Saturday, December 22, 2007

Twisting Straw

Last weekend I had a chance to visit Mukugawa (椋川), a village located about an hour north of Kyoto in Shiga prefecture. I found the area where Mukugawa is located on the internet, and was taken there by a professor from Shiga University whom I had contacted. This professor has been doing fieldwork in Mukugawa since 2005, much of which has focused on reviving past techniques of farming, forestry, and daily life. He began visiting Mukugawa because he had read that the villagers practiced burning of local hillsides up until the 1960’s. This initial interest grew into explorations of a variety of activities including charcoal-making, silviculture, and ox-drawn plowing. It also led him to develop a friendship with a young forester who lives in the village with his wife and three children, and who has also taken an interest in reviving various lifestyle techniques.

On December 16th, the Sunday I was in Mukugawa, several men of the village spent the morning making shimenawa (しめ縄 ) from rice straw. The word shimenawa is made up of the verb “shimeru”, which means to close, and the noun “nawa”, which means rope. So, its literal meaning is “rope to close”. Shimenawa are hung at Shinto shrines to designate sacred spaces. The men of the village make shimenawa by twisting strands of rice straw together in the palm of their hands. After a huge amount of coaching I was also able to twist very small ropes. Other village men worked on wooden “machines”, using an ancient technique for weaving mats of rice straw, to be used for visiting the shrine on New Years day. Watching these men was absolutely amazing; they are all very skilled in their crafts. At the same time it was somewhat disheartening to look out on a room of men, whose average age was probably around 65, practice their dying art. There were very few children present.

As the men continued to roll straw in their big, gnarled hands, the women of the village skittered about in the background, keeping rice wine warm and preparing food. From another room I heard a dull pounding and soon a voice called out for someone to help with mochitsuki (餅つき)—pounding mochi rice. A couple of us moved down the hall to where the mochi was being made. I had participated in making mochi once before this, with my wife’s family, but we had used a machine. I had also once, on a small street in Kyoto, seen mochi being made the traditional way, with a wooden pestle and a large wooden mallet, and had wanted to try it ever since. Mochitsuki is a two person job: one person works the mallet, pounding at a slow, steady pace, while a second person darts their wet hands into the pestle between mallet swings to turn the rice. A mochi-ized hand seems always a second away, yet I’ve never heard of such a thing. Still, when my turn came to swing the wooden mallet I was caught by a mixture of excitement and fear—I didn’t want to be the first to obliterate a hand through an overly eager mallet swing. Happy to say my swinging was fine, and after a brief correction in technique from the village head I was making mochi like a pro.

After the pounding, while the mochi was still gooey and steaming hot, leafless tree branches were brought into the hall and the women began attaching small clumps of white and red rice, creating the illusion of flower buds; a prayer for spring, warmth, and life.

In the afternoon we moved to our guest’s house to rest a bit before a drinking party to be held that night. He showed me photos of a variety of activities that, by his own admission, he has often prodded the villagers into once again trying. These included making charcoal, tofu, tea, and miso paste, as well as fishing for river eels and burning hillsides. I also saw pictures of the making of what was described to me as “the first sushi”, which I would later have a chance to sample. The technique consisted of gutting mackerel and stuffing them with salted rice and then placing them in buckets and weighting them with large stones; after five months of fermentation, the “sushi” is ready. Again, I felt a sense of awe at the skill of the villager’s craft, though wondered what would become of it all.

At around six we returned to the village center for a drinking party with everyone who had participated in the morning’s activities, as well as a few extras. I’ve been to many drinking parties in Japan, but this one was special: everything was made by hand and had a wonderful roughness to it that I had never experienced before. The men and women were separated, with the women seated close to the kitchen and the children. The food was nabe, which is essentially a hotpot into which is placed vegetables, tofu, meat, and various other delicious things. Everyone draws what they want from the nabe and adds it to a mixture of citrus juice and soy sauce—very tasty. Many of the men were also snacking on raw chicken, which I’ve eaten in Japan before, but didn’t have the stomach for that day. As always there was an ample amount of beer, sake, and Korean shochu to keep every jovial and getting jovial-er. As the night progressed I spotted pairs of men across the room jabbing one another and looking my way, building their courage to move in my direction and try their hand at chatting with the foreigner. Because Mukugawa is located in the far northwestern corner of Shiga prefecture, the people speak an odd blend of the Kyoto/Shiga dialect and a dialect prevalent in Fukui prefecture, which probably means little to most reading this, but means near incomprehensibility for an anthropologist who struggles with standard Japanese. Still, as the night wore on we were all able to communicate, as is always the case, in drunkenese, the universal language of friendship.

