Hosei University

In this paper, I will talk about the interaction of Japanese anthropologists and their audiences. This interaction is important, because every academic endeavor, research, writing, a lecture, or a workshop is somehow influenced by the general expectations of the society and the research strategy is also influenced by it. I mainly focus on the situation we have had after the war, for there is a great difference between Japanese anthropology after the war and that in the prewar period. The introduction of cultural anthropology from the United States and social anthropology from the Great Britain after the war has brought about a great change in the concept of anthropology in Japan, which used to concentrate more on historical researches. Of course, it is natural that the influence of the old school continued after the war, but it has been gradually fading out.

Japanese Anthropologist Based in Japan and Their Research Fields

In the new situation, Japanese anthropology took shape by recreating a research style similar to that of American or British anthropology. Young scholars those days were interested in "other cultures", which meant "other cultures which their Western colleagues had been studying." Just after the war, it was financially quite difficult to go outside of Japan, not only to study overseas but also to do field research. Those who could not manage to obtain scholarships went to Okinawa with their own funds, because before 1972, Okinawa was under the American administration and considered to be ""overseas"", though there was a question as to whether the Okinawan culture is a different culture or not.

When I was in graduate school about twenty years ago, it had already become easier to obtain a scholarship to do research overseas, although it was not at all easy to go with one's own funds. Most of my colleagues somehow managed to obtain scholarships to go, as more chances were available compared to the situation just after the war.

Now the situation has been totally changed. Many students go overseas to visit their intended field sites during the holiday seasons with their own funds, and when the time comes, they can obtain scholarships to undertake their own researches. Even MA students may be given the chance to go overseas for research.

In most of the non-Euro-American Countries, anthropologists-to-be are educated overseas in the Euro-American countries, often in either their former colonial metropolitan countries or in the United States, carrying out their field research in their own countries. In this sense, Japan is conspicuous at the moment among the non-Euro-American countries, in that not only that it has a national education system in anthropology, but also in that it has encouraged young students to study other cultures. This tendency is surely something to do with the growing Japanese economy. But it was not only the reason.

Probably, Japanese anthropologists thought that anthropology should be like that. Anthropology is the study of other cultures and societies. But the Western societies were not included in the possible fields for Japanese anthropologists. It is partly because the major fields of anthropology in those days were "primitive" societies and Western societies were never thought to be included in this category. But another reason for Japanese anthropologists is because there used to be a quite interesting "division of labor" between different areas of scholarship in Japan.

Japanese scholars in other areas of the social sciences and humanities had already been studying the Western societies extensively. After the Meiji restoration, promoted by the government, the Japanese studied the Western societies and cultures widely, in order to find out which ideas and systems were most appropriate for Japan. A literature scholar specializing in English studied English culture and society. An economist specializing in the United States studied the American economic system. In a way, these Japanese scholars were doing something similar to anthropological research although they are never called anthropologists. Japanese anthropologists were not expected to talk about Euro-American cultures and societies for which experts already existed.

Therefore, the niche available for Japanese anthropologists to fit into in the general academic topography was mainly that of the so called "primitive" societies, developing and tribal societies. In this sense, it is natural that Japanese anthropology developed as a critique of the mainstream academic tradition in the social sciences and humanities that had always looked to the West as the center of the World. In Japan, just as in the West, anthropology developed as a critique of the mainstream academic tradition.

Japanese Anthropologists Based in Japan and Their Writings

Thus, Japanese audiences usually have taken for granted the division of labor between anthropologists and other scholars. An anthropologist was seen by these audiences as a person who made a difficult trip to a remote, inconvenient peripheral part of the world, in search of a special, surprising experience.

For the first twenty years after the war, besides their professional books and articles, young scholars often wrote about their own experiences in fieldwork memoires, after they just had came back from their field. These books were very popular: Chie Nakane wrote Mikai no Kao, Bunmei no Kao (Primitive Faces and Civilized Faces, 1959); Machiko Aoyagi wrote Hikyo Tonga Okoku (Kingdom of Tonga , the Best Kept Secret, 1964), and Sachiko Hatanaka wrote Minami Taiheiyo no Kansho nite (On an Atoll in the South Pacific, 1967). It is interesting that these three authors were all female anthropologists. Probably, general readers were astonished at their enthusiasm and the hardships they encountered, and the fact that these authors were young women caught their imagination. Of course, there were also male anthropologists whose books became best-selling.

