EAJS/JAWS Conference Lisbon 2017 – Report Nanase SHIROTA

University of Cambridge

The 15thEAJS international conference took place at the Faculdade de Ciências Socialis e Humanas of the Universidade NOVA de Lisboa in Lisbon, Portugal from 30 August to 2 September with beautiful blue sky and a warm weather. Over 1200 academics and researchers working in the field of Japanese Studies were welcomed by the organisers and the young student volunteers. Throughout four days, participants could attend panels in more than ten different sections and subsections: environmental studies, linguistics, modern literature, pre-modern literature, visual arts, performing arts, anthropology and sociology, media studies, economics, history, religion, philosophy, politics and international relations and Japanese language education. Most were in parallel sessions, and there were also various social and networking events.

As a new member of both JAWS and the EAJS as well as new to conferences of such large scale, I was excited to choose interesting panels as if I was at a kind of festival, although I was very nervous about presenting my research on‘An Ethnography of Listening: Unspoken rules of Japanese listeners’ senses, behaviour and material aids. Basedon fieldwork in Tokyo and TV drama analysis, I discussed Japanese listeners’ behaviour, especially listeners at a cafe controlling their bodies with the help of materials such as smartphones or one’s own hair, introducing the ideas of nagaralistening (a kind of listening as multitasking) and use of auxiliary artefacts (material aids for listeners) to reveal some unspoken rules of listening.

I was inspired in many ways by the conference, not only by the critical but supportive comments on my paper but also by the presentations, panel discussions and talks about diverse themes. The thought-provoking keynote lecture by Prof Nakamura Momoko (Kanto Gakuin University) addressed three myths surrounding the Japanese language: i) that Japanese is constructed by the speech of the Japanese; ii) that Japanese women’s language is a tradition of the Japanese language; and iii) that young Japanese people do not use honorifics appropriately. She argued that the media, especially works containing translated speech of non-Japanese, construct a certain form of Japanese language. For example, Hermione Granger’s conversations in the Harry Potter books were translated into language that women in Japan do not use in reality, such as ‘ara…, mā…, …kashira, …da wa, …ne, or…yo’, consequently teachingpeople some rules and knowledge regarding Japanese women’s language.Relying on several examples, she concluded that the Japanese language is not naturally constructed by the speech of the Japanese and that women’s language is an ideological construction. She also explored the historical process by which Japanese women’s language became a tradition during WW II in order to oblige people in East Asia to acquire Japanese as a superior language.Moreover, she proposed an antithesis to the third myth related to young people and honorific usage, introducing her observations of conversations among both male and female students, concluding that Japanese young men are fully aware of the usage of honorifics and use a -su/ssuform invented by them instead of the -desuform.    

Her relaxed but stimulating talk and detailed examples from a drama, a film and a TV show resulted in many questions and comments from the audience. Through listening to her talk, I also wondered why Japanese translators still use women’s language although they realise that their ways of translation have been restricted and influenced by ideological thoughts and knowledge of women’s language? Why did the Japanese government create women’s language to legitimise the compulsory use of Japanese language in the colonies of East Asia? Why was using different languages in accordance with gender considered to be sophisticated or superior? Why do women not use the -su/ssu form? Who decides which form can be considered as honorific? Although there are still some questions remaining, her research definitely provided insightful perspectives and contributed to many research fields, including linguistics, gender studies and sociology.

A panel that particularly exemplifies the thoughtful discussions at the conference was the session organised under the title ‘The aftermaths of the Tohoku Disaster: From the Social Sphere to Individual Life Choices and Psychological Outcomes’, chaired by Brigitte Steger. All the presenters focused on the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku disaster, whereas they have been interacting with people in Tohoku from different perspectives. Julia Gerster (Freie Universität Berlin), based on her fieldwork in the Tohoku area, investigated kizunaand the dynamics of social ties in Fukushima and Miyagi prefecture by focusing on cultural aspects such as food. Marie Weishaupt (Freie Universität Berlin) tried to analyse how self-evacuated families from Fukushima perceive risk in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident and the meaning of social roles. Shira Taube Dayan (University of Haifa) shed light on the field of Tohoku children’s psycho-trauma and the need for methodological considerations. 

Since these papers were presented based on their ongoing projects and research, the results were not yet quite clear to summarise here. Nevertheless, a lot of common and provocative themes stemmed from their presentations: What is the role of community? How do/did people in Tohoku perceive and cope with risks resulting from the Tohoku disaster, at different levels such as individuals, families or communities? How do people understand and manage vulnerability in terms of the physical body, memory and society?

The discussion of the word ‘kizuna’ in the session is worth noting not only to understand the Tohoku area and the disaster’s aftermaths but also to shed light on the role of researchers. In posing the possibility that people in Tohoku acknowledge the word ‘kizuna’ as a negative word, one of the audience pointed out that ‘kizuna’ was used in the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake too and was constructed by people from outside the disaster area (e.g. the government) and thus the word could contain ideological meanings or aims and various explanations. As academic researchers, we need to be cognisant of the origin of these kinds of abstract, influential words in order not to reproduce the simplified image possessed by words like ‘kizuna’. In my understanding, the case of ‘fukkō’ (recovery) would also indicate a similar sensitivity.

Two more presentations close to my own research interest in communication and listening dealt with communication between actors and audiences. Sarah Stark (University of Ghent) well illustrated the actor–audience relationship in Yose stage by focusing on the process through which performers decide how to tell their story. In most of the cases, rakugo performances are improvised by acknowledging the types of audiences and reading their reactions. Alison Tokita (Kyoto City University of Arts) also scrutinised performer–audience interaction in naniwa-bushi, musical story-telling, explaining that audiences know the right place to applaud, call out one’s name or shout. There was even a performer who tried to train audiences. Although the two presentations were given in different panels, they provided clear examples of how performances/performers are influenced by and rely on audience.  

Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to JAWS for its financial support as well as for welcoming me warmly to the JAWS dinner, where I learnt several survival tips for a life in academia and started to build a new network with scholars from all over the world.