Upon returning to our host’s home, the professor and I were treated to homemade white rice wine, which has a flavor reminiscent of yogurt. We also enjoyed deer meat cooked with garlic, small fish in a sweet sauce, and the fermented mackerel sushi I mentioned earlier. I must say, though I usually dislike mackerel, I was quite enamored with the fermented sushi—nice, sour taste that went well with the strong yogurty rice wine. The night wore on into less formal language, funnier stories, and mild arguments. Bed time was welcomed and I slept very comfortable on a futon waiting for me in the next room.

Mukugawa may become my fieldwork site, but I am still hoping that things will work out for me to go to Nagano. It’s looking positive. However, my mind has been turned recently to the end of the year, which is always a big deal in Japan. Still have to get the house clean. I’ll have to write next time about my thoughts on 2007. Wasn’t too impressed with the year. Hopefully the year of the rat will be better.

Anyway, here’s to Mukugawa. . .

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I was going to begin by apologizing for not having posted in a while, but realized that there is no one on the other side of this computer screen waiting in anticipation for the next exciting installment of the Sardonic twenty-something Graduate Student. "Oh I love when he makes vague references to theoretical concepts. . .it's da bomb" (my years of isolation from the world 'out there' allow me to continue using 'da bomb' (and my academic superiority allows me to use both 'quotations' and (parentheses) within parentheses))--check out the double parentheses. . .woo woo.

I have Japan news, but I'm going to start first with an album recommendation. . .well, half an album, because I've been meaning to write about it for a while now. Again, my existence inside the confines of a tiny office almost certainly ensures that most reading this already know of this album, but here goes. Raising Sand is the album's name, it's by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. You can hear songs on the All Songs Considered website. I say I recommend half of the album because there are quite a few songs I don't like. But, songs like "Please Read the Letter", "Polly Come Home", "Killing the Blues", and "Through the Morning, Through the Night" are really well done and the mix of Plant's and Krauss' voices is amazing. T-Bone Burnett produced the album and you can hear his influence. Anyway, give a listen.

Now to Japan. The photos above are from Arashiyama 嵐山, which is a famous part of Kyoto. The wifey and I went. . .what, couple of weeks ago now? Sounds right. Even though it was late in the year, the leaves were really amazing. Just one of the many benefits brought to us all by global warming. Nobel Peace Prize my ass, Mr. Gore. Can't wait to work on my tan next summer.

Late in the year. Yes, it is almost that time of year. In Japan it's not so much Christmas, but New Years, that is important. "Nen matsu" (年末), literally "year's end", is a general word for the season. Basically it's a time when everyone in Japan reviews the past year and prepares for the coming one. The same thing occurs in the U.S., but not in the same way. Already I've been seeing TV shows that recount the songs that were popular in the previous year (and they go ahead and do it for the last 20 or 30 years as well), and shows that sum up major news stories and such--all very nostalgic--"Ah February, that was a good time". I don't know, perhaps it is the same in the U.S., I'm just used to it. Nah, there's something different.

Another big part of the "nen matsu" season is the unveiling of the year's kanji, or chinese character. This year's was 偽, "gi" or "itsuwari", which means falsehood or fake. The character was chosen because Japan has been bombarded this year by companies lying, mainly relating to expired foods. There have been several stories of different companies reusing food that was past its expiration food. . .yum.

