Temps et affirmation politique de soi — 2

Objet du débat —
Usages publics et politiques de l'histoire
sous le regard de l'anthropologue

26 novembre 2018
La force politique d'un stéréotype culturel

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney
Rice as Self. Japanese Identities through Time
Princeton University Press, 1993

Le riz ou le blé, lorsqu'ils sont définis comme la nourriture principale et emblématique d'une culture donnée, sont des métaphores qui, dans l'idéologie d'une société et d'une époque particulières, sont utilisées à des fins politiques pour synchroniser et essentialiser l'histoire d'un peuple qui exprime ainsi son identité politique, sociale, culturelle, et sa différence. Sur les enjeux théoriques de cette approche:

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Structure, Event and Historical Metaphor: Rice and Identities in Japanese History, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol.1, No.2 (Jun., 1995), pp.227–253.

Comptes rendus de Rice As Self

Kuwayama Takami, Review of: Rice as Self: Japanese Identities Through Time by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Asian Folklore Studies, Vol.53, No.2 (1994): 359–361.
Roger Goodman, Review of: Rice as Self: Japanese Identities Through Time by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol.57, No.3 (1994): 651–652.
R.S. Khare, Review of: Rice as Self: Japanese Identities Through Time by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Current Anthropology, Vol.35, No.5 (Dec., 1994): 683–684.
E. Ohnuki-Tierney, On Rice as Self: Reply to Khare, Current Anthropology, Vol.36, No.3 (Jun., 1995): 495–496.
Arne Kalland, Review of: Rice as Self: Japanese Identities Through Time by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, The Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol.21, No.1 (Winter, 1995): 190–195.
R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, Review of: Rice as Self: Japanese Identities Through Time by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol.2, No.2 (Jun., 1996): 388–389.


Where Did Japan's Imported Rice Go?
Tokyo Review


By Rei Coleman
Posted on July 7, 2017

Ask any native Japanese person, and they will insist without hesitation that Japanese rice is unparalleled. It's uncompromised in quality, and other Japonica varieties produced in other countries don't have the same distinct flavor or texture. Although seen less in recent generations, there exists a strong national identity in rice – the tale is that it lies at the center of the Japanese essence, shaping the basis for all other foods, beverages, and even culture and governance. Classic movies and animes depicting struggling families during WWII exemplify rice as something to never take for granted. For most Japanese people, the grain is not a mere commodity but a symbol of pride.

Is this untested public opinion enough to explain why we don't see economical Thai, Indian, Californian, and Australian rice in Japanese supermarkets, however?

It's no secret that Japan has refused to open its gates to foreign rice for years. The country's powerful agricultural cooperatives, or JA, have historically been one of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's most steadfast lobbies. Among other activities, JA mediates the selling, buying, and leasing of farmland, in addition to the consolidation and expansion of agricultural operations. Through politicians who serve the agricultural industry, they have offered a mix of protective policies by setting volume targets on rice production and restricting supply to maintain high domestic prices, while demanding inanely high tariffs on foreign rice. It doesn't take much to see that JA's marketing commissions would drop and mediation transactions would fall if free trade deals forced the state to further subsidize farmers. The term 'capture theory' may come to mind for some readers.

The government guaranteed prices on rice until the 1990s through the Staple Food Control Act, buying up whatever was produced on Japanese farmlands. No matter how much rice they included in school lunches, however, unjustifiable deficits forced the government to take up policies reducing rice field acreage. This combined with the United States, freshly out of the Cold War and manifesting its frustrations with Japan wreaking havoc on the American electronics and automobile industries, forced Japan to capitulate for the first time in opening up to outside rice. Through the conclusion of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT, or the Uruguay Round) in 1993, Japanese negotiators reluctantly accepted a quota starting in 1995 that stipulated that 4 percent of all domestic rice consumption be foreign and that percentage to rise to 8 percent in 2000.

Where is this rice?

Initially, Japan replaced domestic rice in their food storages with foreign rice. The standard for rice reserves is still fixed at around 1.5 million tons (1.4 million by the government, 0.1 million by the private sector), and once the rice starts to reach its shelf life, it's used as factory farm fodder, processed into rice crackers, directed to low-end fast food chains where its identity remains veiled, and more recently, sent as overseas aid.

Shortly before the Uruguay Round negotiations concluded, Japan experienced an exceptionally cold summer in 1993. Two million metric tons of foreign rice was imported on an emergency basis, and the Japanese Food Agency notoriously conducted blind rice tastings of ten unmarked samples of rice, of which only two were Japanese – unsurprisingly, the public praised foreign short grain rice. Although long grain rice was derided [ridiculisé], farm lobbies were perturbed that the argument of "Japanese consumers would ignore foreign rice on the shelves, even if it were cheaper" may not hold to be true.

