Laura DALES interviews Joy HENDRY

Joy Hendry

Joy Hendry is Professor Emerita at Oxford Brookes University, a senior member of St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, and was one of the founders of the JAWS network. Her publications include Wrapping Culture: Politeness, Presentation and Power in Japan and Other Societies, Oxford University Press, 1993; The Orient Strikes Back: A Global View of Cultural Display. Oxford: Berg, 2000; Reclaiming Culture: Indigenous People and Self-Representation, New York: Palgrave, 2005; and Science and Sustainability: Learning from Indigenous Wisdom,New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Laura Dales

Laura Dales is Assistant Professor in Asian Studies at the University of Western Australia. She is the author of the monograph Feminist Movements in Contemporary Japan,London: Routledge, 2009; and co-editor of Configurations of Family in Contemporary Japan,London: Routledge, 2014. She is currently working on an Australia Research Council project examining intimacy beyond the family in contemporary Japan.

This is the first of a series of interviews we offer to JAWS members. The idea for this series originated at the JAWS dinner at the recent European Association of Japanese Studies in Ljubljana. We envisage this series as a dialogue between junior and senior scholars in the field, a way to address questions of generational difference and changes in the theories and practice of the anthropology of Japan. 

Joy and I communicated before and after our interview via email, and the discussion itself was conducted via Skype. This process offers some illustration of the ways that technology has introduced new elements, both enabling and challenging, to scholarship and academic enquiry.

LD: As one of the founders and drivers of JAWS, now 30yrs old, can you tell us about its birth: how did it happen, who was there? And what moved you to create the network?

It’s actually all written on the (JAWS) website, in the history, but I was sitting here in Oxford doing anthropology with nobody who worked on Japan, or anywhere nearby, though there was someone who worked on China. And I was also going to Japanese classes where no one knew what anthropology was about. So I thought it would be good to find some like-minded souls, and at a meeting of the European Association for Japanese Studies, in The Hague, while drinking Dutch gin with Brian Moeran and two anthropologists from Norway: Arne Kalland, who sadly died last year, and Arne Rokkum who later organized a conference in Oslo, we had the idea of holding a workshop to see who we could find. Arthur Stockwin, who had just come to Oxford as head of the Far East Centre, later to become the Nissan Institute, was also in The Hague, and he offered to host the workshop, and even to put some money in. So we then set about trying to find all the anthropologists who had worked on Japan in Europe, thinking there might be a dozen or so, and ended up with about 30 people keen to come. So we had a meeting in Oxford in 1984, and we all decided that it would be a great idea to set up an association, and that was the founding date that we’re celebrating.

The name JAWS by the way, well the idea of having a Japan Anthropology Workshop meant that there would be the acronym “JAWS”. And I had thought it was Brian Moeran’s idea, so I credited him for it, but Arthur said “Oh no, it was my idea, and Brian just said ‘Jōzu desu ne!’” 

LD: It sounds as if starting JAWS in the European context was a sense of isolation. Do you think that there is still this isolation among anthropologists of Japan?

No, and you were going to ask about change and one of the big changes is that when I went to do fieldwork there were only four outside anthropologists who had been there, all Americans: Robert Smith, John Cornell, George De Vos and Harumi Befu and I wrote to them all. Of course, there had also been John Embree, but he had died before that, and Ron Dore, a sociologist from Britain, but otherwise, there were literally four and I wrote to them all. 

They were the only outside anthropologists who’d gone to do fieldwork in Japan and I went through all their work before I went to do mine. And now, as you know, there are hundreds, possibly even more than a thousand people. So I don’t feel so isolated anymore!

LD: JAWS is quite a varied group, from the Conferences I’ve attended – the disciplinary background and also the interests, they’re quite diverse.

Yes well early on we used to discuss the possibility of having a publication, of a journal. And one of the reasons we didn’t was because of the diversity of interests, we tried to encourage people to go and present in other sessions and publish in other journals. So in all these (EAJS) Conferences you find JAWS members in all the different sessions. I was there at almost the beginning of EAJS and anthropology wasn’t there, we put it in after Paris, where they welcomed JAWS as an adjunct. 

LD: What are the major changes that you see beyond JAWS, in the general context of the anthropology of Japan?