The situation has totally changed since then. As making inconvenient and difficult journeys has ceased to be a monopoly of anthropologists, anthropologists' travel books do not sell as well as before. Even if the general public do not go to such places, they have other media like TV, video and movies through which to obtain visual experiences of these places. Instead of writing best-selling books, anthropologists nowadays write mainly two categories of publications. The first category is that of professional articles and monographs aimed at their anthropological colleagues and students, while the second consists of books and parts of books whose theoretical issues might attract interdisciplinary readers. As Prof. Eades mentions, there are many chances to publish these kinds of professional articles, and most of anthropologists are kept busy all the time.

Since these articles and books are written mostly in the Japanese language, the circle of Japanese anthropologists is closed to Euro-American readers. There are some English journals published in Japan, but their circulation is limited. These English publications in Japan are seldom referred to, and are neglected most of the time in worldwide anthropological writings.

But this is not a serious problem to Japanese anthropologists looking for a job in Japanese market and hoping to be hired in Japan. It is nice to have one or two English articles to show that one's work might be possible to be recognized in worldwide anthropological circles. Nevertheless, one knows that, in actual fact, the number of readers might be smaller if he/she writes an article in English, as most Japanese colleagues would not read it and most Euro-American colleagues would neglect it as well. Equal interaction between Euro-American and Japanese anthropologists should start with Japanese anthropologists sending their articles to Euro-American prestigious journals, although we know that it is time consuming. But, this is just beginning to happen.

Japanese Anthropologists Based in Overseas

On the other hand, Japanese anthropologists studying overseas, especially in the United States, tend to study Japan. This tendency is not only restricted to Japanese but applies to most of the foreign students in Euro-American anthropology departments. It is partly because it is quite an advantage to be able to study one's own culture and society as native anthropologists as a way of surviving in a highly competitive academic environment. With their language fluency, they are able to obtain a deeper understanding of their culture and society without any problem. Another reason may be that it is not easy for such foreign students to obtain research funds. They may have already been given scholarships to study in overseas countries, so it is more difficult to obtain further scholarships to carry out research in a third country.

In addition, there are the expectations among English-speaking audiences. English-speaking audiences and readers expect Japanese anthropologists to talk and write about Japanese culture which to them seems very exotic.

It is the same with the job market. It is less difficult to find jobs if Japanese applicants specialize in Japan than in other fields, if they try to find them in Euro-American countries. (If they try to find jobs in Japan, they have to face the opposite problems, since anthropologists in Japan are expected to study on other cultures.)

Although it is less serious, Japanese anthropologists based in Japan also face a similar problem when they try to find places to stay during their sabbatical years. Although many Japanese anthropologists have not specialized in Japanese culture and society, the expectation is that they will give lectures and seminars on Japanese topics if they can.

A Successful Career

Probably, Chie Nakane, one of the most prominent anthropological figures in Japan, is the person who most successfully differentiates between the different types of audiences and their expectations and tries to fit different types of research to their different needs.

She was one of the few first-time female students admitted in the University of Tokyo after the war. She first majored in Asian history, then she became interested in anthropology. Her basic training as an anthropologist was given at the LSE while she held the post of assistant (or research associate) at the University of Tokyo. She became the first female associate professor, then the first female full professor at the University of Tokyo.

She studied the Tibetan history first, but later she found out the research she planned to undertake in Tibet was impossible. She switched her major field to India. Later on, she carried out several research projects on social organizations in Japan, and more recently she concentrated on comparative study of Asian societies.

She is widely known as the author of Japanese Society, which was the translation of Tate Shakai no Ningen Kankei. This Japanese original first appeared as an article in a general literary journal called Chuokoron. The paperback version of the volume was a best-seller, not only compared with other books published by anthropologists, but also compared with any other scholarly books. But for her it was only a by-product of her professional career.

