Knowledge and Philosophy
The refrain of Kipling's "Ballad of East and West" (1889), opening with the famous line: "Oh,
East is East and West and West, and never the twain shall meet", and closing with: "But there is
neither East nor West ... when two strong men stand face to face", reveals quite poignantly the
faulty understanding of the complexity of all cross-cultural encounters that unfortunately has
characterized European interactions with foreign populations ever since Columbus.
Kipling was writing at a time when anthropology was just beginning to emerge from its early
phase, so imbricated with Western colonialism and colored by its foundational underpinnings of
"social evolutionism". We should know better by now, but a number of historical phenomena,
including the globalization of capitalism, continue to mask the all-encompassing power of
enculturation in determining culture-specific behavioral style.
Contemporary cultural anthropologists should be the experts on this issue, but even they
seem to miss the crucial shortcomings of the "one-perspective-only" research approach. Japanese
anthropologist Hiroshi Wagatsuma (1927-1985) became aware of these shortcomings early on,
and formulated the methodology of "dialogic anthropology" in order to address them. As an
Italian "yamatologa" who was one of the last doctoral students trained by Professor Wagatsuma
before his untimely death, I embraced this approach wholeheartedly, and I have adopted it in all
my ethnological explorations. By describing the application of "dialogic anthropology" to the
study of Japan, I highlight the value of Professor Wagatsuma's legacy, and its great pedagogical
potential for a better understanding of European-Asian interactions.