impact of material goods on well-being.
If I were teaching a high school or collegiate housing and cultures course, it would be a valuable resource. The book touches on architecture and how it relates to environment and culture, how housing evolved during the Tokagawu period of Japan. It also discusses the minimalist philosophies within Japanese culture and home goods as well as creating flexibility in space. The comparison that is drawn between Japan and the contemporary West can be extended to our own time and how our sense of material goods is trending towards minimalism and environmentally sound practices. At the high school level, I would only use excerpts.
I find this reading has many cross curricular connections between history & culture, environmental science and economics. Everyday Things In Premodern Japan could be used to supplement any of these courses or to create cross curricular units. The premise that standard of living can’t be measured by gross domestic product or quantity of home goods is relevant to today’s discussions, I found the Freakonomics Podcast How To Be Happy to be a good companion piece to tie the themes in this book to our present day opportunities and challenges and would love to see the conversations they generate among students.