Japanese people consume just 160 grams a day of rice on average; half of what they consumed 40 years ago. That number is shrinking every year, but that isn't the only diet in Japan that's changing. Recent developments in free trade deals put Japanese agriculture in peril, and JA relationships with the ruling party have soured due to the cabinet's decision to join Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations. Japanese rice fields and domestic consumption may be changing dramatically in the near future.


Une autre approche du riz au Japon

La thèse selon laquelle la production et la consommation du riz ont dominé l'histoire du Japon et définissent le Japon comme une civilisation du riz (rice culture) est l'expression d'une idéologie agraire concrétisée par le fait que les paysans payaient traditionnellement l'impôt à l'Empereur en sacs de riz et illustrée par la croyance religieuse selon laquelle les grains de riz ont une âme symboliquement identifée à une divinité. Le riz permet la commensalité. Son pouvoir symbolique vient de son partage quotidien entre les membres d'un groupe social. Le riz partagé fait le lien avec autrui:

Peter Knecht, Rice Representations and Reality, Asian Folklore Studies, Vol.66, No.1-2: Narratives and Rituals in Asian Folk Religion and Culture (2007), pp.5–25.

(p.8) Although ironic in one sense, the Japanese chose rice and rice paddies as metaphors for themselves when wet-rice agriculture was originally introduced from the Asian continent [Au 4e siècle avant notre ère, Cf.p.132]. This fact speaks eloquently to how the Japanese self was born through discourse with the other.

1 / Riz, métonymie du corps et métaphore de la communauté

(129) First, each member of the social group consumes the food, which becomes part of /130/ his or her body. The important food becomes embodied in each individual. It operates as a metonym by being part of the self. Second, the food is consumed by individual members of the social group who eat the food together. Communal consumption of the food [= commensalité] leads to rice as a metaphor of we, his or her social group and, often, the people as a whole.

Les champs de paddy (paddies) sont une métonymie de la terre ancestrale.

(Rice As Self, p.132) When the eighth-century myth-histories appropriated the rice agriculture introduced from the Asian continent as their own, their "creation myth" of the Japanese universe, or at least one version of it, was a transformation of wilderness into a land filled with succulent heads of rice. In short, rice paddies created "Japanese land." Rice paddies stand for "the ancestral land" at the family level.

La méthode de Mme Ohnuki-Tierney est d'historiciser l'anthropologie (p.6: "historicizing anthropology"). Refus d'une approche centrée sur les individus (p.7). Holisme au sens où elle étudie les catégories de la pensée collective.

2 / Les événements politiques de 1988 à 1993

L'événement de décembre 1993, postérieur à la publication du livre, l'éclaire a posteriori comme l'auteur le montre dans son article de 1995 (référencé ci-dessus). On 15 December, 1993, Prime Minister Hosokawa agreed on the minimum import of 40-80 tons of rice per year with no tariff for six years.

Cette décision d'ouvrir le Japon aux importations de riz étranger avait été préparée par les pressions subies depuis 1988, when the American Rice Millers' Association exerted pressure on its government to export their rice to Japan. La pénurie de riz domestique japonais provoquée par le gel dans les rizières à l'été 1993 rendait inévitables ces importations.

1993 avait été précédé par l'affaire du riz californien en 1992.

(Rice As Self, p.26) In 1992 when rice importation was no longer a "hot" topic in mass media or among the Japanese in general, an importation of frozen sushi from the United States, using California rice, won government approval /27/ after a brief struggle. Matsumoto Fujio is president of a chain, called Sushi Boy, which serves inexpensive sushi on a conveyer belt; sushi are placed on plates of different colors, depending upon the price. Customers take whatever they wish as sushi passes in front of them and bring their empty plates to the register to pay. Mr. Matsumoto built a factory in the United States that produces one hundred thousand sushi a day, all made by robots. He is already very successful in the United States where he can scarcely keep up with orders (Asahi Shinbun , October 3, 1992). His attempt to import his sushi into Japan, however, met opposition by the … Food Agency of the Japanese government. The government, in the end, was forced to approve its importation because it met the regulation that food containing rice must include 20 percent by weight of other food. In 1991 Japan imported thirteen hundred tons of shrimp pilaf [riz pilaf aux crevettes], squid rice [riz au calamar], and others (Asahi Shinbun , September 30 and October 3, 1992).

En 1994, les autorités commencèrent à promouvoir burendo-mai, les plats préparés à base d'un mélange de riz domestique et de riz étranger. Mais l'opposition idéologique à l'importation de riz étranger perdure dans les années 2000, cf. article de la Tokyo Review en 2007.

3 / Le problème anthropologique: le Japon, civilisation du riz?
En quel sens le riz est-il un aliment de base (staple food)?

La riziculture inondée (wet-rice agriculture) inventée quelque part en Asie fut introduite en provenance de Corée à Kyûshû, la plus importante des îles du sud de l'archipel du Japon, en 350 avant Jésus-Christ environ (p.30). Selon la thèse traditionnellement reçue, le riz fut l'aliment de base de tous les japonais tout le long de l'histoire. Une controverse se développa depuis la seconde guerre mondiale entre deux écoles d'historiens et d'ethnologues concernant la part relative du riz et des autres céréales dans l'alimentation de base à différentes époques et dans différents secteurs de la société (p.32).

