4 * 6 JANUARY 2001
The 'Dark Side' of Life in Asia and the West
Night-time and the time to sleep
Night-time and sleep are twin concepts, or so it seems.
In many cultures sleeping, is more or less exclusively associated with
the night, whereas the most important function of night and darkness would
appear to be to signal the time to close the eyes and sleep. As
usual, social reality is much more complex than this simplified arrangement
suggests. At the Vienna workshop, seventeen scholars from ten different
countries and fourteen different universities more closely examined the
topic of night-time and the time to sleep, mainly from social scientific
(i.e., criminology, urban sociology, anthropology, cultural studies),
literary (Chinese and Japanese Studies), and historical perspectives.
Japanese woodblock print by Bihô (Meiji period).
In Japan, the bat is a symbol of good fortune.
* By LODEWIJK BRUNT & BRIGITTE STEGER
In contrast to most cultural and artistic traditions, including poetry,
novels, films and painting, academic disciplines have never paid much
attention to the issues raised. During the workshop, it became clear that
it would be extremely difficult even to define the boundaries of night
and day. What about the twilight, for instance? Close to the north and
south poles that period can be quite prolonged, but is it part of the
day or part of the night? Should twilight and dawn be considered entities
in their own right? In many other respects too, the conceptualization
of night-time (and, of course, by implication daytime as well) is extremely
complicated. What people call 'night', for example, is very much determined
by time and place. For example, in cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh
during the nineteenth century, the night presented in the workshop by
Irene Maver (University of Glasgow), was very much associated with fear
of the 'dangerous classes' and those phenomena apparently linked to them;
illness, crime, poverty, sexual promiscuity, and violence. Although the
night also has associations with dangers and fears in East Asia, they
are related more to supernatural phenomena, as Anna Schegoleva (SOAS,
London) explained in her paper on the kanashibari phenomenon in Japan
and Jutta Hausser (University of Munich) in her work on fears associated
with being alone during sleep, again in Japan. Often, however, nights
are created as a counter-world to the day, where one might find shelter,
as Wolfgang Kubin (University of Bonn) and Wolfgang Popp (University of
Vienna) pointed out through examples from Chinese literature and Hong
Kong films. Night and sleep can also be a period of (re)-creation, as
the mythology of Cheju (Korea) shows (Hea-Kyoung Koh, Pacifica Graduate
In recent history, a process of 'colonization' of the night has taken
place: as a consequence of technical developments (such as street lighting,
modern transportation, and electronic communication), parts of the night
have been transformed into 'daytime'. Currently, as discussed in the contributions
by Lodewijk Brunt (University of Amsterdam) and Chris Nottingham (Caledonian
University, Glasgow), we form part of a globalized 24-hour economy: our
cities and modes of transportation and communication no longer sleep.
Does this mean that traditional associations with darkness, primarily
fear of unknown dangers, are also disappearing? Long-term developments
are impossible to predict, but we have gained a glimpse of some consequences.
Jun Ayukawa (Kinjo Gakuin University, Nagoya) has dealt with the profound
changes this new meaning of the night has conjured up in terms of generational
relationships in Japan. The colonization of the night in Japanese culture
has brought children and young adults to the forefront. They are enjoying
new dimensions of 'free time' through their extensive use of mobile phones
and easy transportation. Yoshikazu Nagai (Kansai University, Osaka) has
tried to sketch new patterns of social control during the night-time and
he suggested there will be a gradual transformation from spatial control
to time control.
Generally speaking, the study of sleeping seems to be somewhat more
sophisticated than the study of the night and night-time. The topic of
sleep has recently become highly politicized in Europe because of the
dialogue surrounding the legitimacy of so-called 'siesta cultures' in
the Mediterranean area. From Yi Li's contribution (Tacoma College, Washington),
showed that such a discussion has been taking place in China, as well:
can afternoon napping be considered a source of cultural identity or as
a remnant of the feudal past and an obstacle to modernization? Brigitte
Steger (University of Vienna) has developed a typology of 'sleep cultures',
varying from 'napping cultures' to 'siesta-cultures' and 'monophasic cultures'.
From this scheme, it can be deduced that societies show pronounced differences
in sleeping patterns and that the close association between night-time
and sleeping is in fact not nearly as close as it may seem. Moreover,
some societies have changed from one pattern to the next over the course
The participants inquired into the 'centrality' of sleep in different
cultures, i.e. does a certain pattern of sleep determine other behavioural
customs as well? For instance: do napping cultures always have polychronic
time schemes and are monophasic cultures typical for monochronic ones?
It would seem that we need more systematic comparative studies on time
in general and more detailed studies on how time is spent in particular,
in which night-time and sleep provide promising entries. The study of
night-time and sleep depends on various conditions. First of all, it is
necessary to consider these topics as legitimate and potentially important
fields of study and, secondly, the field should profit from case studies
such as Peter Rensen's (University of Amsterdam) on the homeless in Amsterdam,
Eyal Ben-Ari's (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) on the sleeping patterns
of American combat soldiers, and Antje Richter's (University of Kiel)
on sleep in pre-Buddhist literature. The collaboration of scholars from
different disciplines and from different regional fields has been and
is extremely fruitful for the topic of the night-time and the time to
Parallel to the workshop, we organized an exhibition of original Japanese
coloured woodblock prints, 'Twenty-Nine Views of the Dark Side' (courtesy
of the MAK-Austrian Museum of Applied Arts). This provided an enlightening
overview of nightlife scenes in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century
Japan, and provided support for our hypothesis that even in pre-modern
times, night has been the realm of more than sleep alone.
On the basis of the workshop, a mailing list for the study of night
and sleep has been initiated (http:// www.egroups.com/group/komori).
In addition, a selection of contributions to the workshop will soon be
The workshop was organized by Jun Ayakawa (Sociology;
Kinjo Gakuin University, Nagoya, Japan), Lodewijk Brunt (Anthropology
and Sociology; University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands), and Brigitte
Steger (East Asian Studies; University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria) and
was generously sponsored by the European Science Foundation Asia Committee,
and the Japan Foundation.
Professor Lodewijk Brunt is a full professor of Urban
Studies at the University of Amsterdam and in this capacity he has in
recent years been doing fieldwork in India (esp. Mumbai). Last year he
produced the tv-documentary 'Blessed by the Plague' on the city of Surat
Professor Brigitte Steger is Assistant Professor of Japanese
Studies at the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna.
Her research includes the anthropology and sociology of sleep (dissertation),
of time and of midwifery iin Japanese history and presence.