Conference Ljubljana 2014 – Section 5a: Anthropology and Sociology – Report Aline HENNINGER

INALCO University

The EAJS anthropology section 2014 took place at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) from the 28thto 31stJuly, organized by Barbara Holthus and Wolfram Manzenreiter. Yukiko Uchida (University of Kyoto, Japan) joined the workshop as keynote speaker and significantly contributed to the event with her speech on the concept of the good life and happiness in Japan, where she also raised important methodological questions relating to the main theme of the workshop. Participants mostly gathered from European countries; however a multiplicity of nationalities made this a truly international academic event. 

In recent years a number of academics have begun working on happiness in Japan. 2014 saw two major events relating to this research theme. First, the University of Vienna and the German Institute of Japanese Studies (DIJ), held an international conference titled: “Deciphering the Social DNA of Happiness: Life Course Perspectives from Japan” from April 24thto 26th2014 at the University of Vienna. The themes were then broadened during this years EAJS meeting with participants exploring various aspects of happiness and the good life in Japan, taking into account a multiplicity of cultural aspects and mutual influences. The organizers were happy to see that the topic aroused a wide interest, since the call for papers was followed by many quality paper proposals specific to the theme. Due to the quality and high number of such proposals the organizers decided to organize this year’s session as parallel sections. The choice of parallel sessions, new for this time, allowed the organizers to negotiate more slots to accommodate at least part of the high number of applications. This indicates two positive points: happiness is currently a theme of considerable relevance in contemporary research on Japan, and the number of people working in anthropology and sociology of Japan are increasing. 

Each day was characterized by a number of different sessions consisting of three to four speakers. After the greetings of Barbara Holthus & Wolfram Manzenreiter,Yukiko Uchida’s keynote speech opened the first day of the 5a section by questioning the idea of happiness from a psychological and anthropological perspective, comparing data of both Japan and North America. She compared two series of questionnaires, asking, for example, American people and Japanese people to introduce themselves. The answers’ contents were different and shaped two approaches of qualifying self and self-esteem for the two countries. So Uchida pointed out that any research on happiness should first think of the emic definition of happiness. As anthropologists, we must not forget that happiness, as a psychological state with its subjective nature, is subject to a great range of criteria. The following sessions then took place: Civil Society and Communal Lifeand Happiness and the Family in Modern and Contemporary Japan. Some of the questions they addressed were: ‘how does political participation relate to happiness?’ and ‘Can family, social, and political institutions affect the happiness of people?’ These institutions appear to play a key role in feelings of happiness. For example, when interviewed about their choices, people involved in some community (sports groups, political activism, neighborhood activities etc.) answered that their activities give sense to their existence and tighten the bonds within the group so that they feel happier. However, the image and experience of family life also plays a key role for defining a happy life. The last session, Happiness and/in Education, illustrated that the Ministry of Education delivers and nurtures one specific discourse on children’s happiness, focusing on the ideal of a “good child” while emphasizing equality and uniformity among all children, especially for avoiding bullying. When experiencing discrimination (biases of gender, ethnicity, disabilities), however, children do not necessarily judge these ideas of equality and uniformity to be relevant, either during school time or after becoming an adult.

At the end of the first day, the JAWS members meeting and welcome event took place. Further discussion and networking continued during the night over dinner in a warm and casual Slovenian restaurant. PhD students got the chance to meet other students and senior researchers as well. Thiswas the perfect occasion to reconnect with colleagues, as well as to celebrate JAWS 30thbirthday with a gorgeous birthday cake with 30 candles. 

The second day saw the following sessions: Emotions and Happiness in Familial Relations; Gendered Views and Experiences of Well-being in Contemporary Japan; and Re-imagining Masculinities in Contemporary Japan: How Marginalized Men Seek Happiness and Well-being (2 sessions). Parallel sessions held in the next room were: Constructions of HappinessSurvey Data on Happiness; and Rubbish! The Underworlds of Everyday Life (2 sessions).The third day saw the following sessions: Happiness and Sexualities;Phenomenologies of Japanese Happiness (2 sessions); ‘Old Japan’and individual papers.

As it is not possible to sum up all the papers here in detail, I turn now to highlight some trends for the second and the third day’s sessions. The house (its space or its members) was at the core of much of the research presented. Most of the presenters explored family members’ status mainly from a gendered perspective. Various panels revolved around questions such as: ‘Is family and children the only way to define happiness?’ and ‘Are work or high revenue a recipe for increasing happiness?’ Research presented in Emotions and Happiness in Familial Relationsand in Gendered Views and Experiences of Well-Being in Contemporary Japansuggested that family and couplehood are strongly felt by Japanese people as the model of happiness. Still, Japanese can define themselves happy outside of this model: for instance many couples negotiate their intimacy and perform couplehood differently today – focusing more on companionship and communication, so they acknowledge various models for a happy couple/family. Another example would be the model of masculinity which is associated with having a high profile and an ability to provide a family living. In Re-imagining Masculinities in Contemporary Japanit was illustrated how many young males reject this model, by living and working abroad, with lower wages. Still, they assume that they do not represent the “ideal future husband”. Gay men’s stories and lives show that the idea of happiness cannot be generalized: gay men living in (or out of) the closet, single, or married to a woman would define themselves happy. They create their own path to happiness, for some referring to the ideal heterosexual family, for others seeking alternative paths outside of this institution. The panel Happiness and Sexualitiesdirectly echoed these previous panels. So the research presented showed that there is a clear gap between the normative idea of happiness (for example a wealthy family with the father as salary man and mother as housewife) and the reality, which is much more diverse. 

The other sessions shed light on the hidden everyday necessities of customs and routine. For example, in Constructions of Happiness; and Survey Data on Happinessand Rubbish! The Underworlds of Everyday Life, papers analyzed the privacy of Japanese homes and introduced reflections on everyday happiness and well-being considering the complex relationships between hygiene, convenience, socio-economic situations and environmental concerns. This anthropology of the routine also raised questions about the relationships between the socio-economic environment and happiness. 

During the third day on August 30th, in the two sessions called Phenomenologies of Japanese Happiness, the idea of happiness ran as an object of analysis from a qualitative perspective. By connecting theoretical work on the definition of happiness, and fieldwork consisting of participant-observation and interviews with Japanese people (housewives, Japanese living abroad, gay men), the great heterogeneity that shapes the interpretation of happiness became obvious, even in cases which can be clearly identified as fulfilling (in some way) the normative models of happiness (i.e. couplehood and family life, consumption etc.). These studies highlighted that research on happiness, especially when analyzing it across nations, encounters difficulty with regards to measuring it, or even translating it. Qualitative and quantitative reflections and research should therefore be taken into consideration in order to measure happiness as a highly variable concept and reality. 

Besides these sessions that specifically handled the definition of happiness, parallel sessions also ran on the topic of:  Old Japan, as well as a number ofindividual papers on various themes, such as religion, martial arts, Japanese values in Hong Kong, and assorted other papers. To conclude the third day and the workshop, Wolfram Manzenreiter and Barbara Holthus (Vienna University) offered their perspectives on the theme chosen for the EAJS anthropology workshop with their final discussion “What We Came to Know and Still Would Like to Know about Happiness in Japan”.

The anthropology section for EAJS 2014 was an important academic event that started a productive discussion on happiness in Japan. For the first time, the organization of the workshop in parallel sessions was a successful way to organize the multiplicity of themes and disciplinary approaches of the proposals, making the 5a section a successful and fruitful three days.