EAJS/JAWS Conference Lisbon 2017 – Report Christopher Tso

Christopher Tso
University of Cambridge

The 15thInternational JAWS/EAJS 2017 Conference took place from 30 August to 2 September at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal. In the Anthropology and Sociology section, colleagues from Europe and further afield gathered to discuss themes of affect and sense as well as a range of other topics. I would like to thank JAWS for their generous financial contribution which enabled me to attend this conference, it being the first major conference and the first JAWS event at which I could participate. My thanks also to the conveners, Emma Cook and Andrea de Antoni, for composing a well-balanced and stimulating collection of papers and panels. As a PhD student in the early stages of my research and having only joined JAWS this year, I appreciated the critical but supportive atmosphere and the opportunity to listen to diverse and fascinating research. The conference provided many opportunities for reflection and much encouragement as I move ahead to the next stages of my project.

Although I obtained many insights from many sessions, in this report I will focus on those that left a particularly lasting impression on me. The conference was opened at the Cinema São Jorge and followed by Nakamura Momoko’s keynote lecture, a sociolinguistic account of the gendering of the Japanese language. In a lively and entertaining fashion, several myths of the Japanese language were considered in relation to the role of gender. Dialogue in foreign films or television dramas, for instance, is translated to emphasise gendered differences in spoken language. The speech of female characters such as Hermione in the Harry Potter series is translated with many gendered sentence-ending particles such as no yoand wa. Men’s language has similarly seen gendered differences being emphasised when a non-Japanese text is incorporated into the Japanese context. Although these speech forms may not be used proportionately in individuals’ everyday spoken language, they nonetheless reproduce notions of gendered difference. By analysing television commercials and a recording of a conversation of three male university students, the emerging use of the sentence-ending form –su, used in the place of the polite desuwas also discussed. This form is employed especially by young men in order to show deference to people in higher hierarchical positions and in more limited instances also by women. All in all, the lecture gave a fascinating account of how gender may be linguistically reproduced in a variety of different contexts and ways, and served as an excellent way to kick off the conference.

In the session on transnationality which convened in the morning of the second day a common theme was meaning-making and how national identity is drawn on in transnational interactions. The first paper by Jackie Kim-Wachutka brought into focus the presence of migrants in the Japanese elderly people’s care system, exploring the multi-ethnic make-up of some of these institutions. The presence of food, language and other cultural practices from the first-generation migrants’ homelands was shown to create comforting, nostalgic settings for them. Emphasising ideas of Japaneseness and Turkishness was highlighted by Romit Dasgupta in his paper on Japan-Turkey interactions where he discussed a number of instances where national identity is played on in often exaggerated ways, for instance in the selling of Japanese cuisine and etiquette in a new cookbook. In the final paper, Aoyama Reijiro explored the experiences of Japanese sushi chefs in Guangzhou who are often motivated to emigrate by greater opportunity and freedom to run their own restaurants, away from the strict, hierarchical work structures in Japan. These chefs draw on the supposed authenticity of their skill-sets in a market where this is highly valued while, when returning to Japan, draw on their foreign experience to appeal to notions of cosmopolitanism.

The papers in the masculinities session dealt with emerging forms of men’s behaviour and shifts in understandings of masculinity in Japan, particularly in light of an ageing population. I was given the opportunity to present findings of preliminary fieldwork I conducted earlier in the year and discussed how salaryman participants understand ideal appearance in terms of strength and youthfulness, a rejection of the failed (old man) oyajifigure who is particularly prominent in a rapidly ageing workforce. I also examined how the feeling of being watched and watching others (often very critically) compels participants to reproduce ideal appearance. I received a number of insightful questions and comments for which I am very grateful as they will undoubtedly serve me well moving ahead into primary fieldwork. Ofra Goldstein-Gidoni dealt with fathering in Japan and the new buzzword ikubosswhich should be understood in contrast to ikumen. The former term has emerged in light of companies taking increasing initiatives in providing their male employees with opportunities to care for their young children. This is in contrast to ikumenwhere the onus is placed on individuals who must often act against employers’ wishes and expectations. Moving from childcare to care for elderly parents, Hiroko Umegaki explored the experiences of men who must care for parents as sons and, increasingly, sons in law. The rise of this phenomenon was discussed in the context of an ageing population and a lack of relevant services which have resulted in a breakdown of more orthodox family structures. This care often came in the form of (harder) physical labour such as fixing broken household items, doing the gardening or driving, thus drawing on these men’s senses of masculinity. These diverse papers provided timely insights into changing demographic structures and how these must be negotiated with identities of masculinity.

In the morning of the final day, the session on storytelling convened. Although the individual papers seemed to lack a clear common thread, several important insights were able to be gleaned. Deborah Giustini highlighted the relative taken-for-grantedness and instability of female interpreters’ positions in addition to the gendered roles they assume during their jobs such as ‘easing the atmosphere’ during tense exchanges between the two parties. An ethnographic study on ‘Japanese’ listening behaviour by Shirota Nanase revealed a number of unwritten rules that listeners perform when in conversation. Although the paper only offered a framework of behaviours available to listeners without considering the social component – namely, when, how and by whom they may be employed – it provided timely insights into a mostly overlooked aspect of everyday interaction. Meanwhile, Alina Rădulescu explored storytelling in a small island off Okinawan with particular focus on Akahachi, a Ryūkyūan lord, and how the telling and retelling of his story has become an important part of the community’s culture and politics. The first two papers in particular provided interesting insights into notions of sense and affect, for instance how these experiences should be understood with regards to gender in the interpreting industry and how conscious and unconscious behaviours in listening play equally important roles when negotiating social interactions.

A number of social events at impressive venues including the welcome reception at the Museu Nacional de Historia Natural e Ciência, the gala dinner at the Pátio da Galé, not to mention the JAWS dinner located right beside the historic bullfighting arena all offered excellent complements to the papers and panels. As a first-time participant at a JAWS event I was very much impressed by the wealth of papers, discussions and supportive atmosphere all of which provide much impetus for the continuation of my research. Once more, I would like to thank the JAWS committee for their support in enabling me to attend this conference and I look forward to attending JAWS conferences in the future.