I remember clearly the day when she began her seminar in April: an American student belonging to another department appeared, and he said he wanted to join in the seminar because he was impressed by her Japanese Society. She answered, rather irritably, that she would not talking about Japanese society in that seminar.

Although she wrote best selling books, she also had a scholarly reputation because of her many professional scholarly books and articles. In Japanese, she was the author of Kazoku no Kozo (Structure of Family, 1970) and Shakai Jinruigaku/ Ajia Sho Shakai no Kenkyu (Social Anthropology/ Study on Asian Societies, 1987). In English, she published Garo and Khasi/ A Comparative Study in Matrilineal Systems (1967) and Kinship and Economic Organization in Rural Japan (1967). Thus, she has successfully written for different audiences and readers with different interests, while maintaining her own professional interests.

Possible Strategies

If a Japanese anthropologist just wanted to obtain a job and live in Japan, there would not be any problem as it is. Since the system is closed and the job market is also closed, Japanese anthropologists may live peacefully in Japan and continue to import Western concepts and ideas into their understanding of anthropology, while exporting nothing.

But if we want more general understanding of anthropology in this age of globalization, we have to adopt strategies aimed at greater communication and exchange to bridge the different anthropological traditions.

Since it is impossible to expect Euro-American anthropologists to read Japanese except those who are specialized in Japanese Studies, it is Japanese anthropologists who must start these moves. We know how we are able to do this. We must write more English articles for publication in prestigious journals, to initiate a discussion between different anthropological traditions. But the problem is not only in the language barrier, but also in the interests to be shared.

To me, Japanese anthropology may contribute at least to one of the contemporary worldwide anthropological debates, that is the relation between the researchers and the researched. Since Orientalism (Said 1978) was written, the power relation of researchers and the researched has been questioned. The initiative is on the researchers side, since they have the power of publication, and the power to circulate their knowledge, while the researched do not have such a medium in which to express themselves to circulate their own views. Recently, the researchers have come to be accused of this power, and sometimes they may be shut off from their intended fields. The ideal situation would be if the researchers and the researched could meet on the equal footing and exchange their own understandings and opinions, but that has seldom taken place. I think the Japanese anthropologists are in an ideal position to do this, if they are seriously committed to the debate on the issue with reference to the anthropological study of the Japanese.

To move in this direction, I made a proposal to the editorial of Minzokugaku Kenkyu (Journal of Japan Society of Ethnology) that monographs in English on Japanese culture and society should be added to the book reviews in the journal, which formerly dealt only with books written in Japanese. Japanese anthropologists in Japan have neglected to write serious monographs on Japanese culture and society, but it is time for us to consider the importance of Japanese Studies by native anthropologists.

Another possible type of research which may lead to discussions with Euro-American anthropologists would be research on Euro-American societies, which have not generaly been considered as subjects of anthropological study. Recently, Euro-American anthropologists have started to study their own societies more often. If Japanese anthropologists were to join in this research as anthropologists from outside, it should be quite fruitful. In this project, the respective roles of the researcher and the researched would then be reversed.

These two directions for Japanese anthropologists may not solve all the difficulties of communication between different anthropological traditions, but I think it is worth trying them to begin with.


AOYAGI, Machiko
1964 Hikyo Tonga Okoku (The Kingdom of Tonga, the Best Kept Secret). Tokyo: Futami Shobo.
1967 Minami Taiheiyo no Kansho nite (On an Atoll in the South Pacific). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
1959 Mikai no Kao, Bunmei no Kao (Primitive Faces and Civilized Faces). Tokyo: Chuokoron-sha.
1967aGaro and Khasi/ A Comparative Study in Matrilineal Systems. Paris: Mouton.
1967bKinship and Economic Organization in Rural Japan. London School of Economics Monographs on Social Anthropology no.32. London: Athlone Press.
1970 Kazoku no Kozo (Structure of Family). Tokyo: the University of Tokyo Press.
1987 Shakai Jinruigaku/ Ajia Sho Shakai no Kenkyu (Social Anthropology/ Study on Asian Societies). Tokyo: the University of Tokyo Press.
Said, Edward W.
1978 Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.