"Nen matsu", unfortunately, also means 大掃除 "oosouji", the BIG CLEAN. All of us here in Japan MUST, and I do mean MUST, clean the living hell outta our houses, cars, offices, et cetera, so that we can start the year off "clean". Gotta get new toothbrushes too. I must say, as long as no one tells my wife, that though I HATE this custom, it is nice to have a clean house to begin the New Year. In this respect, Japan is definitely different from the U.S. While people in Japan begin the New Year clean and with the chance for new possibilities, those in the U.S. tend to begin the New Year with a hangover, a new friend (or two) in bed with them, and resolutions that have already been broken (often repeatedly). Ah, but there's dignity in the American way too. . .well, I wouldn't go that far, but makes for better stories.

The other good news from the Japan front is that I heard from the village office in Otaki today and they seem quite excited about the prospect of me doing fieldwork there. So, I'm pretty official now. Still gotta see if the "real people", on the ground, are going to be as receiving, but hopefully they will be. Apparently the village owns about 70 homes, perhaps due to outmigration, so I'll be able to get a place to live through the village office. I'm sure it will be a bit more primitive that where I am living now, but I'm looking forward to that. The wifey. . .another matter, but sounds like she's game for the adventure (which will probably last a month). Anyway, looking forward to it.

Okay, that's the "nen matsu" blog entry. My eyes are going goo goo goo right now, so I'd better get off the computer.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Spirit and forests

A second opportunity to volunteer in a local forest here in Nagaokakyo has spurred thoughts of spirit in relation to the ways that humans connect to forests, mountains, and other landscapes.

My wife accompanied me to this volunteer course that took place on Saturday, November 24th. The course was held this time in the neighboring municipality of Oyamazaki 大山崎. The morning was spent sitting at a community center listening to various officials (who may have outnumbered the volunteers) speak of forests, economics, and management plans. The language was predictable: talk of watershed management, inactive landholders, and large amounts of funding from a national beverage company with a beer and whiskey factory in Oyamazaki.

The speakers maintained an air of authority as they spoke scientifically and bureaucratically about forest management. The volunteers were left to listen and shuffle through a small mountain of paper. By lunchtime all of us were itching to get outside--not so much to be in the forest (as was the supposed goal of the day)--but just out of sure boredom.

After lunch we did finally begin our small trek up to the bamboo forests at the top of what is known as Tennozan (天王山)mountain. At the foot of the mountain was a shrine whose bright orange paint managed to pierce through the blazing red of the Japanese maples. Bamboo stands also resided near the shrine and we visited a makeshift studio used by local volunteers (exclusively middle-aged men) to make various trinkets using the trees they have harvested--and also, presumably, to escape their wives and children for an afternoon.

About halfway up the mountain the bamboo forest gave way, quite starkly, to stands of akamatsu 赤松 (red pine). A few more vertical meters, followed by a sharp turn to the south, brought us back into the bamboo forest. Stands on one side off the small mountain path were clean and spaced so that someone walking with an opened umbrella could make their way through, while those on the other were crowded and strewn with deadfall. I saw several trees marked with a Japanese sa サ, which I latter learned stood for sa-n-to-ri (Suntory), the local beer brewery.

After about a half an hour's walk we gathered within the bamboo to listen to instructions from an experienced forester. The forester was an 82 year old gentleman who had lived his entire life in a house near the base of the mountain. He talked to us about the history of the forest, how bamboo had not even existed in the location until after the war, and stressed the need for thinning. As he began to discuss felling techniques, I looked around and saw the markings of wild boar that had been digging for takenoko 竹の子 (bamboo shoots)--a local delicacy for boars and humans alike. The old forester exhibited how to fell a bamboo tree, and how to use ropes in order to release it from the grasp of neighboring branches and gently slip it to the ground.

Next, each of the volunteers had a chance to fell a couple of trees. After each tree fell we stripped its branches and cut it into 2-3 meter lengths, which we stacked on existing piles. Having volunteered two weeks in a row now, I can tell you that it is great fun to fell trees. After our destructive tendencies were satiated we made our way back down the mountain, cleaned saws, and said our goodbyes.

So, how did this experience get me thinking about spirit? Partly these thoughts came as I pondered what it is I want to accomplish with my research in Otaki. However, more concretely, it came as I compared this experience to one I had in Hawai`i just before I left for Japan.

