Perhaps it is because "being an anthropologist" (with regard to fieldwork) is such a personal and individualized enterprise. Anthropologists go off (usually) alone to complete this lengthy work both out of a personal desire and a prerequisite to become/remain a "legitimate" anthropologist. How often is fieldwork done in groups?
What is Japan to you? • Famous brands: Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Sony, Toshiba, Sharp. How many more can you name? • Entertainment: Manga, anime, idoru, video games, a setting for science fiction novels or thrillers? • Fashion: Issey Miyake, Kenzo, Comme des Garcons. Have you ever worn their clothes?
• Tradition: Zen, swords, shrines, temples, martial arts, tea ceremony. Does anything else come to mind?
• Exotic food: sushi, sashimi, sukiyaki, tempura, Cup Noodle. What else?
• The world’s second largest economy: A market where brands like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and KFC have been part of the landscape for generations and newcomers like Kinkos, Toys R Us and Starbucks have done very well, indeed. Are there still opportunities there?
• A nation in search of a role: With a constitution that renounces war and the second largest military in Asia, what role should Japan play in global politics?
If you feel confused, you aren’t alone. As consumers and scholars, business people and diplomats, individuals who deal with Japan see Japan (in Japanese: Nihon or Nippon) in different ways. Japan is always changing, and so are the perspectives of the authors who write about Japan, including the anthropologists.
Doing Fieldwork in Japan brings together chapters by twenty-one scholars. The topics on which they did their research are as varied as the individuals who chose them. In the order in which they appear, they include Japanese teenagers who hang out in Harajuku, Tokyo’s teen fashion Mecca; radical student movements; a rural community in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands; a new religion reinterpreting Buddhist belief and practice to meet the needs of modern believers; an ancient but still thriving pilgrimage on Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands (think Chaucer in a tour bus); a bioscience institute located in Osaka, the commercial heart of Kansai, the southwest of Japan; the impact of JETs, participants in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, on English-language education; the prosecutors office in Kobe, which along with Osaka and Kyoto is one of the three major cities in the Kansai; security policymaking by the Japanese Defense Agency and Ministry of Foreign Affairs; NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster; a quantitative study of women in the labor market and why men’s wages are so much higher than women’s; the impact of mine closure on a coal-mining community in Hokkaido, the northernmost of the four main islands; Japanese bureaucrats responsible for addressing the problems of the elderly, a rapidly growing segment of the Japanese population; Japanese foreign aid (Japan being one of the world’s largest donors); modern Japanese social history, with a focus on the Japanese labor movement; enka, an old-fashioned but still popular music genre, whose role in Japanese popular culture resembles that of Country and Western in the USA; two corporations, a lingerie manufacturer and a foreign multinational in the financial services industry; the creation of tradition in a changing Tokyo neighborhood and Tsukiji, the world’s largest seafood market; the betwixt-and-between lives of reverse immigrants, Japanese-Brazilian workers in Japan; and a review of a long and distinguished career that began with a study of a rural community and has included an award from Japan’s emperor.
This list is long, but it still contains only a sample of what it might. Where are the studies of bar hostesses and geisha, kindergartens, bikers and bankers, blue-collar workers, the homeless, the aging, the comics, the artists, the shamans, the celebrities who make up the geinôkai (the world of the tarento, “talents,” performers and personalities who appear on TV, in movies, in ads), the potters, the fishermen, the cops, the gangsters, the juvenile delinquents, the baseball players, the sumo wrestlers, the account executives and art directors who work for advertising agencies, the women who get out the vote for local politicians, the mothers, the office ladies, the young women who travel overseas in search of handbags, love, new careers and new selves? The list gets longer every day.
Note, too: When we study Japan, we do not have the luxury of studying the lives of people who inhabit an isolated corner of the globe and, so far as the rest of the world is concerned, have nothing to say about how we describe their behavior. We study the lives of people who are often as highly educated and may be more wealthy and powerful than the anthropologists who struggle to understand how they think, feel, and behave. No place on earth illustrates more vividly the anthropological predicament that Marcus and Fischer describe so well: “We step into a stream of already existing representations produced by journalists, prior anthropologists, historians, creative writers, and of course the subjects of study themselves.”
This brings to mind something one of my professors said during an Ethnographic Analysis class. We were discussing native ethnography in general, and one of the discussion points she brought up was the necessity of an outsider's perspective, whether one begins as an insider or not. That ability to step outside culture and see it not as a member who is unconsciously following rules, but as a critical observer who can see the patterns at play... Maybe it is not that anthropology turns people into loners, but that loners can make good anthropologists, as the OP hinted at?
I was quite the loner, and I still am to a certain degree. I find that anthropology makes me feel reassured about my disinterest in what other people consider "normal" socializing. When I discovered the concepts of anthropology, it was like a light went on. "Ah," I thought, "so I'm not the only person who finds this all a little arbitrary." It's not that I don't have any friends or whatnot, it's just that I seem to have missed the "polite small talk and socializing" lecture somewhere along the way... Plus, if I'm sitting at a table measuring a projectile point or trying to classify a bit of bone, I find my imagination runs away with me and I try to wrap my mind around people who actually tied that point to a shaft and used it as a weapon, and such an active imagination is a good trait that comes along with being a loner, among other things. People who spend time alone often have a rich inner life.
The flipside is true, though. I've seen very social anthropologists. They're just usually socializing with each other!
John - I certainly don't have a succinct answer to that, but I agree with you that collaberation is important, and that anthropologists can add a beneficial perspective. You made me smile with your comment "You've got it all wrong, let me tell you..." because I have definitely heard that more than once, and I agree it can be quite off-putting. I have encountered that attitude among people from a variety of fields, including anthropology. An inside joke 'round the circles I orbit is to say that someone has a case of the "well actually"s, meaning it is impossible to talk to them without them correcting you toward their way of thinking. I would wager we aren't the only ones wondering how to get a little more personable.
Her solution was to open her field notes to the community for review.
Her solution was to open her field notes to the community for review.
Was this cross-checking for accuracy? Or allowing the people whose lives we study to decide what we say about them? If the latter, how does it differ in any significant way from what journalists call "Selling out."