Self published articles and musings about Anthropology, Pop Culture, and Japan

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Welcome!

Thank you for visiting my wordpress account! I hope you enjoy my work and I welcome your feedback, questions, suggestions, and criticism.

With Regards to Plagarism: Professors and Educators – please email if you discover your students have unethically used portions of the texts posted here and I will be happy to share dates and references of their original submission during my undergraduate career. Also, you may find many of these works on my Academia.edu account.

Content of Note

Blade Runner and Urban Studies

Japan, Agriculture, Archaeology, and Identity

Winter Break 2016-2017

So I am still not dead!

The University of San Francisco was selected to participate in the Kakehashi program sponsored by the Japanese government to tour the country for approximately one week and meet with political and business leaders to discuss Japanese issues.

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For USF, we visited the Kansai region, or South-Central Japan. We spent a great deal of our time in Hyogo Prefecture, particularly in and around the city of Kobe. Kobe is a significant maritime port and blends both the countryside and urban city together – most people usually think of rice fields or downtown Tokyo when they think of Japan, but we got a little of both.

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We also spent time in Tokyo and Osaka, of course, riding the shinkansen (bullet train) and visiting Daikin Global in Osaka. Many of the businesses we visited were finding new ways to grow and expand by connecting their products and policies with people.

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One company, Kanetetsu, has shrank from being one of the top 3 to the seventh largest company in its industry (they sell seafood-related snacks) . They have begun reinventing their business by expanding into Southeast Asia and reaching out to schools and offering tours for students to come and see how they make their delicious offerings.

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Overall, it seemed the secret to Japan’s success – and success for the Pacific Rim and the United States – is to remember that despite all the policies and products involved in our modern world, we succeed when we remember the people. By humanizing one another, we create stronger ties and act in ways that go beyond self interest, but instead aim for the greatest good. More soon, there’s a lot more I’d like to share with you! In the meantime, here’s one last picture of my “fieldwork” after hours:

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(macadamia nut ice cream from the lawson’s family mart across from the Tokyo Grand Palace Hotel and Carranger on the iPad)

-john

I’m Alive! I survived my first year of Grad School

So my first year of grad school is done, and I’m super grateful that I had such a great bunch of mentors as an undergraduate. The materials we covered in seminars weren’t nearly as hard for me as they were some of the other students given my background in Anthropology. It seemed to give me a leg up on many of the requirements and expectations of the instructors/program. Many students were intimidated or mystified by the ‘theoretical’ (some might say… dense… to put it kindly…). I also feel old. But what else can you expect being a 30 something jumping into a grad program when most of the students are in their early twenties?

Right now I’m working on a presentation for the ASPAC Conference at CSU Northridge next week. I present on Saturday, June 11th! Excited about that one. Plus I’m pleased that some great revisions are in the works for some potential future publications.

In the meantime, please enjoy this interesting article I found!

Boy abandoned in mountains of Hokkaido is found alive and safe by Japan Self-Defense Forces

By: 

Actually, he sort of found them.

On the morning of June 2, Yamato Tanooka, the seven-year-old Japanese boy who had been missing since May 28, was found, bringing to an end nearly a week of tense search efforts that had many fearing the worst had happened.

The child’s parents initially told authorities their son had become lost searching for edible mountain greens near Hokkaido’s Mt. Komagatake, before admitting that they had left him by the side of a forest road as a disciplinary measure and he had disappeared before they came back to pick him up. On June 1, the rescue efforts were expanded to include personnel from Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, but even after searching 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) in every direction from Yamato’s last known location, the search parties had been unable to find him.

But in a surprising development, Yamato was finally discovered roughly four kilometers north of where he had been abandoned, within the perimeter of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces Komagatake Training Grounds. At roughly 7:50 a.m. on June 3, a member of the JSDF came across a young boy inside one of the sleeping structures trainees use when on maneuvers. “Are you Yamato?” the JSDF member asked, to which the boy cheerfully responded “Yes, that’s me.”

The child had no visible injuries, but was hungry, so the JSDF member quickly gave him the water and onigiri (rice balls) he had on him. The boy was then airlifted to Hakodate Municipal Hospital, the nearest major medical center, where he is currently undergoing a thorough examination.

The police investigation into the exact chain of events that led to the crisis is still ongoing. For now, though, Japan is breathing a sigh of relief that Yamato is safe and sound.

Source: NHK via Jin
Top image: Japan Meteorological Agency

Boy abandoned in mountains of Hokkaido is found alive and safe by Japan Self-Defense Forces

The Power of Privilege

I haven’t really addressed the issue of race on this blog – but I thought this video was a fantastic opportunity to bring notions of privilege, agency, and the power of identity to light.  You don’t have to be the one suffering injustice to speak out – if you see something wrong happening, speak up.

