Jane Cobbi – Obituary

Jane Cobbi, a founding member of JAWS, passed away in Paris on August 6, 2020. An obituary was put in Le Monde on Tuesday, 15 September, as follows:

Hirochika Nakamaki and Jane Cobbi at “Maison de Kiso” , December 2007. (Maison de Kiso was temporarily displayed at the Musée de l’Homme, 2007- 2009)

Jane Cobbi, docteur etnologue, chargée de recherche émérite au CNRS, directrice du programme Japon á la FMSH, présidente de l’asssociation Maison de Kiso

She learned Japanese language, as well as Japanese literature and philosophy first, then turned her eyes to ethnology, ethnobotany and structural anthropology. In 1968 she was enrolled at Tokyo University, under the guidance of Prof. Tadashi Fukutake, sociologist of rural Japan, who introduced a folklorist, Mr. Masashige Mukaiyama. Mr. Mukaiyama recommended that she carry out fieldwork in Kiso, Nagano Prefecture, where she learned weaving of hemp cloth among other things. In 1981 she obtained her doctoral degree of ethnology at Paris University X (Nanterre). In the following year she became a researcher of CNRS. Meanwhile she served as visiting professor at various Japanese research institutes such as the Institute for Research in Humanities (Jinbun-ken), Kyoto University, the National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) and the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (Chikyu-ken).

She specialized in culinary culture and material culture of Japan. Her publications include

  • Le végétal dans la vie japonaise -L’utilisation alimentaire de plantes sauvages dans un village de montagne, Kaida-mura, Publications Orientalistes de France, Paris, 1978.
  • Forme et discours au Japon (avec J.L. Gault et al.), Groupe franco-japonais du Champ Freudien, Archives de Psychanalyse, Paris, Ed. Eolia, 1992, 70 p.
  • Pratiques et représentations sociales des Japonais, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1993, 224 p.
  • Tables d’hier, tables d’ailleurs -Histoire et ethnologie du repas (avec J-L. Flandrin), Paris, Odile Jacob, 1999, 496 p.
  • Sentir -Pour une anthropologie des odeurs (avec R. Dulau), Paris, L’Harmattan, Collection Eurasie, 2004, 283p.

She was awarded The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette in 2017. It was noted that she had contributed to disseminating Japanese culture and promoting understanding of Japan in France. Special reference was made to her roles as President of the Association of “Maison de Kiso” and former Director of the Japan programme at the Foundation House of Human Sciences (FMSH).

“Maison de Kiso” was a house where she learned hemp weaving. As it was donated to her to be displayed in France, a moving project from Kiso to Paris was taken with the support of many people including Dr. Tadao Umesao, Director-General of Minpaku and a SF novelist Mr. Sakyo Komatsu. “Maison de Kiso” was temporarily displayed at the Musée de l’Homme during 2007- 2009. Then it was moved to Jardin d’Acclimatation, Bois de Boulogne in 2010. When a disastrous earthquake hit eastern Japan on March 11, 2011, she organized a symposium in FMSH. Upon the request of invited panelists from Japan, she committed herself to a programme of bringing children of Fukushima to France in 2012 during vacances season.

Personally, I met her for the first time during the fieldwork of Prof. Keiichi Yanagawa, Tokyo University, in Hokkaido in 1974. Since then, when she came to Minpaku or at JAWS meetings, we met each other sporadically. When the first JAWS meeting was held in Japan in 1999, actually at Minpaku, she organized a panel entitled “Mono kara mita nihon bunka”.

On the other hand, I met her several times when I visited Paris. Once she took me to the National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions (ATP), then located in Bois de Boulogne. I am particularly indebted to her as an invited professor under the program of FMSH in 2008.

She had many friends and supporters everywhere in Japan. I used to receive her phone call as a surprise when she came to Japan. She was not a type of well-organized person of rigid schedule and punctuality, so I am still waiting for her unexpected phone call….

Hirochika Nakamaki

Professor Emeritus, Minpaku