Even to this day, and I don’t know about Australia, but in the UK, we are regarded as rather odd for working in Japan. And I got together the other day with a group of people, for a conference called “Out of Oxford”, and they’re all people who finished in the 1980s, who decided that that was a time when there was a sea-change in anthropology, so they got together and at the follow-up meeting they invited me along. I’d finished there in 1979 but I knew them all really well because we’d been together as students, and they were still regarding Japan as an odd place to work! In America, there are loads of them, but Takami Kuwayama complains that the Japanese get lumped together with Native Americans, so it is a weird situation. 

A major change in anthropology, for which I’ve used Japan as an example, is that people have had to take more account of the people they work with because they can all read anthropology and they have websites where they can put their own information up. So – you know – you can type in the name of any people and you can get stuff they’ve written about themselves, as well as the anthropology.

And that for me has been a very big change in anthropology, which I’ve been trying to cover in terms of going off and working with Indigenous people, and it is something which happened in Japan so long ago. In Makuhari (meeting of JAWS) I ran a session called Mutual Anthropology. The idea with Mutual Anthropology is that we get someone from Japan who has worked in the UK, and I’m doing it with Yuko Shioji, she works in the Cotswolds, near Oxford, and someone who’s from here who’s worked in Japan. You have an equality about your work which people don’t have if they go to study someone who’s never done anthropology at all, or worked anywhere in your own place, when it is hard to avoid that hierarchical difference. 

LD: Do you think that the anthropology of Japan is sufficiently outward-looking? Do you think we are perhaps a little inwardly-focused?

Yes I do, I do think we are. I’ve been working out of Japan for about fifteen years now. I started doing it when I was working on theme parks, going around the world and looking at other forms of what I called cultural display. Actually I started it with “Wrapping”. I started doing my wrapping work, which came out in 1993, putting Japan in the context of other societies. And now I think it’s another change, because it’s not just me doing it, now there is the EASIANTH list and there are loads of people, putting Japan as only one of the possible places to discuss in that list.

There’s also been quite a few people studying Japanese and Chinese, making comparisons. So I think that’s one big change actually. I think we used to be more focused on the study of Japan, forgetting that we should put it in a broader context.

In the beginning, in Oxford – and I don’t know if this was the same in other parts of the world, but when I was an anthropology student, you didn’t get much training in research – actually you got notraining – you just got told to go and do it. But one thing that was very important was that we had to learn the language. And we were also expected by our tutors to be able to read French, and to read anthropology in other languages. It was part of what you did as an anthropologist, to learn languages.

LD: With all the pressure placed on students doing their PhD, the capacity to cover everything – research methodology, as well as language – is limited. Do you think language skills have declined among anthropologists?

No if anything I think the opposite, I think they’ve improved. I think its partly because there are so many things they can study in Japan. I’ve met so many anthropologists whose language is really, really good. Don’t you think?

LD: Oh I agree. I think part of it is being exposed to Japanese at a young age. In Australia particularly, we have a lot of people studying at university who have already studied Japanese at high school. It doesn’t necessarily make for excellent skills, it just makes for familiarity and comfort I think. 

Well actually I should mention three people I met before I went to Japan, who were Aoki Tamotsu, who’s now quite famous, Nagashima Nobuhiro, who writes about horse racing and he’s in his 70s now, and the late Yamaguchi Masao, the semiotician. They were really amazing and I just happened to know them when they were studying in Oxford. They were the people I went to see when I arrived in Japan, so I immediately got thrown in at the deep end of a Japanese situation, in a Japanese university, and I’ve always said to all my students, you can’t go and work there without getting a Japanese supervisor while you’re there. 

LD: What have been your significant influences? Either the theoretical and academic ones or personal ones?

Well I’ve mentioned those three Japanese anthropologists, and they were quite influential. Aoki met me when I first went to do fieldwork and introduced me to my supervisor, who was Yoshida Teigo, and he’s been someone fantastic, who has stuck with me all the way through, and he’s now approaching 90. He couldn’t make it to Makuhari, but heused to come to all the meetings and was in fact the first honorary member of JAWS. He was my supervisor and my mentor. 

