Doing Fieldwork in Japan

Doing Fieldwork in Japan

Copyright Date: 2003
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  • Book Info
    Doing Fieldwork in Japan
    Book Description:

    Doing Fieldwork in Japan taps the expertise of North American and European specialists on the practicalities of conducting long-term research in the social sciences and cultural studies. In lively first-person accounts, they discuss their successes and failures doing fieldwork across rural and urban Japan in a wide range of settings: among religious pilgrims and adolescent consumers; on factory assembly lines and in high schools and wholesale seafood markets; with bureaucrats in charge of defense, foreign aid, and social welfare policy; inside radical political movements; among adherents of "New Religions"; inside a prosecutor's office and the JET Program for foreign English teachers; with journalists in the NHK newsroom; while researching race, ethnicity, and migration; and amidst fans and consumers of contemporary popular culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6223-7
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction: Doing Fieldwork in Japan
    (pp. 1-18)

    This book brings together the experiences and reflections of twenty-one foreign scholars whose research in Japan has relied on talking to ordinary people (and extraordinary ones as well) about their lives and experiences; participating in everyday events; reading and listening to Japanese media, both popular and highly specialized; slogging through archives and bureaucratic records; and piecing together analyses and interpretations of contemporary Japanese life through the direct experiences of fieldwork. The book is certainly not a step-by-step how-to manual, but it does offer many insights and suggestions about doing research in Japan. We hope that it will be useful and...

    • Taking Note of Teen Culture in Japan: Dear Diary, Dear Fieldworker
      (pp. 21-35)

      The fieldwork researcher expects to encounter both the predictable and the surprising, to confirm expectations and to confound them. In ticket lines for a pop music concert in Tokyo, on the subway going to a high school, sitting in a coffee shop with three middle-school girls with brown-striped hair, the American anthropologist sees the familiar but comes to understand that contexts and meaning may differ from her preconceptions: objects in the mirror may be farther away than they appear. Of course, that adjustment of vision and understanding is what she came to Japan for, and for its natural corollary, the...

    • New Notes from the Underground: Doing Fieldwork without a Site
      (pp. 36-54)

      I study radical social movements and their conflicts with the state. Although some of my work has been historical, I use participant observation and interviews to study the social movements that arose from the great protest wave of the late 1960s. A fieldworker normally begins by finding a site—a community, an office, a school, a work site—and then settling down to observe and interview people in their natural setting. However, the groups I want to study do not have a regular place of business; indeed, they attract a crowd of plainclothes police whenever their members gather.

      In order...

    • From Scrambled Messages to an Impromptu Dip: Serendipity in Finding a Field Location
      (pp. 55-70)

      When I was in Tokyo setting about finding a suitable location for my first fieldwork, an eminent American anthropologist, who for diplomatic reasons shall remain nameless, told me that British anthropologists are far more concerned with their own egos than with the study of science. Since I had a degree in general science, which I subsequently discovered bore little relation to the subject of social anthropology, I was not too concerned with this apparent put-down. I mention the incident at the start of this chapter for three reasons. First, like a government health warning on cigarette packets, I advise that...

    • Fieldwork with Japanese Religious Groups
      (pp. 71-88)

      The opportunity of doing fieldwork with Japanese religious groups has provided, without a doubt, the most important experiences of my professional life. Fieldwork is essential to reaching an understanding of religion as a lived and living tradition, as opposed to a body of doctrine or an abstract statement of creed. No competent study of modern religious life can emerge without it, and each such study is richer in proportion to the depth of field experience. Undertaking fieldwork among religious people in Japan requires an understanding of the relation between observable realities and historical religious tradition, as well as a commitment...

    • Chance, Fate, and Undisciplined Meanderings: A Pilgrimage through the Fieldwork Maze
      (pp. 89-106)

      Whether one believes in gods or goddesses is not the point for, after all, one does not have to believe in order to pray in Japan (Reader 1991; Tanabe 1998). The reason why this statement by a leading scientist about the importance of fortune appeals to me is because it emphasizes just how much chance and circumstance—and the willingness to make use of them—play a part in any endeavor we undertake. Indeed, what may well differentiate between those who succeed and those who do not is how they react to the chances and opportunities offered by fate and...

