JAWS History

The Japan Anthropology Workshop
(update April 2019)

The Japan Anthropology Workshop (known as JAWS) developed out of a growing international interest in the anthropology of Japan. This interest comes from two rather different quarters – from anthropologists who are looking at Japan as a country which may have a contribution to make to their own specialist field, and from scholars already specializing in Japanese studies who increasingly appreciate the insights that an anthropological approach can bring to their work. The idea for JAWS was conceived at the 1982 European Association of Japanese Studies (EAJS) Conference in The Hague, after which Joy Hendry organized a planning meeting with Brian Moeran, Arne Rokkum and Arthur Stockwin the following year at the Nissan Institute for Japanese Studies in Oxford. Arthur organized for Nissan financially to support the venture and a first workshop was held in March 1984 when a need was identified for a forum for the growing but largely isolated band of anthropologists of Japan to meet together and exchange ideas, and JAWS was officially founded.

Yoshida Teigo became the first Japanese honorary representative, and Joy Hendry served as Secretary of JAWS for the first ten years; Roger Goodman took over from 1993 until 1999 when the post was transferred to Jan van Bremen and its title changed to Secretary General to reflect the growth of the organization and the commitment needed to run it. Lola Martinez took up the post in 2005, with the chair passing to John Traphagan in 2010, and to Brigitte Steger in 2014.

JAWS holds major thematic conferences every eighteen months – alternate ones coinciding with the triennial meetings of EAJS – as well as organizing a number of smaller workshops and seminars. It maintains a website and issues a newsletter of news and views about the anthropology of Japan; the newsletter has gone online and is now available on our website.

The early years

The theme of the first conference in Oxford 1984 was ‘Time and Space in Japan’ and the papers were published as Interpreting Japanese Society: Anthropological Approaches (JASO Occasional Publication Series, No. 5), edited by Joy Hendry and Jonathan Webber in 1986 and re-issued in a new edition by Routledge in 1997. The theme of the second conference was ‘Communication’ and was held as a special session as part of the EAJS Conference in Paris in 1985. Papers from this session appeared in Ian Nish (ed.), Contemporary European Writing on Japan: Scholarly Views from Eastern and Western Europe. Paul Norbury Publications, 1988.

The third JAWS conference took place at the Truman Research Institute at the Hebrew University in 1987 where the theme was ‘The Contribution of Japanese Studies to Anthropology’ and resulted in the volume edited by Ben-Ari, Moeran and Valentine, Unwrapping Japan: Society and Culture in Anthropological Perspective, Manchester University Press and the University of Hawai’i Press, 1990. The theme of the fourth JAWS conference, held as a session of the EAJS meeting at Durham in 1988, was also the title of the book that resulted: Roger Goodman and Kirsten Refsing (eds), Ideology and Practice in Modern Japan, Routledge, 1990. Routledge also published the papers which were put together and edited by D.P Martinez and Jan van Bremen from the fifth JAWS meeting in Leiden in 1990 with the title Ritual and Ceremony in Japan, 1994. This volume won the Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award for 1996 and was reprinted in 1996 and 1997.

The themes of the following four JAWS conferences – as part of the EAJS Berlin meeting in 1991, in Banff, Canada in 1992, in Copenhagen in 1994 and in Santiago de Compostela, Spain in 1995 – were respectively: ‘Japan at Play: The Ludic and Logic of Power’; ‘Culture in Japanese Nature: Process or Paradox?’, ‘Material Culture: Objects, Goods, Uses, Meanings and Interactions’ and ‘Pilgrimage and the International Encounter’. The papers from the first of these meetings were published as Japan at Play: the Ludic and the Logic of Power (J. Hendry and M. Raveri [eds], London: Routledge, 2002); from the second by NIAS-Curzon Press as Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives (edited by Pamela Asquith and Arne Kalland); and from the third by Kegan Paul International in 2000 as Consumption and Material Culture in Contemporary Japan, edited by Michael Ashkenazi and John Clammer. The papers from the fourth were published in the JAWS series in 2009 as Pilgrimages and Spiritual Quests in Japan, edited by Maria Rodriguez del Alisal, Peter Ackermann and D.P. Martinez.

The tenth JAWS meeting was arranged to coincide with the Biennial Conference of the Japanese Studies Association of Australia in Melbourne in July 1997 with the theme of ‘Popular Culture and Mass Media in Japan’. The eleventh JAWS meeting took place two months later in August 1997 at the EAJS Conference in Budapest where the theme was ‘The Japan Outside Japan’.

