Society for the Study of Japanese Religions
The Society for the Study of Japanese Religions (SSJR) is an international association of approximately 200 scholars and graduate students committed to the academic study of the religions of Japan and is affiliated with the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Association of Asian Studies (AAS). The Society sponsors forums at the annual meetings of the AAR (November) and AAS (March) and publishes supplements based on presentations at these meetings and at other venues. This is a new website (launched November 2021), and we are currently in the process of adding content and organizational history from our old site.
Membership is open to advanced students and scholars of Japanese religions or related fields. We welcome and rely on our members' ideas and engagement, including collaboration at annual events, contributions to our website, and conceiving new functions for the SSJR. Consider reaching out!
Annual membership to the SSJR is a suggested $25 for tenured and tenure-track faculty and $15 for all others. Membership dues cover our event expenses at the AAR and AAS conferences, drinks/meals for invited panelists, and website maintenance (graduate-student supported).
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For new members, please additionally complete the form on our Membership page.
SSJR at AAS 2022!
“Foul-ups, Faux pas, and Mishaps: A Roundtable on Ethnography in Japanese Religions”
Organizer & Chair: Caleb Carter (Kyushu University)
Discussants: Barbara Ambros (UNC Chapel Hill), Erica Baffelli (University of Manchester), Michael Dylan Foster (UC Davis), Shuji Iijima (Kyushu University), Jessica Starling (Lewis & Clark College)
The session was recorded and can be viewed for registered AAS attendees until May 31, 2022: https://www.eventscribe.net/2022/AAS/agenda.asp?pfp=VirtualProgram
In a lively discussion that stretched across global times zones (4am in Japan to 8pm in the UK), panelists of our SSJR roundtable shared stories—with plenty of flair, drama, and humor—that do not typically appear in the pages of final publications: fieldwork plans gone awry, disruptive personal circumstances, social faux pas, awkward moments, and all-out communication breakdowns. An underlying point highlighting these episodes was how on the one hand, fieldwork is often coupled with unpredictability, setbacks, and missteps, and on the other, how these things can enrich one’s research when approached creatively.
Given added frictions and postponements resulting from the global pandemic, the panel also discussed strategies for this new era: how to reenter the field after prolonged delays, engage with interlocutors through virtual mediums, and navigate uncertainties as Covid remains with us.
Thoughtful questions came in from the audience. Bryan Lowe asked if panelists could speak to an actual failure that didn’t turn into an opportunity. He also asked about issues of privilege and positionality to work in the field. Dale Andrews turned discussion to the pedagogy of fieldwork and mishaps: how does one instruct their students on overcoming difficulties; at what point should instructors intervene on behalf of their students; and how do we address these topics in formalized classroom instruction? Finally, David Quinter raised the challenge of image permissions and gaining required signatures in the field, to which panelists responded with a number of ideas.
Following the session, Shuji Iijima shared with the group this illuminating line of reflections on missteps and failures in the field of Japanese ethnography:
The early twentieth-century banker and folklorist Shibusawa Keizō (1896–1963) reflected on his fieldwork as a History of Failings (祭魚洞襍考, 1954). One of his pupils, Miyamoto Tsuneichi (1907–1981) later offered his own account in Damages in the Field (調査地被害, 1972). Ankei Yūji has discussed these works (1998, 2008), including a revisit of Miyamoto’s book in the edited volume, The Annoyance of Being Surveyed: A Book to Read Before Going Out into the Field (調査されるという迷惑―フィールドに出る前に読んでおく本, Miyamoto and Ankei 2008). In it he recalls an incident in which the famous novelist Tatematsu Wahei (1947–2010) once ignored a resident’s insistence that sacred stories she shared remain confidential, ultimately including them in his book. After that, the village set up their own local ethical review board for future visiting researchers. As a final point, Miyamoto realized in his later years that his institution held many scrolls and historical documents that he had been entrusted with from his field sites. Regretting this action, he asked the historian Amino Yoshihiko (1928–2004) to return them to the families to which they belonged (Amino 1999).
Finally, to support scholars and instructors, the group came up with the following list of sources that fruitfully engage the theme of the session as well as some essential readings in fieldwork methods.
Approaches, Methods, and Challenges in the Field: Selected References
Ambros, Barbara. 2009. “Researching Place, Emplacing the Researcher: Reflections on the Making of a Documentary on a Pilgrimage Confraternity.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 36, no. 1: 167–197.
Foster, Michael Dylan. 2017. “The Intangible Lightness of Heritage.” Fabula: Journal of Folktale Studies 58, issues 1–2: 105–121.
Gökçe Günel, Saiba Varma, and Chika Watanabe. 2020. “A Manifesto for Patchwork Ethnography.” Member Voices, Fieldsights, June 9. https://culanth.org/fieldsights/a-manifesto-for-patchwork-ethnography
Harvey, Graham. “Field Research: Participant Observation.” in The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion, ed. Michael Strausberg and Steven Engler, pp. 217–244. London, New York: Routledge, 2011.
Kottmann, Nora and Cornelia Reiher, eds. 2020. Studying Japan: Handbook of Research Designs, Fieldwork and Methods. Baden-Baden: Nomos.
McLaughlin, Levi. 2010. “All Research is Fieldwork: A Practical Introduction to Studying in Japan as a Foreign Researcher.” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 8, no. 30. https://apjjf.org/-Levi-McLaughlin/3388/article.html
Pollard, Amy. 2009. “Field of Screams: Difficulty and Ethnographic Fieldwork.” Anthropology Matters, October 10. DOI: https://doi.org/10.22582/am.v11i2.10
Robertson, Jennifer. 002. “Reflexivity Redux: A Pithy Polemic on 'Positionality'.” Anthropological Quarterly 75, no. 4: 785–92.
Weiss, Margot. 2021. “The Interlocutor Slot: Citing, Crediting, Cotheorizing, and the Problem of Ethnographic Expertise.” American Anthropologist 123: 948–953. https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13639
Yamaguchi, Tomomi. 2007. “Impartial Observation and Partial Participation: Feminist Ethnography in Politically Charged Japan” Critical Asian Studies 34, no. 4: 583–608.
Schell, Scott. “Conducting Fieldwork in Japanese Religions.” In Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions, eds. Paul L. Swanson and Clark Chilson, pp. 381–391. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i, 2006.
A new approach and methodology that accommodates changing living and working conditions:
Trauma and Resilience in Ethnographic fieldwork:
When Fieldwork Breaks your Heart:
Writing/Power/Story: Why and How to Do Ethnography of Nonhuman Beings and Things
Collection of essays essay collection edited by Carole McGranahan and Erica Weiss on “Rethinking Pseudonyms in Ethnography”: https://americanethnologist.org/features/collections/rethinking-pseudonyms-in-ethnography
 Further reading in the same volume: Bird and Scholes, “Research Ethics,” pp. 81–105; Bremborg, “Interviewing,” pp. 310–322.