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Time in Old Japan: In Search of a Paradigm

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Various attempts have been made to systematize fundamental patterns of temporal organization and to establish links between these patterns and natural and cultural evolution. This paper compares three pertinent theories of time in the light of evidence from Japanese cultural history: the hierarchical theory of time by J. T. Fraser, the fourfold paradigm of time imageries by Y. Maki, and the social learning theory of time by G. Dux. It demonstrates that the “canonical forms of time” established by these authors can be brought into meaningful conversation with each other and that they suggest helpful methodologies for the analysis of temporal perspectives in Japanese history. At the same time, comparative analysis reveals reasons for caution against simplified evolutionary accounts of cultural history. From very early on, Japanese literary sources evince an acute consciousness of conflicting temporalities. At the same time, there is no unified “Japanese concept of time”—neither trans-historically nor at any given period.

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies, University of Zurich


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