Anthro in the news 11/25/13

Paul Farmer, Bill Clinton
Paul Farmer, Michele Montas, and former President Bill Clinton. Flickr/UN Photo

• Paul Farmer lauds Bill Clinton

Medical anthropologist and doctor Paul Farmer has credentials that require their own paragraph. He is Kolokotrones University professor and chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at the Harvard Medical School; chief of the Division of Global Health Equity, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and co-founder of Partners In Health.

Farmer published an article in The Huffington Post celebrating President Bill Clinton who, nearly 13 years after leaving office, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Farmer writes, “While his accomplishments as the 42nd President of the United States were extraordinary, the work he’s done since then as a private citizen has had as profound an impact on millions more around the world.”

[Blogger’s note: this may be a first – when an anthropologist gets to pat a former president on the back?]

• Japan on the verge

A review in The Japan Times of Anne Allison’s new book, Precarious Japan, praised it as “a forward-thinking commentary on the current state of Japan, detailing a progressive history from the economic collapse in 1991 to how the country functions today in a modern, post-earthquake society.”

Precarious Japan
Book cover

Allison, Robert O. Keohane professor of cultural anthropology and women’s studies at Duke University, explores how Japanese society is on the cusp of a new transition. Prior to the country’s economic decline, gender and societal roles were firmly secured in Japan: Men were full-time workers, typically loyal to a single company for most of their lives; woman were housewives, dedicating their lives to the caretaking of their households and families.

Allison explores how this paradigm is rapidly shifting — despite the lag in society’s perceptions of gender roles. The review also comments that “Allison gives an eye-opening view into the darker aspects of modern Japanese society, and how such instability is effecting both individuals and the country at large … Despite being an academic book, readers in Japan will likely feel connected to the events and conditions that Allison describes … For those wondering just how precarious Japan’s future really is, this book is a good place to start.”

A review of Allison’s book in The Atlantic focused on her description of Japan’s highly competitive school system and its cautionary implications for the U.S. For more insights about the book and Anne Allison’s perspectives, NPR provides a wide-ranging audio interview with the author.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 11/25/13”

Ainu food on offer in Tokyo restaurant

Photo courtesy of RocketNews

Thanks to RocketNews (“yesterday’s news from Japan and Asia today”), readers can learn about Ainu indigenous food, at least as it is provided at Tokyo’s only Ainu restaurant. Great photos are included showing dishes such as rataskep, ohaw, and mefun. The author’s favorite is kampoca rataskep (pictured here), made with sweet Japanese squash: “It’s like having all the sweetness of nature melt on your tongue! But the flavor is balanced with roasted pine nuts and some medicinal plants in the rue family.” Enjoy!

Review of new book on widows of Japan

Widows of Japan by Deborah McDowell AokiAn open access review in Pacific Affairs of Deborah McDowell Aoki’s book, Widows of Japan: An Anthropological Perspective, says that this “…comprehensive study of Japanese widows brings into focus the complex, ambiguous, often tragic history of the impact of spousal death on Japanese women. Her eight years of research from 1996 included 58 interviews with women from urban and rural areas. She states the themes in the introduction: ‘the fetishism of female bodies to protect and embody family honor, the historical role of state formation in creating family and kinship systems, and the integrative functions provided by women…’ ”

Japan: Looking ahead to recovery

Guest post by Jin Sato

On April 4, 2011, the Asia Society and the Japan Society co-sponsored a Japan town hall meeting in New York City to discuss questions related to the recent earthquake. Several prominent experts constituted the panel which was moderated by Fred Katayama. Topics and questions for discussion were formulated by Jin Sato of the University of Tokyo and visiting democracy and development fellow at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, Princeton University.

The event was taped and can be viewed by clicking on the image below.

Questions were clustered into three areas in order to generate broad discussion about the disaster’s impact on Japanese politics, economics and social life, as well as to assess the extent of the uniqueness and historical significance of the changes for the Japanese people, and for Japan as a nation:

1. Japan’s Reliance on Nuclear Energy: The Politics of Risk Sharing

Japan has only 20 percent self-sufficiency in primary energy supply and more than half of that is nuclear power. Historically, the main rationale for advocating nuclear power was to enable Japan to be more self-sufficient. More than 30 years ago, during the incidents of “oil shock” and petrochemical shortage in the 1970s, the Japanese people learned the lesson of dependence on fossil fuels. Given the magnitude of the ongoing catastrophe, questions such as these arise:

  • Is it time to question Japan’s dependence on nuclear energy as the primary domestic source of electric power?
  • Given this kind of catastrophe, is it appropriate for Japan to allow the private sector to continue to manage this kind of high-risk operation?
  • What should be the role of the government?
  • How do we democratically control high-risk operations?
  • Will a growing awareness of the inequitable distribution of risk lead to the Japanese public questioning of the reliance on nuclear energy?

2. The Future of the Japan Brand: Economic Fallout of the Disaster

Historically, the myth of superior Japanese technology has prevailed and even in this tragic series of events, the international community was shocked to discover the failure of the “failsafe” Japanese nuclear technology and safety mechanisms. Questions include:

  • Will this incident signal the beginning of the end to the myth of Japanese technological superiority?
  • What will be the impact of the current nuclear crisis on Japan’s reputation as a high-tech exporter and more generally on the “Japan brand”?

Continue reading “Japan: Looking ahead to recovery”

Response, recovery and social dimensions of the disaster in Japan

Mayumi Sakamoto on left. Credit: FEMA.
Mayumi Sakamoto on left, New Orleans, La., March 3, 2011. Credit: FEMA.

Guest post by Mayumi Sakamoto

As of March 18, the situation is very serious in Fukushima prefecture due to the nuclear power plant problem. The complex after-effects of the tsunami are disturbing the entire S&R (search and rescue) efforts and related disaster response activities, as well as creating problems for economic activity, agriculture, the environment and people’s lives.

DRI brochure for children.

In Fukushima, many people are making amazing efforts, in spite of clear health risks to themselves, in order to prevent the situation from worsening.

The DRI dispatched our expert team on Monday to Miyagi prefecture to support the local government. We will continue our operation for the next several weeks.

So far, the recovery of infrastructures is just amazing. After one week, electricity, water-supply, roads and the banking system are recovering. In terms of resilience of infrastructure I would say we are very resilient.

On the other hand, the many evacuated people are in a severe condition, and these displaced people will face many long-term challenges.

The disaster-affected area in Japan is one of the most well prepared area for tsunami. But planning was based on reasonable estimates which, in this case, nature has exceeded. So how can one be prepared for such massive destruction?

The DRI believes we have to pay keen attention to social impact of the disaster and find a way to establish some framework to analyze it. I am collecting information regarding to this disaster in national level and also trying to establish archives for this disaster. I am also interested in learning about relevant experiences from other post-earthquake/disaster situations to learn about how to address the social impact including many displaced persons.

Mayumi Sakamoto, who holds a Ph.D. from Kyoto University, specializes in disaster recovery assistance (particularly in Aceh during the 2004 tsunami) and international cooperation at Japan’s Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution.