Since an island assumes the existence of sea, which may either be an obstacle or serve as a bridge, it is appropriate that we broaden and deepen our historical perspective to encompass this whole network of islands linked by the sea. We need to look upon the land as a group of islands and the deepening of relationships among these islands as the formation of a network. The time has come for history to move from the land to the sea. In the wake of the revolution in our spatial perception, this departure from to the land into the vast seas of our blue planet is an inevitable development.
Modern Civilization and Maritime Asia
The contents and significance of this global view of history will naturally differ from the conventional West-centered perception of world history. This does not mean, however, that we should reject Western history. Particularly in the case of Japan, where modernization has been seen as almost synonymous with westernization, the rejection of the West would be tantamount to self-rejection. Certain aspects of the origins of contemporary Japan lie in Western history and constitute part of that history. Western history thus forms part of our knowledge of ourselves and of general knowledge about Japan and the world. It is therefore essential that we do not reject Western history but take its results fully into account. Modern civilization is generally interpreted as having originated within feudal society in the West and expanded throughout the world. According to this interpretation, Britain first succeeded in achieving the transition from agriculture-based feudalism to industry-based capitalism, the other Western countries followed suit, and Japan followed up in the rear, gratefully receiving the benefits of Western civilization. But is this really what happened?
The essence of things comes from their origins. If we examine the origins of modern civilization without bias, we find that it did not in fact arise spontaneously from within the West. The influence of other regions, particularly the seas of the East_in other words, maritime Asia_was decisively important. Oriental culture was brought to the West via the sea route originating in maritime Asia and, as a result of its free use by the countries of the West, modern civilization came into being. Maritime Asia was the womb of modern civilization.
We can go even further and state that maritime Asia played an a more decisive role than the West in the establishment of modern civilization in Japan. Located from the standpoint of the West both in the Far East and the _Far West,_ Japan has been influenced by both Western and Eastern cultures. For the birth of modern civilization in Japan, the influence of maritime Asia was an even more indispensable condition than that of the West. More precisely speaking, the modern civilizations that sprang up in both the West and in Japan were formed by their responses to the impact of maritime Asia. The aim of these lectures is to demonstrate this.
2. Shifting our Perspective from Land to Sea
Conventional history has focused on the workings of human society on land. Instead of this landlocked approach, I wish to examine history from a different perspective: the development of a network of islands linked by the sea. But first let us take a brief look at the views of history that have dominated Japanese scholarship in the post-war period.
Historical Materialism and Ecological History
Post-war historical scholarship in Japan can be broadly divided into the historical materialism of the Marxist historians and the ecological history of the Kyoto School of historians.
The basic premise of historical materialism is that human society in any region of the world will inevitably develop from feudal to capitalist society, and thence to socialism or communism. The theory of historical materialism states that human beings can change the nature of society through the class struggle, while ecological history places emphasis on the environment as the main factor determining the development of human society.