In September the Anthropology Graduate Student Association at the University of Hawai`i put together a field-trip to a farm on the Waianae coast of Oahu. The farm is called Ka`ala and it is an ongoing project to create a community center where people have a chance to reconnect with the local land through the cultivation of taro, the staple of the Hawaiian diet in the past. My description of Ka`ala intentionally simple, because I don't know that I can convey all that the place really is. The following is a link to photos of the field-trip taken by a friend that will give a sense of the place:

Though the structure of these two experiences, at Tennozan and at Ka`ala, we're similar, the content and the results were quite different. Structurally, both started with descriptions of the activity to be undertaken, and its meaning in the broader community (whether local, regional, national, or international), followed by the activity itself. However, while at Tennozan this description was rooted almost exclusively in scientific, technical, and economic terms, at Ka`ala it was based first in spiritual terms--though also included speech related to science, technical, and economic terms (though not in the sense we might usually think).

Another way to describe the difference between these two sites is to look at the focus of the activity. At Tennozan the volunteer activity was viewed as part of a larger socio-political system of which forest management was a small part, whereas at Ka`ala the activity of the volunteer itself was the focus--with the individual's connection with the land contextualized within the broader society. In other words, the focus at Ka`ala was on the individual spirit and the deep interconnection it has to the spirit of the land. The experience in Hawai`i, for example, began with the volunteers learning a chant that we would repeat at the farm site to request that the land permit us entry and to open ourselves to the teachings held there for us.

As a result, I came away from Tennozan feeling happy about what I had learned, but quite unimpressed with the meaning of the activity within the larger social and natural environment. It seems to me that, in essence, local governments are hoping to capitalize on volunteer labor to supplement managment activities in the face of dwindling government funding and absentee landowners. On the other hand, after Ka`ala I had a deep sense of my connection to the other people I had worked with, to the land I had worked on (and in), to the Hawaiian islands, and indeed to the entire cosmos. This was the frame within which Uncle Butch, our guide at Ka`ala, had painted the meaning of the work.

Ecological anthropologists, and others who investigate human-environment relations, have thought about these relations in myriad ways: social, economic, political, et cetera. However, what first brought me to studies in ecological anthropology was my desire to better understand my own spiritual connections to the Earth, to seek out such connections elsewhere, and to posit ways to cultivate these connections. It was for this reason that I enrolled at the University of Hawai`i to work with my current committee chair, and though my research has taken me along somewhat divergent paths, the essence of this research is still the pursuit of these spiritual connections.

My experience at Tennozan, with a local government effort to recruit volunteers within a culture where people have largely forgotten their connection to the forest, has revealed again that the spirit is of great importance in our relations with the Earth. Indeed spirit is the key to our continuance as a species on the Earth. The world today is full of distractions, and it is easy to forget that every breath we take connects us inseparably from the Earth. Yet each breath is the essence of spirit--each breath is the wealth of the world--each breath is the future. A breath is a breath. It is crucial to keep spirit at the center of our efforts to understand, protect, and be nourished by the Earth. Spirit keeps us connected. Otherwise it's just volunteering. . .which I don't think is sustainable.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Forestry and fall leaves

This last weekend I was able to get out to see some parts of Kyoto I hadn't seen before.

On the 17th I joined a volunteer course on forestry offered by Nagaokakyo City where I live. The course took place at a place called 西山 Nishiyama on land that belongs to a nearby temple (Youkokuji 楊谷寺).

In the morning we learned about thinning techniques, known as kanbatsu 間伐. This includes felling trees to create space for nearby trees to grow and to open the canopy so that more sunlight can come through. We did the cutting with little hand saws, which was quite tiring, but they don't let the rookies have chainsaws.

I felled two trees myself, which was quite satisfying I must say. We cut the trees into sections about 3 meters long and laid them perpendicular to the hillside so that the forest could "take them back"--a glossy phrase that conceals the fact that there is no market for wood in Japan (hence volunteers are used to "manage" forests).

