Conference Istanbul 2015 – Report Kristýna VOJTÍŠKOVÁ

Charles University in Prague

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences where the Conference was Held

First of all, I wish to acknowledge the fund from the Toshiba Foundation for providing the great opportunity that allowed me to attend the 26th conference of JAWS, which was held at Boğaziçi Üniversitesi in Istanbul 1st – 4th of September 2015. I joined JAWS a few months before and the 26th conference was the first JAWS event that I have attended. More than ninety researchers from all over the world were involved in this meeting and presented topics that were mostly based on extensive research conducted in Japan. The presented papers covered research topics from anthropological approaches to various aspects of life and contemporary issues in Japan to paradigm changes in Japanese anthropology. Some of them inspired me to reconsider my research from different angles as well as opened new possibilities for my future research interests. On the first day, tutoring sessions for graduate students were organized and the welcoming reception for all participants was held. I did not have a tutoring session because I am an intellectual historian rather than anthropologist and therefore my research did not match the tutor´s. Nevertheless I had many chances to discuss my academic interests with other research fellows during the conference. I also appreciated the very congenial atmosphere of the pre-conference reception for all participants and conveners held at nightfall next to the Bosphorus. Social networking with others encouraged me to share my ideas on research topics and exchange information with more experienced colleagues who are based in Japan.

Day 1: Reception for the conference participants: Networking in progress
In the following lines, I would like to go through the sessions and panels that I found the most intriguing and share my impressions. On the third conference day, sessions comparing social issues in Turkey and Japan focused on women and rural communities. Among two parallel panels, I personally found one of the most intriguing and compelling to be Paul Hansen´s presentation titled: “Land of Milk and Honey: Hokkaido Dairy Farm Industrialization, Japan´s Other ‘Natural’ Disaster”. Paul Hansen from Hokkaido University presented long-term field research on dairy farming as a core agricultural industry in Hokkaido, which unfavorably impacts the natural environment in respective areas. The speech was accompanied with visuals of promotion pamphlets depicting Hokkaido as a land of natural bounty which symbolized a hopeful utopia that was in stark contrast to the reality of regions such as the national park in Tokachi. Attending this speech I realized that in the Czech Republic, my homeland, there are also landscape parks with similarly utopian media images that are in fact severely exploited under the guise of “organic agriculture” driven by a powerful “bio” lobby.
Day 2: Cats literally occupied room TB310
Day 4: Prof. Joseph Kreiner´s presentation

On the last day of the conference, the panels “Sports, Music and Games” and “‘Facing Crisis and Rapid Social Change in Turkey and Japan V” were joined together. Among the presented papers, I would like to take a closer look at two of them in particular. The first one is Michael Facius´s paper entitled “Discovering Nature in Smartphones – A Stroll Around Japanese Nature-Themed Augmented Reality Apps”. Michael put a very good effort into introducing and examining applications that play with the non-human and transform the environment on the screen. After an overview of selected AR apps, Michael introduced the app Mushishi kamera as tapping into various ideas and tropes about nature in Japan, its relation to yōkai. He analysed mushi as pre-modern entities located in modern times, that are rooted in Japanese perceptions of nature as a milieu where humanity and non-human creatures coexist. Michael pointed out that the app creatures, such as mushi, created by means of the AR apps, actually gain a certain “ontological status”. I think that this notion would serve as a starting point for examining the AR apps in terms of epistemological issues. After Michael´s presentation, Laura Dales continued with her presentation “A Place for Friends:  Ba and Friendship Practice in Contemporary Japan” which was particularly intriguing because she defined the concept of basho as not merely a shared space, but also as a basis for intimate relationships that help to determine the “self” of persons involved. Illustrated by the example of a café that served as a meeting place for local lesbians, Laura’s arguments about the significant role that basho plays as a physical space in terms of social inter-connection made me re-consider the manner I perceived the concept of basho in Japanese culture and human beings contextualized by subjective spatiality in general. Introducing basho as representing a certain framework for the expression of subjective spatiality (e.g. interpersonal relationships and relationships to the supernatural in everyday living) provides us with considerable knowledge about selfhood as well as the relationship to technical amenities that facilitate people´s lives. Recently, technology tends to be perceived as influencing people´s lives and interaction with others in various rather undesirable ways. I assume that, in the spirit of Michael´s paper, it could also be considered as a means of transforming physical basho, which is inevitably rooted in social and cultural background, into an open world-like virtual setting with a myriad of options that provides our perception of space with an entirely new dimension. It in fact “augments” our perception so that we can relate to the aspects of natural environment normally hidden to our senses which is symbolized by the supernatural in the apps.  Moreover, in the spirit of Laura´s paper, despite the demonizing
tendencies of some groups of people, technology does not appear to gain more importance than that of physical space when it comes to creating intimate interpersonal structures such as friendships. 

Day 4: Dinner cruise on the Bosphorus was an exquisite social event

Another presentation from the last conference day I would like to give particular attention to in this report is Émilie Letouzey´s. To review her exceptional paper briefly, Émilie brought an anthropological perspective to the re-cultivation of Wisterias in an Osaka ward called Fukushima. The Wisterias became extinct in the area during WWII and a local organization Noda Fujikai (野田藤会) whose purpose is to keep the Wisterias blooming regularly, developed various methods to bring the flowers to bloom. Émilie focused mainly on the aspect of “programming plants to bloom” by means of horticultural strategies created by social networks operating in Fukushima ward. This multi-faceted research based on extensive fieldwork, which also problematized human attempts to control the vital processes of plants as living things, inspired me to consider directions where the future study of related topics could be oriented. In my point of view, to a certain extent, Émilie´s paper contributes to the above mentioned concept of basho, which is represented by the Fukushima ward in Osaka where the social networks cooperate in order to make the Wisterias bloom and enhance the ward´s prestige. Here, basho is a place where people strategize their collaboration to contribute to common welfare symbolized by blooming flowers. I assume that in the sense of an approach to ethics as principles of nakama (rinri 倫理) extended to the relationship between human beings and nature, this concrete representation of basho brings the ethical implications to the forefront of discussion.

Overall, although I specialize in the intellectual history of Japan and my current research focuses on interwar Japanese thought, the sessions that I have attended had a beneficial influence on my academic pursuit. Not only was I able to interact with many great researchers, I also found new inspiration for my future research in Japan. The anthropological research findings of my colleagues cast new light on the conceptual frame of human interaction that I am interested in and serves as a solid basis for the examination of its philosophical background. Once again, I would like to thank the convenors very much for inviting me to present my research in Istanbul. I appreciate what I learned from this memorable academic event and I hope that I will be able to participate in JAWS conferences to come.