Bonds of Civility: Aesthetic Networks and the Political Origins of Japanese Culture

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Bonds of Civility: Aesthetic Networks and the Political Origins of Japanese Culture

By Eiko Ikegami
Cambridge University Press, 2005
476 pp. $80.00
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This is a pathbreaking study of how historically, Japanese personal networks, both vertical and horizontal, operated to establish powerful norms of beauty, propriety, and good manners, which in turn gave a distinctive dimension to Japanese political behavior. The powerful, and those aspiring to power, had to take seriously group participation in composing poems (haikai) according to rigorously defined standards; they had to display refinement in reacting to art and music, elegance in carrying out ordinary tasks such as pouring tea, and exact discipline in their dress and social manners. It is standard in most cultures to associate dignity with authority, but the Japanese carried the linkage of aesthetics and power well beyond mere dignity. Ikegami, a sociologist, traces the evolution of the various strands of Japanese aesthetic standards as they developed in the key cities where government officials and merchant leaders interacted. The result is a rich and detailed cultural history from medieval times to the Meiji period.