“Genuine education is not a commodity, it is the awakening of a human being.” – Hunter Rawlings

Yesterday the Washington Post put up an article online about the “commoditization” of education.  Written by Hunter Rawlings (a former President of Cornell and the University of Iowa), it dissects the problem with continuing dialog in America that an education is a product or purchase sold to be passively received rather than a program requiring active learning to produce the aforementioned “education”.  As an undergraduate student, I have witnessed all sorts of peers across my journey – from those who want to be there to those struggling because of (reasons) to the students who are indignant that it isn’t “easier” or “more interesting”.  Sadly, too many students seem to think that they’re entitled to get a grade or shocked that they’re expected to generate their own ideas/engage in active participation.  But for me, college was one of the greatest opportunities of my life to challenge my assumptions and, as Rawlings writes, “awaken”.  As one of my dear friends from community college has told me on countless occasions (especially when I worry about money/the future):  ‘school is an investment in your future’.  But unlike someone who can pay a broker to make “smart investments” for them on the stock market or in a 401k, we’ve got to do the work ourselves to explore and navigate the process of this investment – and wise work generates rich rewards.  But only if we truly invest ourselves and not just money in our education.  Some people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that my degree is an anthropology, and I can confidently tell them I did it because my education wasn’t just a commodity – it was self betterment.

Fetish or Food? In the words of the article… Just Eat.

This is an outstanding article by The Guardian that discusses how people seeking “authenticity” in their food are actually disrespecting the cultures they claim to be enjoying…. it’s one thing to truly value a culture, and it’s another to simply go around collecting people and their practices as a tchotchke to flaunt how “worldly” you are. It’s the difference between someone who recognizes other people as other people  rather than Other people. Definitely worth reading and being mindful of!

Notes from the Suggested Readings for MAPS – First Entry

Despite assertions to independent development from mainland Asia, there were multiple Korean individuals instrumental in the development of various facets of Japanese culture. Kuninaka Kimimaro was involved in the fabrication of early Buddhist artwork including the “great bronze buddha statue at Nara”, and his grandfather was a Korean ‘immigrant’ (fled from the Paekche government) in the seventh and eighth century CE. Others such as a Yamanoue Okura were renowned poets and writers, also of Korean descent.

— Page 189.

Given the mountainous nature of the Japanese archipelago, travel via boat was as efficient as overland travel, and it is suggested that immigrants to the isolated villages of the Japanese villages were as likely to remember their mainland “identities” as much as their local ones. (Remember also that personal research has shown the limited and localized nature of identity rather than a regional/feudal/national one….)

— Page 190

The cult of Amaterasu and the Ise Shrine only reached ‘maturity’ after the 7th/8th century and the majority of mainland isolation had tapered off.  Note also the Chinese pronunciation of “Shinto” as “the way of the gods” rather than the more japanese interpretation of the kanji characters as ‘kami no michi’.

— Page 197

Origins of Japanese as a creole(?) – yet another reason why learning the language is important to understanding culture!

— Page 199

“The Spirit of Japaneseness” emerged in Japanese literature after 907 CE, as a direct contrast to “The Other”…. consider how this indicates the length and amplitude of “unique” Japanese culture mindset before the rise of Orientalism in the West.

— Page 209

The Genesis of East Asia (Holcombe)

New Developments!

I’m very excited to share with you the newest development in my academic career! I’ve recently accepted an offer from the University of San Francisco to join their Asia Pacific Studies Program, and will be starting there this fall! I hope to continue to share my research and progress with you all!

Anthropologist Interrupted

Hello all,

It’s been a quiet last few months around here, and for that, I apologize.  The holidays, job changes, and other personal events have kept me away from working on my blog as much as I have wanted to.  I have some work that I want to share in the near future, especially a book review on Japan and the Shackles of the Past from R. Taggart Murphy and Oxford University Press.  It’s well worth reading, considering there are few comprehensive works in English on Japanese history coupled with more recent surveys of Japanese politics and Asia-Pacific relations.  I look forward to sharing it with you soon!

Public Policy and Science Literacy

Neil deGrasse Tyson is my absolute hero. This video is well worth watching.

“I see science and technology and creative investments in it as the most significant infusion to our economy then could possibly be conceived. The problem is that it’s not going to boost the economy next quarter; it’s got a time horizon longer than most people have the patience for and most politicians have the reelection cycle to be tolerant of. So what we need is a longer view on those investments. I don’t want NASA going hat-in-hand trying to get money to stimulate the frontier of cosmic discovery! And that frontier now involves biologists in the search for life, chemists in understanding the soils of Mars, aerospace engineers…” (and) “They transform the culture in which we live, on a time horizon that is not easy to just tell someone in a one sentence soundbyte. And what I want is a level of science and cultural literacy that will allow the public to be able to think beyond the election cycle. To think for themselves and say ‘this is a good investment’…”

Baymax Under Fire, Part 3

… so I left the last two parts of this article on a bit of a cliff hanger. And for that, I apologize. The simplest answer is that I wanted to discuss the film in depth but didn’t want to dissect it while worrying about spoilers – and now that it has been out for several weeks, I can let loose.

So, spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Despite the Orientalism that runs through the film, Big Hero 6 wins me over because it has heart. Heart that isn’t simply “feel good” Disneyisms, but actual heart that grapples with themes like loss, rage, acceptance, and healing. Big Hero 6 is mature. And not “mature” in the most immature way possible – through nudity, gore, and adolescent ‘adultness’ – but in the way the very best Pixar films and a select few of their contemporaries are. It has characters with nuanced, complex feelings and relationships. It doesn’t borrow from Hamlet (Lion King) or other fairytales to do this – it just makes a good story with some simple elements.

A boy, his brother’s medical robot, and coming to terms with his grief. Hiro Hamada and Baymax – Baymax in particular – are the heart and soul of this picture. From the beginning we get a sort of Tony Stark or Steve Jobs vibe from Hiro – he’s a gifted but rebellious youth who has no interest in pursuing “normal” jobs or education, he’d rather rip off gangsters (Yakuza – hazy “oriental” gambling parlo… sorry, Orientalist criticism. Back to the story) in illegal robot fights. His brother convinces him to use his powers for good and apply to San Fransokyo’s technical institute, only to have him tempted to sell out his invention to a greedy capitalist who has a reputation for putting profit above morals or the safety of others. Cue the dramatic bombing/accident and the death of Hiro’s Brother.  Mired in his grief, Hiro’s only distraction is the sudden reactivation of his Brother’s project – Baymax, a medical robot.  Cue a series of misadventures and general comedy as Hiro tries to get a grip on this new person in his life, who arguably is here to “heal” Hiro’s injuries – the emotional scars from the death of his brother.  This in and of itself is nothing truly new – Mrs. Doubtfire, Mary Poppins, The Cat in the Hat  and countless others have come before as sorts of saviors for all sorts of children’s grief, problems, whatever. But Baymax does it with heart.

Baymax speaks with the wisdom of true innocence, a creature whose sole purpose is to heal.  He breaks Hiro out of his shell and pushes him in a variety of new directions,  motivating him to use his intellect for good – and inadvertently leading him onto the trail of the mysterious “Mister Kabuki Mask”…

Wrong picture.

From there, Baymax instigates a reunion with Hiro’s brother’s friends – now his friends – who are all willing to help Hiro track down the guy they believe is responsible for the death of Hiro’s Brother, and their teacher…. (although it’s fairly obvious this is a red herring, the film can be forgiven for using well-worn plot points when so much of the rest of it is stellar).  And of course, they help Hiro confront the ugly truth that comes from pain, rage, and loss – revenge will not heal wounds, it only makes them fester, transforming you into something ugly. Sometimes uglier than the thing you hate.  It’s these performances – even from “supporting” characters – that sell the film on an emotional and narrative level.  They’re fun, refreshing, well executed performances that highlight the “simple” story of a boy and his robot dealing with grief and loss. Everything about them is excellent.

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What truly excites me though is the freshness, the brightness, and the vibrancy of Disney’s animation.  I seriously think this film is the start of another “Disney Renaissance” because of the quality not just of the script and its players, but in terms of excellence of the computer animation – an area that Disney has grappled with: Lilo & Stitch was hailed as “the last traditional animated feature” but then the underperformance of films like Treasure Planet and Atlantis (which deviated strongly from Disney styles and/or used hybrid CGI based animation), coupled with mostly modest features like Bolt has left Disney to rely heavily on Pixar for its financial success in recent years.  But everything in Big Hero 6 is outstanding from a technical standpoint – at times I forgot I was watching animation simply because the use of CGI and stylization was implemented so well. The crowds, the backgrounds, everything worked the way it was supposed to. The best FX are supposed to be the ones you forget about – and in this way Big Hero 6 does things even Pixar has avoided: making genuinely well designed human characters.  Aside from Up, Pixar never really focused on human leads – Toy Story, Finding Nemo,  WALL*e, and Monsters Inc. may have featured some humans in their stories, but always at the margins or as foils to the main characters. Big Hero 6 tackles them with panache and an ease that makes you forget Disney switched from cell animation to CGI. On a technical level, the film is simply incredible.

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Does this mean the film is to be forgiven for problematic overtones? No. Clever acting, a well written script, and stellar animation can’t hide the fact that Big Hero 6 raises some troublesome questions in my mind about the implication of Asian culture(s) as “window dressing” to be pulled off of the shelves of a prop department.  But I also can’t ignore the emotional and intellectual impact the film has on me either.  Truthfully, the only thing I can do is be mindful of my experiences and determine for myself what I can and cannot support… and do what I can to foster a discussion amongst others about what I see and why.  It’s not my place to protect or claim authority over the elements of another person’s culture, lest I perpetuate a history of paternalism that robs those with the rightful agency and authority to their own self determination.

Ultimately all I can do as an anthropologist is make the observation and inspire others to think for themselves.