The rice culture theory

Les tenants de la thèse selon laquelle s'est diffusée au Japon une civilisation du riz découpent l'histoire du Japon en quatre phases (p.33):

Period Staple Food (Aliment de base)
4000 B.C.–2000 B.C.Nuts
2000 B.C.–A.D. 1000Rice
A.D. 1000–A.D. 2000 Rice and miscellaneous grains
After A.D. 2000Rice, miscellaneous grains, sweet potatoes, etc.

Les chercheurs du Musée National d'Ethnologie montrèrent qu'aux 17e–18e siècles, dans une région où les conditions climatiques n'étaient pas favorables à la riziculture, tandis que dans les villages des hautes terres (upper streams) qui pratiquaient l'agriculture sur abattis–brûlis (slash and burn agriculture) le millet restait l'aliment de base (staple food), les villages des basses terres (lowland, lower streams) commencèrent à pratiquer la riziculture inondée (wet rice) et le riz remplaça le millet dans l'alimentation de base (p.34).

The miscellaneous grains theory

D'autres chercheurs soutiennent que les différentes variétés de céréales cultivées au Japon avant l'introduction de la riziculture inondée: blé (wheat), sarrasin (buckwheat), différents millets, sésame, sont restées plus importantes que le riz dans l'alimentation de base. Exemple de déduction faite par un historien que l'anthropologue reprend à son compte (p.35): dans les archives de taxes foncières, cet historien étudie un document daté de 1347 concernant les biens confisqués d'une paysanne vivant dans un manoir de l'ouest du Japon. Sont listés 90 litres de riz et 180 litres de millet. Compte tenu du fait que dans ce manoir l'impôt foncier était payé en sacs de riz, on peut conclure que le millet était l'aliment de base de cette femme. Elle se nourrissait de millet, et payait l'impôt en riz.

4 / Les producteurs n'étaient pas les consommateurs

La controverse est centrée sur la question de savoir si dans le passé le riz était ou non l'aliment de base des couches les plus modestes de la société japonaise. Scholarly controversy centers on whether rice was in the past a staple food among non-elite segments of Japanese society (p.42). La plupart des chercheurs s'accordent à dire, en effet, que rice was the staple food, qualitatively and quantitatively, valued by the elites—emperors, nobles, warriors, and wealthy merchants. The rice culture was ryôshu bunka, a culture of regional lords and elites in general (p.42). La controverse est sans doute en partie née d'une illusion de perspective dans l'étude par les historiens des documents d'archives et des chroniques officielles qui nous sont parvenues. Ces documents écrits rapportent les faits anciens dans la perspective des élites. Peter Knecht (un anthropologue) nous met en garde contre cette illusion de perspective:

(Knecht, p.13) For the producers of rice, however, a large and most significant section of their life as farmers, their pursuit of their own livelihood, had been for the most part ignored by official chroniclers. There can be no doubt that rice was, and is, a most significant crop, but it was not meant to be the basis of the people's livelihood, since with the exception of seeds for the next year it all had to be turned over to the government as taxes. Given such circumstances, it should not be difficult to imagine that other produce was of much more vital significance for the farmers themselves than rice. This was the produce of the dry fields.

Schématiquement, disons qu'un paysan, dans les régions de riziculture inondée, pratiquait deux sortes d'agriculture, sur deux sortes de terres agricoles différentes: une agriculture de subsistance (livelihood) dans les champs de cultures sèches (originellement une agriculture sur abattis–brülis), et une agriculture de rapport dans les rizières dont la production lui servait à payer l'impôt. Les sacs de riz ainsi exportés du village allaient nourrir les élites et les habitants des villes. Knecht en conclut (p.13) que la thèse selon laquelle le Japon est une civilisation du riz exprime, consciemment ou inconsciemment le point de vue des dominants, pour qui le riz constituait la matière de l'impôt et donc l'instrument de leur pouvoir.

Conclusion de Mme Ohnuki-Tierney

La force symbolique du riz aujourd'hui au Japon est fondée sur un paradoxe. A mesure que les producteurs et les consommateurs japonais s'enrichissent et mènent une vie plus aisée qu'autrefois, la valeur qualitative du riz ne cesse d'augmenter car c'est un aliment identitaire, mais sa valeur quantitative décroît de façon décisive car ce n'est plus désormais un aliment de base que pour les pauvres:

(Rice As Self, p.42) The pattern continues in the 1990s. Thus, affluence brought to light a basic paradox — continued importance of the qualitative value of rice but a decisive decrease in its quantitative value. The quantitative value of rice, then, is a curious one: the presence of a small amount of rice is essential, but a large amount is desirable only when the standard of living is low.