In June 1944, the Office of War Information assigned cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict to help them understand why the Japanese thought acted as they did and to assist them in predicting how the Japanese would respond to a given military or diplomatic act on our part. Japan had only been open to the West for 75 years then, so very little was known about its culture. At that point also, the end of the war in Europe was less than one year away and the Allied victories in the Pacific foretold the defeat of Japan not long after victory in Europe. These facts made it especially necessary for the U.S. to find out what made Japan tick.
Many questions had to be answered, and the O.W.I. decided a cultural anthropologist would be best equipped to gain new insights into Japanese attitudes and behavior. As a cultural anthropologist, Benedict had an advantage over a traditional anthropologist because she could forego the usually obligatory field trip. Her focus would be on explaining Japanese culture by comparing it to other cultures.
Chapter one, entitled "Assignment Japan", explains the purpose of the book and some of the research techniques employed. Chapter two, "The Japanese in the War", covers the Japanese justifications of the war and highlights their attitudes about the spiritual vs. the material, and heir apparent preference for death over defeat or dishonor. Chapter three is called "Taking One's Proper Place" and, indeed, that is its subject. It provides an analysis of Japanese society's hierarchical structure as contrasted with Western egalitarian values and Chinese clan systems.
Chapter Four, "The Meiji Reform", takes an historical approach: it examines the origins of modern Japanese customs as a result of the Meiji takeover in 1868. The Meiji ousted the Tokugawa, restored the Emperor to public life, established State Shinto and the Diet, began a number of agricultural and industrial reforms, and abolished all leg...