Karate, Baseball and Politics:Hybridity and the Martial Arts in Modern Japan

David Rusak


This paper uses karate as a case study for discussing the trends of transculturalism that characterize 20th century Japan in Iwabuchi’s (2002) discussion. Martial arts, such as karate, are not the isolated, atemporal pieces of cultural tradition that they are routinely presented to be: the history of karate  shows it to be a shining example of malleable hybridization. After introducing Iwabuchi’s arguments for a focus on hybridity in social analysis, I will show how the form taken by karate today has been determined in large part by the political forces at work between the cultural players involved. I begin by describing the assimilation of the originally Okinawan art of karate into mainland Japanese culture, within the context of the colonial relationship between Okinawa and Japan. This stands in contrast to the Japanese adoption of baseball, which, against the backdrop of Japan’s relations to the West, can be seen to have been realized in a dramatically different way. Finally, I argue that an examination of karate’s later appropriation to Korea demonstrates the significant cultural impact martial arts may have on both national identity and international standing.

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