The twelfth JAWS meeting – the largest and the first to be held in Japan – was at the National Museum of Ethnology (Kokuritsu Minzoku Hakubutsukan) in Osaka in March 1999 and hosted seven separate panels with over 60 speakers and discussants under the general title of ‘New Directions in the Anthropology of Japan’. Family and Social Policy in Japan: Anthropological Approaches (Roger Goodman, [ed.], Cambridge University Press, 2002) is based on a panel from this conference and includes papers on anthropological research and Japan’s public policy in relation to fertility, perinatal care, child care, child abuse, sexuality, care for the aged and death. A panel organized jointly by Hirochika Nakamaki and Mitch Sedgwick on ‘The Anthropology of Japanese Organisations’ was published in Japanese as Nihon no soshiki: Shaen bunka to infōmaru katsudō (Hirochika Nakamaki and Mitch Sedgwick, 2003 eds. Osaka: Tōhō Shuppan); a volume was also published in English under the title The Culture of Association and Associations in Contemporary Japanese Society (Hirochika Nakamaki, ed., Senri Ethnological Studies No. 61, 2002). The papers from a panel organized by Pamela Asquith were published as a special issue of Ritsumeikan Journal of Asia Pacific Studies, Vol. 6, 2000 under the title ‘Japanese Scholarship and International Academic Discourse’. Some of the papers given in a panel organized by William W. Kelly also made their way into his edited volume, Fanning the Flames: Fans and Consumer Culture in Contemporary Japan (SUNY Press, 2004).

The thirteenth JAWS meeting was held concurrently with the ninth EAJS Conference in Lathi (Finland) in August 2000 with panels on ‘Body Talk’, ‘Popular Representations of Science and Technology’ and ‘State Control and Subversive Strategies of Children in Educational Settings’. The fourteenth meeting was at Yale in May 2002. For the first time, the conference consisted of a combination of plenary panels and research panels. A number of books which have since been published trace their origins – or at least part of their inspiration – to papers presented at this conference, including Gordon Mathews and Bruce White (eds.), Japan’s Changing Generations: Are Young People Creating a New Society? (RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), Jerry Eades, Roger Goodman and Yumiko Hada (eds.) The ‘Big Bang’ in Japanese Higher Education: The 2004 Reforms and the Dynamics of Change (Transpacific Press, Melbourne, 2005) and Sylvie Guichard Anguis and Okpyo Moon (eds.), Japanese Tourism and Travel Culture.The fifteenth JAWS meeting was held concurrently with the tenth EAJS Conference in Warsaw in August 2003 with the largest panels focusing on ‘Making Heritage in Japan’ (published in the JAWS series as Making Japanese Heritage (edited by Christoph Brumann and Rupert Cox) and ‘Food and Drink in Contemporary Japan’.

The sixteenth meeting was held at the University of Hong Kong in March 2005. The general theme was ‘East meets West,’ and the book edited by Joy Hendry and Heung Wah Wong, Dismantling the East West Dichotomy, was largely the result of the plenary session held there. It was also a memorial to Jan van Bremen, our Secretary General who was unable to attend the conference due to ill health, and who passed away shortly afterwards. The seventeenth JAWS workshop was part of the eleventh EAJS Conference in Vienna in August/September 2005 where the overall theme was ‘Time and Memory’. A special issue in the journal Time & Society (2006) was published by Brigitte Steger under the title ‘Timing daily life in Contemporary Japan’.

The eighteenth JAWS conference was held at the Museum of Ethnology and the University of Oslo during 14-17 March 2007, and followed the model set in Japan and Hong Kong of holding parallel sessions, sometimes focusing on different themes, although the overall broad remit for Oslo was to look at ‘Japan and Materiality in a Broader Perspective’. One forthcoming publication resulting from this conference is Assembling Japan: Case Studies in Cultural Globalization. (Oxford et al.: Peter Lang 2015), edited by Griseldis Kirsch, Dolores Martinez and Merry White. For the nineteenth JAWS conference we travelled to the south of Italy to be part of the EAJS Conference in Lecce in August 2008. There were two main panels, ‘Fragmentation, continuity and change: Japan in times of changing population structure’ and ‘New Lifestyles or Old Hats? Social Change in Media and Film in Japan’.

In the following years, JAWS members had to travel to various far flung locations (from their previously European locations, which encouraged Japan anthropologists from North America, Australia and New Zealand to get involved. The twentieth JAWS conference ‘Religion, Ritual, and Identity in Japan’ was hosted by the University of Texas, Austin, during 14-16 March 2010. The two volumes edited by Blai Guarné and Paul Hansen (2012) ‘Escaping Japan: Inside and Outside. Part 1: Reflections on Internal Dissent,’ PAN-JAPAN: The International Journal of Japanese Diaspora, Spring/Fall 2012, Vol. 8, No. 1 & 2. and (2013) ‘Escaping Japan: Inside and Outside. Part 2: Reflections on External Dissent’, PAN-JAPAN: The International Journal of Japanese Diaspora, Spring/Fall 2013, Vol. 9, No. 1 & 2 are results of this conference. The 21st conference ‘Beyond Oceans: Re-thinking Japan’s Place in Pacific Anthropology’, was held in Otago University, Dunedin (New Zealand) 10-11 July 2011. In August of the same year we also met at the EAJS conference in Tallinn, Estonia for the 22nd JAWS conference to discuss ‘Nostalgia, Memory and Myth-Making in Contemporary Japan’, from which a book edited by Blai Guar and Lola Martinez is forthcoming.

The 23rd JAWS conference was again hosted in North America, by Pittsburgh University under the theme ‘Mobility in Japan’, 7-9 March 2013. The article by Blaine P. Connor and John W. Traphagan, ‘Negotiating the Afterlife: Emplacement as Ongoing Concern in Contemporary Japan’ in the 2014 issue of Asian Anthropology 13(1):3-19, was one outcome of this conference.

