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Doing Fieldwork in Japan

Theodore Bestor, Patricia Steinhoff, & Victoria Lyon-Bestor

Publication Year: 2003

Doing Fieldwork in Japan taps the expertise of North American and European specialists on the practicalities of conducting long-term research in the social sciences and cultural studies. In lively first-person accounts, they discuss their successes and failures doing fieldwork across rural and urban Japan in a wide range of settings: among religious pilgrims and adolescent consumers; on factory assembly lines and in high schools and wholesale seafood markets; with bureaucrats in charge of defense, foreign aid, and social welfare policy; inside radical political movements; among adherents of "New Religions"; inside a prosecutor's office and the JET Program for foreign English teachers; with journalists in the NHK newsroom; while researching race, ethnicity, and migration; and amidst fans and consumers of contemporary popular culture.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii-ix

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Introduction: Doing Fieldwork in Japan

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pp. 1-17

This book brings together the experiences and reflections of twenty-one foreign scholars whose research in Japan has relied on talking to ordinary people (and extraordinary ones as well) about their lives and experiences; participating in everyday events; reading and listening to Japanese media...

Starting Out

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pp. 19-105

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Taking Note of Teen Culture in Japan: Dear Diary, Dear Fieldworker

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pp. 21-35

The fieldwork researcher expects to encounter both the predictable and the surprising, to confirm expectations and to confound them. In ticket lines for a pop music concert in Tokyo, on the subway going to a high school, sitting in a coffee shop with three middle-school girls with brown-striped hair...

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New Notes from the Underground: Doing Fieldwork without a Site

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pp. 36-54

I study radical social movements and their conflicts with the state. Although some of my work has been historical, I use participant observation and interviews to study the social movements that arose from the great protest wave of the late 1960s. A fieldworker normally begins by finding a site...

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From Scrambled Messages to an Impromptu Dip: Serendipity in Finding a Field Location

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pp. 55-70

When I was in Tokyo setting about finding a suitable location for my first fieldwork, an eminent American anthropologist, who for diplomatic reasons shall remain nameless, told me that British anthropologists are far more concerned with their own egos than with the study of science...

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Fieldwork with Japanese Religious Groups

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pp. 71-88

The opportunity of doing fieldwork with Japanese religious groups has provided, without a doubt, the most important experiences of my professional life. Fieldwork is essential to reaching an understanding of religion as a lived and living tradition, as opposed to a body of doctrine or an abstract statement of creed...

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Chance, Fate, and Undisciplined Meanderings: A Pilgrimage through the Fieldwork Maze

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pp. 89-105

Whether one believes in gods or goddesses is not the point for, after all, one does not have to believe in order to pray in Japan (Reader 1991; Tanabe 1998). The reason why this statement by a leading scientist about the importance of fortune appeals to me is because it emphasizes just how much...

Navigating Bureaucratic Mazes

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pp. 107-192

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Getting Cooperation in Policy-Oriented Research

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pp. 109-123

I have conducted two extensive fieldwork projects in Japan. The first, in the mid-1970s, was a twenty-eight-month doctoral dissertation research stint to study the birth control methods used by married couples (Coleman 1983 [1991]). The second, in the early 1990s, concerned the social organization of...

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JET Lag: Studying a Multilevel Program over Time

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pp. 124-138

Most anthropologists of Japan have committed numerous mistakes during the course of their fieldwork. In my own case, I inadvertently committed a serious error before I even set foot in Japan, simply by writing a letter to an acquaintance in the organization I was hoping to study...

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Getting in and Getting along in the Prosecutors Office

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pp. 139-155

From 1992 to 1995, I spent a thousand days in Japan doing research about the prosecution of crime. This chapter is organized around three challenges I faced while conducting that study: getting in to the research site, getting along with my research subjects, and getting close enough to prosecutors to...

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In Search of the Japanese State

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pp. 156-175

My first research trip to Japan was in 1989, when I set out to do my Ph.D. dissertation. Japan was not unfamiliar, but the task of doing research was. I had studied the Japanese language at Sophia University and had lived in Tokyo for more than a year as an undergraduate. I was excited to return...

