When I talk or write about anthropology, works by American, British, and sometimes French, anthropologists instantly come to mind. Like, I suspect, most of us here, I have huge blind spots when it comes to anthropologists from other places. 

I was reminded of this recently when The Word Works, Ltd., the the translation and copywriting company that Ruth and I run in Japan, was asked to do some work for the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka, generally referred to in Japanese as Minpaku. As preparation for this job, I found myself examining the Minpaku website and stumbled upon its English-language newsletter, now published twice each year. 

 

Now I wonder how many of us are even aware that Japan has more anthropologists than any other country outside of North America. As we debate the purpose and future of anthropology on OAC, that might be worth thinking about—along with how little we know about local anthropologies in, for example, China or India.

I know, for example, that my friends at the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, in Taiwan now participate in meetings and engage in joint research with colleagues in the PRC. 

For the moment, though, consider Japan. There's a lot going on here that does not get past the parochial blinkers imposed by training that focuses too exclusively on work in our own "local" tradition. 

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Comment by John McCreery on August 16, 2011 at 2:17am
Philip, your speculation is absolutely correct. Thanks to the global hegemonies of first the British and then the American empires and the subsequent rise of English to the global lingua franca (alas for the poor old French), anything published in English is far more likely to be read, in translation if not the original, in Japan (China, too!) than vice-versa.
Comment by Philip Swift on August 16, 2011 at 1:39am

 

Thanks John,

 

The fact about Japan having more registered members of professional anthropological associations than any other country apart from America is something that Kuwayama Takami mentions in her contribution to The Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture. I was pretty surprised when I read it.

 

Looking at the issue the other way round, as it were (and without wishing to send the discussion in this direction), one thing that still impresses me is how many works by, and about, American, British, French, etc, scholars one can find in Japanese bookshops. 

 

To give an instance, in a large bookshop in Osaka, I recently came across a new book by a Japanese scholar about the French sociologist Gabriel Tarde. What impressed me (and whatever one thinks of Tarde's ideas - he being a fairly hot topic in social theory at the moment, chiefly owing to the efforts of Latour) was that I've yet to find anything by, or about, Tarde in any large bookshop in London. And believe me, I've looked!   

 

This is to say something rather too simplistic, but were I to generalise from finds of this kind in Japanese bookshops, I'd be tempted to say that 'they' are reading 'us' a lot more than 'we' are reading 'them'.  

 

 

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