In 2014 JAWS celebrated its 30th anniversary with two conferences followed by birthday dinners.

JAWS convened two panels at the conference of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences held in Chiba during 15-18 May 2014 and organized by the Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology (JACSA). The first of these was Panel 23 ‘Living with Disaster: Comparative Approaches’, which was a joint JAWS-JACSA panel convened by Hayashi Isao (Minpaku, Osaka) and Brigitte Steger. The second was Panel 116 ‘Mutual Anthropology: A Proposal for Future Equality in the Discipline’, which was a JAWS panel convened by Joy Hendry and Yuko Shioji.

The second conference in 2014 was held concurrently with Section 5 of the EAJS Conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia during 27-30 August 2014; the main conference theme was ‘All for the good life – anthropological and sociological perspectives on happiness in Japan’, and a publication of selected papers as a book edited by Wolfram Manzenreiter and Barbara Holthus will be published under the title Happiness and the Good Life in Japan in the JAWS Routledge series in early 2017.

Founding members of JAWS 1999 at Minpaku
Founding members of JAWS 1999 at Minpaku

Life membership

At the business meeting in Ljubjana, Brigitte Steger (University of Cambridge) took over as Secretary General of JAWS. During that meeting a change in membership fee structure was decided: Members voted to introduce life membership (currently £25/€30/¥4000).

For the 26th JAWS conference, we were invited by the Japanese Studies Association in Turkey (JAD), to come to Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, 1-4 September 2015; with funding support from the Japan Foundation and Toshiba International Foundation. Selçuk Esenbel, Erdal Küçükyalçın, Kiraz Perinçek Karavit and their many colleagues and helpers made this a really unforgettable event. Despite the many lures of the exciting city bridging Asia and Europe, it was great to see that our members stayed at the conference engaging in discussion, both academically and socially. The convenors of the conference, under the topic ‘Technology and Nature in Japan’ were Cornelia Reiher and Cosima Wagner. Several conference reports are found in the newsletter 2016.
The conference also gave us the opportunity to connect to the Turkish academic community by introducing two new panel formats: firstly, a panel on ‘Facing Crisis and Rapid Social Change in Turkey and Japan’ which brought together anthropologists of Japan with Turkish anthropologists to discuss contemporary social issues and learn from each other’s different perspectives and methodological approaches. Secondly, JAD introduced Japanese Studies in Turkey to the JAWS audience during a round-table. The dinner cruise on the Bosporus where we had a record number of 100 participants was a fantastic opportunity to share our reflections, to dance and plan for future collaboration. A selection of conference papers will be published in the new Turkish English-language journal Global Perspectives on Japan, which will be launched at the EAJS/JAWS conference in August/September 2017.

The 27th conference brought us again to Japan on 24 and 25 September 2016. Our sister organisation AJJ (Anthropology of Japan in Japan; ajj-online.net) is frequently organising conferences and workshops in Japan, which is why JAWS normally concentrates its activities to places outside the country. Nevertheless, the EAJS conference at Kobe University was a welcome opportunity to connect to our colleagues currently working or researching in Japan. Under the theme of rituals and daily lives, convened by Carmen Tamas, the paper themes ranged from ‘larping’ and naked matsuri to toilet and hand washing rituals. We heard fascinating papers on housing trends, rural revitalisation and on education.

The 28th JAWS conference was again concurrent with sections 5a and 5b of the EAJS conference, from 30 August to 2 September 2017 in Lisbon; conveners were Emma Cook and Andrea de Antoni (5a) as well as Blai Guarne and Ronald Saladin (5b); see EAJS conference page.

The 29th JAWS conference is organised by Anemone Platz at the University of Åarhus in Denmark from 15 to 17 April 2019.

In 2018, long-term website manager Christopher Feldman stood down from his position. We are very grateful for his many years of tireless service to the website. Stefanie Oeben undertook a technical update and redesign of website, and our new web manager Urara Satake has since spent many hours to edit and fill the new web content.

In 2019, our newsletter editors Andrea De Antoni, Emma Cook and Blai Guarné ended their stint as website and newsletter editors. A new team is currently forming (as of April 2019).

The membership of JAWS has grown dramatically during the thirty years of its existence. Some twenty-four participants from fifteen countries took part in the first meeting in Oxford. Today JAWS has almost 300 members from more than twenty different countries. Sub-groups of JAWS members meet frequently and the Workshop has proved fertile ground for setting up collaborative research projects between anthropologists of Japan in different countries and between anthropologists and non-anthropologists interested in similar aspects of Japanese society.

JAWS publications have also become widely recognized and, in order to take advantage of this, a JAWS Series was established in 2000 with RoutledgeCurzon (today Routledge) under the general editorship of first, Jan van Bremen, and now, Joy Hendry. To date, about 30 volumes on aspects of Japanese society have been published in this series, with two more almost ready to go to press, and another in the editing stage. These include monographs of excellent anthropological fieldwork as well as collections of conference papers, and a couple of translations. For more information, please see the JAWS Routledge pages.