The second half of the day was spent inside one of the halls of the local temple where we listened to lectures about the local forests, forestry, and volunteer programs. In the end the purpose of the courses seemed to be to raise awareness about volunteering for forestry activities. Again, this reflects larger trends in Japan of forest abandonment.  In Otaki-mura, where the majority of my fieldwork will take place, the number of government-employed foresters has shrunk from about 500 to 10 over the last forty years. Ecologically, it's hard to say if "hands off" approaches to forest management are beneficial or not, however it's apparent that such approaches can have negative impacts on human communities, particularly mountain communities located in proximity to forests.

Unfortunately, this perspective is not what is championed by government officials in charge of forest management. Instead, what one hears--indeed what I heard during this course--are appeals to broader concerns about clean water, prevention of natural disasters, and combating global warming. While none of these benefits is entirely absent when speaking of Japanese forests, however the belie the particular histories of local forests and the communities that have utilized and lived alongside them for many years. In other words, they link ideals of cleanliness, protection, and beauty directly with notions of "natural" forests, so that the presence of forests becomes the only factor influencing these ideals. Concealed in this rhetoric are broader elements that impact negatively on the natural world, for example: water pollution and the paving of Japan's rivers with concrete; Japan's contribution to global warming through voracious consumption of foreign forest resources; and the decline of village communities in rural Japan.

Anyway, volunteering was fun, and I will be going to work in the forest again this weekend. However, I hope that those in positions of power in Japan can begin to think beyond volunteerism for managing Japan's forests in the future.

My wife's friend was here for the weekend and so we took some time on Sunday to visit a temple to see the fall colors. We visited Tofukuji temple in the south of Kyoto. It's a Rinzai Zen temple that has origins in the Heian Period (700 a.d.). However, like most temples in Japan, the buildings that stand now date from the Meiji Period (late 19th century).

The temple is famous for it's momiji 紅葉 (Japanese maple); in particular, there is one valley that runs up the temple's grounds that is filled with momiji trees which were ablaze on the day we went. I was really impressed, but, as is it always is this time of year, the temple was packed with people, so much so that you have to walk in a line with the other sightseers. Also, have to beware of the mean old women (they stalked us because we were taking too long to take a picture)--scariest people in Japan.

Next weekend should be even better for kouyou 紅葉 (fall leaves), so hopefully I'll have some more to report then.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cold nights

Not really too much to write about this evening. But, I have a couple of things to comment on.

Yesterday I presented a summary of my research to the grad seminar that I have been attending here in Japan at Kyoto University. The presentation went alright (thanks to gracious editing by my wife), questions, however, were another matter. I struggled my way through answers, but find it very frustrating to not be able to express myself. From experience with others speaking English as a foreign language, I know that it's hard to judge someone's ideas through the vocabulary of a pre-school student--so I'm annoyed at having to be the "little kid". Anyway, it's over now.

An interesting thing the other night. Two gentlemen came to my door, one was a neighbor and the other a construction company representative, to explain that they were going to be beginning a remodel on the house directly behind us. They passed me a schedule of the renovation that also explained potential disturbances. Along with this I received a small gift from each. Another of those glaring examples of differences between Japan and my country of birth (well, country of my upbringing). I would be hard pressed to find any American that would take the time to inform their neighbors of construction that was going to be taking place in their house. And if any neighbors complained about construction, I would expect the attitude to be something like, for lack of better phrasing, "fuck off". If it's on your property, hell with rest of them. I'm not saying that either of these approaches is better than the other--sometimes the Japanese way can be nice, but there are times when I wish I could just say "fuck off". Of course, in Japanese you would probably have to say something like, "please allow me to humbly say fuck off."

Let's see. . .well, bit of a disappointment. I had gotten my sister-in-law's wee scooter up and roaring again, and was all excited to wheel myself across town to the university, but realized there's no insurance on the thing. . .so my hopes were dashed. I'm just trying to live-out the fantasy I had when I was about 18 and wanted to buy a Lambretta (spelling is probably all wrong there) scooter, but mum wouldn't let me. Hmmmmm. . .another day perhaps.