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Doing Media Research in Japan

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pp. 176-192

The mass media are ubiquitous in Japan and are an important institution connecting state and society. In the Japan field there are arguably fewer studies of the mass media, however, than almost any other significant type of social actor. The mass media present the researcher with a bewildering and...

Asking: Surveys, Interviews, Access

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pp. 193-273

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Fact-Rich, Data-Poor: Japan as Sociologists’ Heaven and Hell

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pp. 195-213

Social scientists do not always make good predictions. The scholars who supervised my dissertation research later told me that they had been sure my research plan would fail. Fortunately, they were wrong. But unfortunately, their prediction was based on sound reasoning: they were cognizant...

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Beginning Trials and Tribulations: Rural Community Study and Tokyo City Survey

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pp. 214-228

I often wish I could say that I had an avid interest in Japan from the time I was a small child and that I eagerly rushed into the first Japanese-language class I could find in high school, but that isn’t the case. I did have two Japanese pen pals in grade school, but Japan was as far out of my reach as the...

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Research among the Bureaucrats: Substance and Process

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pp. 229-247

For some thirty years now I have been trying to study various issues of public policy in Japan. Although unfortunately policy studies are not very trendy in the general field of political science at the moment, they have been popular among Japan specialists for a long time and are still seen as mainstream...

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Dealing with the Unexpected: Field Research in Japanese Politics

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pp. 248-260

When I think back on my dissertation research experience three themes emerge: adjusting to unexpected problems; taking advantage of the lucky break; and confronting the limitations of interview-based research. After finishing my qualifying examinations in the mid-1980s I began to consider...

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Studying the Social History of Contemporary Japan

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pp. 261-273

In this chapter I seek to pass on some of the lessons I have learned by trial and frequent error in the course of roughly twenty years of research in modern Japanese social history. I have studied various aspects of the history of labormanagement relations and the politics of the labor movement in Japan over...

Outsiders in Insiders' Networks

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pp. 275-366

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Unraveling the Web of Song

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pp. 277-293

In June 1991 I prepared to conduct dissertation research in Tokyo to study enka, an old-fashioned popular-music genre whose reputation both as an expression of “the heart and soul of the Japanese...

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Bottom Up, Top Down, and Sideways: Studying Corporations, Government Programs, and NPOs

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pp. 294-314

I study working people’s lives and people’s working lives. This overarching theme has engrossed me ever since I began my first research in 1983. It consumes my curiosity and pushes me to ask new questions to this day. My main areas of interest are gender and labor in contemporary society...

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Inquisitive Observation: Following Networks in Urban Fieldwork

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pp. 315-334

Finding my first field site was a daunting task. The second time, my site eventually found me, but it took me quite a while to realize it. At the start of dissertation fieldwork in 1979, I spent several frustrating weeks searching for the perfect Tokyo neighborhood in which to study...

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Responsibility and the Limits of Identification: Fieldwork among Japanese and Japanese Brazilian Workers in Japan

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pp. 335-351

I went to Japan in 1994 to investigate interactions between Nikkeijin (overseas Japanese) migrants, most of whom were from Brazil, and the Japanese with whom they came into contact in workplaces and in neighborhoods (Roth 2002). I had made one preliminary trip to Japan in 1993 and selected...

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Time and Ethnology: Long-Term Field Research

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pp. 352-366

Discussions of field research ordinarily take a short-term view on how to effect entry, establish and maintain relationships, and exit gracefully. I have chosen instead to write about the experience of conducting research in a single community over more than a half century and some of its implications...

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Appendix: Digital Resources and Fieldwork

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pp. 367-373

The environment for research is constantly evolving, and the rapid expansion of electronic media is transforming both fieldwork and preparation for fieldwork before arriving in Japan. Although only a few of the chapters in this volume specifically mention digital resources, several of the authors...

Glossary of Japanese Terms and Abbreviations

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pp. 375-382


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pp. 383-395

About the Contributors

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pp. 397-400


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pp. 401-414

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862237
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824825256

Publication Year: 2003