This essay introduces the second of three installments of an “elegiac symposium” in Common Knowledge on figures and concepts devalued in what Thomas Kuhn refers to as “paradigm shifts.” The essay suggests that Kuhn’s idea is provincial, in three specified senses, and then goes on to show how differently Japanese culture regards and manages major change. The author of this introduction, who is also the journal’s editor, begins by evaluating a triptych of 1895 by Toshikata as a response to the seemingly revolutionary changes brought by the Meiji Restoration a generation before. He then goes on to discuss, as exemplary of Japanese attitudes toward change, the Shinto ritual during which the sacred shrines of Ise Jingū are torn down and rebuilt every twenty years. The essay concludes by explaining how the impetus for this ritual is also involved in less-exalted aspects of Japanese culture; for example, in the peculiarities of the market for ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Overall, this essay shows that Japanese ways of regarding concepts such as “old” and “new,” “continuity” and “change,” differ so radically from those presupposed in the West that the latter should be regarded as provincial rather than as universally valid.

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