Published: Jan. 30, 2024

Welcome to the Anthropology of Japan public lecture series, hosted by Dr. Kathryn Goldfarb (University of Colorado Boulder Department of Anthropology) and sponsored by the University of Colorado Boulder Center for Asian Studies! This lecture series runs parallel to the undergraduate course, “Introduction to the Anthropology of Japan.” Please join us!

Crazy About Kofun: Ancient Tomb Fandom, Promotion, and Commodification

Public lecture: Wed, Jan 31, 2024, 12:20-1:10pm MT, on Zoom

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Dr. Laura Miller, Ei’ichi Shibusawa-Seigo Arai Endowed Professor of Japanese Studies and Professor of History, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Kofun are ancient tombs found throughout Japan, but the earliest (3rd century~5th century) are tumuli located in the Kansai region. In recent years history buffs and civic organizations have displayed great interest in these tombs, which are often used to promote Individual, local, and national identities. In this talk I will provide a little history about kofun before turning to in-progress research on “kofun mania.” 

The “History Wars” and the “Comfort Woman” Issue: Revisionism and the Right-wing in Japan and the U.S.

Public lecture: Wed, Feb 7, 2024, 12:20-1:10pm MT, on Zoom

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Dr. Tomomi Yamaguchi, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology, Montana State University

An issue of intense controversy currently in Japan is “comfort women”, with many in the right wing relentlessly attacking the accepted historical narrative and denying that there was any Japanese government involvement in, or corresponding responsibility for, a system of sexual slavery of women and girls in countries occupied by Japan during World War II. Right-wing media and intellectuals have begun to use the term “history wars” to refer to this development. In particular, as “comfort woman” monuments and statues have been built in various locations in the world, including the U.S., during the last decade, they have become the target of attacks from the Japanese government and Japanese right-wingers. Based on my fieldwork on the Japanese right-wing movement, I will highlight how the acts of remembering and commemorating the survivors’ experiences of wartime violence against women became such a contentious political issue that mobilized the Japanese right-wing so intensively and emotionally both in and outside of Japan.

The Bust of Harry S. Truman

Public lecture: Wed, Feb 14, 2024, 12:20-1:10pm MT, on Zoom

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Ms. Momoko Usami, Ceramicist

In 2020, the 75th year anniversary of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese ceramic artist Momoko Usami was given a public commission to create a bust of Harry S. Truman for Hotel Kansas City. Truman may have advocated for civil rights domestically, but he also authorized the dropping of atomic bombs on Usami’s native country. For Usami, who now lives in the American Midwest with her family, having mixed-race children in a period of civil unrest helped shape the complexity of her depiction of Truman. Her key motivation in her depiction was a fear of repeating the worst of history. Usami hopes that her art increases public awareness so we will not make the same mistakes again, and that we will find better paths for the future.

As Intelligent as its Authors: Writing Conversational Artificial Intelligence in Japan

Public lecture: Wed, Feb 28, 2024, 12:20-1:10pm MT, on Zoom

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Dr. Elizabeth Rodwell, Assistant Professor, Department of Information & Logistics Technology University of Houston

Behind the scenes of every chatbot and conversational artificial intelligence (AI) system is the labor of conversation designers, whose work lies somewhere between the application of user experience principles and the art of script writing. Conversation designers construct the voices and polish the tone that gives these tools a personality (or tries to avoid one). Based on ongoing fieldwork at a Japanese Conversational AI startup, I discuss how one team of conversation designers is shaping a GPT-based tool to help measure students’ English language competency and help them practice without self-consciousness. This project has recently gotten a lot of attention in the Japanese press, but those who tell its story frequently forget about the contribution of anyone except the engineers- especially the linguists, psychologists, and teachers who are this tool’s voice. 

Affect and the Diversity of Feeling Bodies

Public lecture: Wed, Mar 6, 2024. 12:20-1:10pm MT, on Zoom

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Daniel White, Associate Fellow, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, University of Cambridge; Grant Writer, Kōkua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services, Kalihi, HI

The global growth of interest in building machines with artificial emotional intelligence begs questions of who, what, and how things feel in our increasingly multispecies society. In Japan today, these questions are surprisingly entangled with how technologists interested in futures of human-machine coexistence are envisioning the concept of diversity. Familiar with critiques of the lack of diversity in AI, some companion robot producers have proposed that although the word “diversity” today refers to skin color, gender, and ethnicity, in the future it might equally refer to robots. Such propositions treat robots as agents deserving recognition in a diverse society—as kinds of persons that on account of their ability to offer total acceptance to others might earn social acceptance in return. While such propositions have stimulated new ideas about how diversity in a future society might be extended beyond human members, they have also raised concerns that a robot-inclusive diversity might come at the expense of other humans. This lecture considers the changing notions of diversity in Japan through an exploration of how engineers are translating human affect into machine-readable emotion.

Religion, Politics, Law, and Media: The Case of the Unification Church in Japan

Public lecture: Wed, Mar 20, 2024, 12:20-1:10pm MT, on Zoom

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Dr. Levi McLaughlin, Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, North Carolina State University

McLaughlin will introduce Japan’s diverse religious landscape by showing how people’s everyday interactions with Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, and other religious sites, as well as within politics and other spheres, instantiate religion in Japanese contexts. He will discuss historical processes that inform dispositions that guide Japanese people’s religious interactions, examine distinctive ambiguities that surround “religion” as a Japanese category, and highlight new challenges that have emerged in the wake of the July 2022 murder of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, in connection to controversies surrounding the Unification Church in Japan. Finally, he will introduce more recent developments in the ways religion and politics are changing as efforts to dissolve the Unification Church proceed through the courts, taking into account perspectives from church adherents and their various opponents.

Yusuke’s Story: Coming of Age in Care and the Precarity of Social Welfare in Japan

Public lecture: Wed, Apr 10, 2024, 12:20-1:10pm MT, on Zoom

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Dr. Christopher Chapman, PhD recipient in Anthropology, Oxford University

Children’s voices are often marginalized in child welfare, yet they offer important insight into the design and delivery of social care. Drawing on yearlong fieldwork in a residential care institution, I explore how one young person, Yusuke, sees himself and his society. I consider how his daily movements in and out of the institution form a wide itinerary of social and affective encounters. I analyze how the journeys of being-in-care index both a lived present and embodied past, sometimes invoking both at once in ambiguous, unplanned ways. Relating this to the broader trajectory of care outcomes, I suggest how the welfare system injects new forms of social precarity into children's lives by way of these forced journeys into care—how children are remade into children of the state. I find overall that the quest of seeking, listening to, and retelling marginalized stories contextualizes new possibilities for understanding the relationship between politics, space, and memory.

Stoking Academic Colonialism or Nurturing Indigenous Futures? Japan’s Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Polarizing Conversations

Public lecture: Wed, Apr 17, 2024, 12:20-1:10pm MT, on Zoom

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Dr. ann-elise lewallen, Associate Professor of Pacific and Asian Studies, University of Victoria

In 2020, amidst the global pandemic, Japan inaugurated its first national museum dedicated to the Ainu community—the Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park. This groundbreaking institution, while welcomed by many Ainu, has concurrently sparked divisive discussions regarding the representation of Ainu knowledge and expertise. Situated in Shiraoi, a historic "tourist town" rooted in Imperial visits during the early 20th century, the museum prompts critical reflections on its potential role as a new form of settler and intellectual colonialism. This presentation delves into the multifaceted implications of the museum's establishment, addressing issues such as the polarization among local Ainu stakeholders, the ecological impacts of settler presence, and the museum's connections to imperial histories. Additionally, it explores whether the museum serves as a platform for Indigenous Ainu curators to actively shape discussions around Ainu futurity. Thus, the Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park emerges not only as a cultural institution but also as a focal point for complex dialogues surrounding representation, Indigenous agency, and the enduring legacies of settler colonialism.

Recovery in Post-3.11 Japan

Public lecture: Mon, Apr 29, 2024, 12:20-1:10pm MT, on Zoom

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Dr. Hiroko Kumaki, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Oberlin College
Dr. Jun Mizukawa, Lecturer, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Lake Forest College