    • Getting Cooperation in Policy-Oriented Research
      (pp. 109-123)

      I have conducted two extensive fieldwork projects in Japan. The first, in the mid-1970s, was a twenty-eight-month doctoral dissertation research stint to study the birth control methods used by married couples (Coleman 1983 [1991]). The second, in the early 1990s, concerned the social organization of laboratory scientists, and most of the data gathering took place in one year in the field (Coleman 1999). The first project had no primary site. Research committed to one spatial locus could not provide the kind of data I needed because the behavior that concerned me most was taking place in bedrooms. The latter fieldwork...

    • JET Lag: Studying a Multilevel Program over Time
      (pp. 124-138)

      Most anthropologists of Japan have committed numerous mistakes during the course of their fieldwork. In my own case, I inadvertently committed a serious error before I even set foot in Japan, simply by writing a letter to an acquaintance in the organization I was hoping to study.

      At the time I was a doctoral student in Stanford University’s anthropology of education program, and my dissertation focus was the cultural form and meaning of internationalization in Japan. As a window on this topic, I chose the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, a high-profile government attempt to “import diversity” in the...

    • Getting in and Getting along in the Prosecutors Office
      (pp. 139-155)

      From 1992 to 1995, I spent a thousand days in Japan doing research about the prosecution of crime. This chapter is organized around three challenges I faced while conducting that study: getting in to the research site, getting along with my research subjects, and getting close enough to prosecutors to explain how they shape the Japanese way of justice (D. Johnson 2002 ).

      I arrived in Kobe on August 15, 1992, intending to study Japanese prosecutors(kenji)ethnographically, something no one had done before. It took five months before I actually began.

      This protracted preliminary period started when a professor...

    • In Search of the Japanese State
      (pp. 156-175)

      My first research trip to Japan was in 1989, when I set out to do my Ph.D. dissertation. Japan was not unfamiliar, but the task of doing research was. I had studied the Japanese language at Sophia University and had lived in Tokyo for more than a year as an undergraduate. I was excited to return, but that excitement was tempered by the unknowns ahead. I was setting out to research Japan’s national security policy, a policy cloaked in secrecy in almost any state. But in Japan, this was an issue that also inevitably conjured up images of a past...

    • Doing Media Research in Japan
      (pp. 176-192)

      The mass media are ubiquitous in Japan and are an important institution connecting state and society. In the Japan field there are arguably fewer studies of the mass media, however, than almost any other significant type of social actor. The mass media present the researcher with a bewildering and complex variety of methodological issues and problems, many common to studying any Japanese organization, but some unique to this particular variety. The neat, textbook formulas for conducting research, from conception and access through data gathering, analysis, and write-up, are often irrelevant in the actual field situation.

      The path of my own...

    • Fact-Rich, Data-Poor: Japan as Sociologists’ Heaven and Hell
      (pp. 195-213)

      Social scientists do not always make good predictions. The scholars who supervised my dissertation research later told me that they had been sure my research plan would fail. Fortunately, they were wrong. But unfortunately, their prediction was based on sound reasoning: they were cognizant of a major impediment facing social scientists attempting to do the type of research in Japan that I had proposed. That impediment is the virtual unavailability in Japan of individual-level data—“raw” data, as social scientists often call it—with which to carry out statistical analyses. This problem has hampered American research on Japan in a...

    • Beginning Trials and Tribulations: Rural Community Study and Tokyo City Survey
      (pp. 214-228)

      I often wish I could say that I had an avid interest in Japan from the time I was a small child and that I eagerly rushed into the first Japanese-language class I could find in high school, but that isn’t the case. I did have two Japanese pen pals in grade school, but Japan was as far out of my reach as the moon. I was first introduced to the study of Japan while completing a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Hawai‘i with a fellowship from the East-West Center in Honolulu. The study of an Asian culture...

    • Research among the Bureaucrats: Substance and Process
      (pp. 229-247)

      For some thirty years now I have been trying to study various issues of public policy in Japan. Although unfortunately policy studies are not very trendy in the general field of political science at the moment, they have been popular among Japan specialists for a long time and are still seen as mainstream. While some who do policy studies emphasize a structural approach (particularly in political economy) and others mostly employ a “unitary rational actor” model (particularly to analyze foreign policy), people like me try to relate aspects of political process (what bureaucracies, parties, or interest groups actually do) to...