And what he said at the Jerusalem meeting I think was really important. He said: “The best anthropology is done when you have an outsider working with an insider together”, because they have a different perspective – if you’re just an outsider you might only see what’s different between you and other people, and if you’re an insider you might miss things that seem normal and that you therefore take for granted. I have tried to work with insiders, apart from him. He introduced me to an anthropologist who had worked in another village close to where I worked in Kyushu- a man called Matsunaga Kazuto. He was amazing, took me around and introduced me to all the people I’d need to know. It wasn’t his theoretical work that was influential so much as his practical help, which was absolutely invaluable. 

In my theoretical background there’s been Rodney Needham in Oxford, and there was my supervisor Peter Rivière; they were influential in their approach, and I’m still probably a structuralist at heart so of course there’s Levi-Strauss, who was the main structuralist behind what they were doing – but also Edmund Leach and Mary Douglas, Nakane Chie for Japan, and more recently Marshall Sahlins. 

LD: Has there been anything that has shifted your trajectory, taken you on a different research course?

Well mostly if you look back at my work you see it follows my life course. I looked at marriage and then I got married, child-rearing as I was rearing my own children. And then I got into education and housewives, because my children were at nursery and school there, so it made sense. But also, a very good friend when I first went to Japan, said that my language was not polite enough, so she was the influence for me in looking at politeness. Then, going into politeness and speech levels, one day I got this parcel that was wrapped seven times and each layer seemed to have a meaning, so I began to think about the concept of wrapping as way to describe language and many other things. That was one of those moments when I was doing one thing and I realized there was something bigger I could do.

And that to me was probably the most important one, because that wrapping book is still in print and people still use it!

LD: Another related question, have you felt any difference or changes as a female anthropologist, as a female academic?

I was in Oxford when they set up a women’s seminar group, which I called The Ovular, which later became the (well-known) International Centre for Cross-cultural Research on Gender. That was in the 80s, and I didn’t get that much involved in it because it seemed like a cop-out. There was kind of a bandwagon, a feminist bandwagon, which I purposely didn’t jump on because I thought I’d get siphoned off into the feminist place. But I do think there have been a lot of changes. 

In my lifetime, so much has changed. I couldn’t join the Air Squadron as a student because I was a woman, I couldn’t work for Reuters because I was a woman. And I’ve never actually made much of it, but my idea has always been “I’m jolly well going to show them I could do a job as well if not better than men can”. It probably came from being brought up with brothers! 

I haven’t made a big deal out of it but I have also tried to use the fact that I’m a woman to do research that men couldn’t do. There have always been women in anthropology from way, way back, and there are people who have written influential things like how they could get information men couldn’t get.

LD: What do you see as the most important topics in the field at present that should be addressed, or are being addressed in the anthropology of Japan?

Well in anthropology in general I think that because people are getting more worried about the importance of consultation with the people they’re working with, Japan actually has a lead on that, because we’ve been working with each other for a long time.

And putting Japan in a broader context: one of the things I’ve done in the last few years is some work in China and a little bit in India, and I’ve discovered loads of things that I thought were very Japanese actually came from China or India!

LD: Thinking about the institutions that we work in, what do you think are the greatest challenges?

It’s just got more and more difficult. When I was a young academic in the university, it didn’t particularly value research and we didn’t have sabbatical leave. There were six anthropologists in our department, and we had terms rather than semesters, so we took it in turns to have a term off so that we could all do fieldwork. And we played the system that way for a few years, and it worked. There has now been so much bureaucracy imposed on people trying to do research since then that informal arrangements like that probably wouldn’t succeed. I’m not sure that it helps.

LD: Are you optimistic about anthropology in academia broadly, and the anthropology of Japan? 

I’m positive about anthropology, but I’m not so positive about the way that some anthropologists are so theoretically involved that they’re only talking to each other. My view is that this is really a subject that ought to be shared with as many people as possible.

Yes, I am optimistic, but I’m more optimistic for people who study anthropology to use it to help people to understand each other. What I’ve been working on with passion recently is getting anthropology into the secondary school system. I think it will solve the problem of the perceived inequality, because kids in secondary schools often come from different backgrounds, and they are able to share knowledge about their own backgrounds with each other on an equal level, with neither being the superior person who came to study the other. A huge number of our colleagues are now working in other areas – for example, the editor of The Financial Times is a trained anthropologist and she’s been doing great work in pointing out the importance of anthropology to understanding financial systems. Roll on more like her!