    • Dealing with the Unexpected: Field Research in Japanese Politics
      (pp. 248-260)

      When I think back on my dissertation research experience three themes emerge: adjusting to unexpected problems; taking advantage of the lucky break; and confronting the limitations of interview-based research. After finishing my qualifying examinations in the mid-1980s I began to consider possible dissertation topics in Japanese politics. At this point my adviser, Chalmers Johnson, suggested that I research an individual ministry that had not yet been analyzed by a Western academic. I was not averse to this idea. At that time a central debate in the study of Japanese politics—inspired in part by Chalmers Johnson’s path-breaking book,MITI and...

    • Studying the Social History of Contemporary Japan
      (pp. 261-274)

      In this chapter I seek to pass on some of the lessons I have learned by trial and frequent error in the course of roughly twenty years of research in modern Japanese social history. I have studied various aspects of the history of labor-management relations and the politics of the labor movement in Japan over the past century and written three books as a result (Gordon 1985, 1991, 1998a). This is probably an excessive, even an obsessive, degree of attention for one person to devote to a relatively narrow set of topics, and I doubt I will ever write another...

    • Unraveling the Web of Song
      (pp. 277-293)

      In June 1991 I prepared to conduct dissertation research in Tokyo to studyenka,an old-fashioned popular-music genre whose reputation both as an expression of “the heart and soul of the Japanese”(Nihonjin no kokoro)and as “crying song”(naki-bushi)made it a likely candidate for sites and practices of Japanese identity and emotion. I was not a fan ofenka,but I was lucky enough to be living in Hawai‘i, whereenkawas popular with at least some Japanese Americans. Preparing for the field was a matter of seeking out all the opportunities and knowledgeable people who were right...

    • Bottom Up, Top Down, and Sideways: Studying Corporations, Government Programs, and NPOs
      (pp. 294-314)

      I study working people’s lives and people’s working lives. This overarching theme has engrossed me ever since I began my first research in 1983. It consumes my curiosity and pushes me to ask new questions to this day. My main areas of interest are gender and labor in contemporary society. These interests have expanded to include migration and population issues as I began to see the impacts of new trends in those areas on people’s working lives.

      Through studying people’s working lives I also came to realize the importance of policy as a force in shaping opportunity. One could say...

    • Inquisitive Observation: Following Networks in Urban Fieldwork
      (pp. 315-334)

      Finding my first field site was a daunting task. The second time, my site eventually found me, but it took me quite a while to realize it.

      At the start of dissertation fieldwork in 1979, I spent several frustrating weeks searching for the perfect Tokyo neighborhood in which to study community institutions and local social networks. Finally, a fellow graduate student, Christena Turner, suggested I should “choose a network, not a neighborhood.”¹ Her excellent advice was right on target: determine where my contacts are strongest and where introductions from existing contacts could be most effective, and go there; don’t try...

    • Responsibility and the Limits of Identification: Fieldwork among Japanese and Japanese Brazilian Workers in Japan
      (pp. 335-351)

      I went to Japan in 1994 to investigate interactions betweenNikkeijin(overseas Japanese) migrants, most of whom were from Brazil, and the Japanese with whom they came into contact in workplaces and in neighborhoods (Roth 2002). I had made one preliminary trip to Japan in 1993 and selected the city of Hamamatsu as my primary field site. Several other industrial cities such as Nagoya and Toyota in Aichi Prefecture and the town of Ōizumi and city of Ōta in Gunma Prefecture had largeNikkeijinpopulations. ManyNikkeijinin Japan were concentrated in a short string of highly industrialized prefectures running...

    • Time and Ethnology: Long-Term Field Research
      (pp. 352-366)

      Discussions of field research ordinarily take a short-term view on how to effect entry, establish and maintain relationships, and exit gracefully. I have chosen instead to write about the experience of conducting research in a single community over more than a half century and some of its implications for the ethnological enterprise. I first came to know the community in 1951–1952 and visited it many times before and after my wife Kazuko and I conducted a restudy in 1975 (R. J. Smith 1976, 1978). We have revisited the place many times since. The implications for ethnology have to do...

  8. Appendix: Digital Resources and Fieldwork
    (pp. 367-374)
    (pp. 375-382)
    (pp. 383-396)
    (pp. 397-400)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 401-414)