Well, I suppose that's all for this dispatch from Japan. The leaves are beginning to change here in Kyoto--really the best season.

Cold nights.
Hot tea.
swirls of steam
testing the cool air,
then running away.

Kotatsu table,
a draped blanket
keeps warm of attached stove
wrapped around my legs.

Crawl into bed,
wife's feet slide over
plant themselves on my legs
send chills climbing up my spine.
I pull her close
and her breath warms my face.
"Give me kiss."

good night.

cold night.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Last weekend I was able to make a trip to Nagano for an Autumn Festival in Otaki village, where I am planning to do fieldwork. I was really impressed by the beauty of the village. It's located in the southern part of Nagano in a valley known as Kiso. The Kiso valley itself has been famous for its forests for hundreds of years in Japan--the Tokugawa government controlled it strictly in the Edo Period (1600-1868)--and this continues today with the majority of Otaki village under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries as national forest.

According to the village head, this situation doesn't bode well, either ecologically or socially, for the village itself. Part of the problem is that in 2005 most villages in Japan were amalgamated into larger, administratively simpler, municipalities. However, because of a ski hill that had been built some years earlier, Otaki's yearly revenue wasn't low enough to be considered for amalgamation by the national government. Therefore, the village has essentially been left to its own devices to generate tax revenue and provide services for its citizens. This is difficult, as the town has NO access to about 80% of the surrounding land because it is designated as national forest.

Fortunately, the village head recognizes that Otaki does possess a wealth of social and natural resources and provides a legitimate function for the nation by maintaining its surrounding environment. The struggle, according to him, is finding a way to get the rest of the nation to understand this. In line with this thinking, he is attempting to establish relationships with businesses and communities located on the Nobi Plain (Nagoya City and Toyota's main offices are here), which depends on water that flows from the Kiso Valley. It seems to me this could be a dangerous line to walk--a Faustian pact in the making--however, there are few options for Otaki.

Otaki's population is a little over 1,000, with about a third of residents over the age of 65. There is no high school in the village and the combined elementary and junior high school has only about 50 students. From what I could see in the couple of days I spent there, most of the residents still participate in agricultural and forestry activities to some extent; though most probably make their living through some form of employment. Radishes are the major agricultural crop, which the residents prepare in various ways, including pickling. Many homes had piles of firewood next to them and I heard from residents that many people use wood burning stoves to get through the winters, which sound as if they are extremely cold.

Everyone I met in the village was really nice. All of the residents seemed to care deeply about the village, but seemed worried about the future--I gained a sense of desperation. Otaki is located at the bottom of a sacred mountain called Ontake; one of Japan's tallest. From what I experienced, the residents of Otaki still revere the mountain and I was surprised by the amount of people (including pilgrims) I saw when I visited the mountain's shrine located in the village.

I really hope that my research will be of some value to Otaki and its residents as they seek to find pathways into the future. The village is truly beautiful and the people are really warm. It is important that the people and government of Japan begin to recognize the value of these communities as part of the national landscape. Indeed, this is an issue that is prevalent across the globe in the late modern age.

Here's to the past;
and to bright futures.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The temporality of life

I attended a symposium over the last two days held here in Kyoto by the Research Institute of Humanity and Nature entitled "Asian Green Belt: Its Past, Present, and the Future". The presenters varied in their disciplines from the keynote speaker Peter Bellwood, an archaeologist, to Yasunari Tetsuzo from the Hydrospheric Atmospheric Research Center at Nagoya University.

Part of the goal of the symposium, it seemed to me, was to define "Asian Green Belt" (AGB) in some way. Definitions offered included climatic, geographical, cultural, and imagined. The symposium was dominated by ecologists and so I felt that there was a stark lack of critical analysis concerning the concept of AGB. There was a sense that AGB could be referred to as an eternal nature to which policies of renewal, conservation, and maintenance should be directed. The problem is that such an AGB concept takes no account of local diversity, both ecological and cultural.

In response to this, I was most impressed by a paper presented by Santasombat Yos, a researcher from the Social Science Institute at Chieng-Mai University in Thailand, entitled, "Transnational enclosure of Asian forest: with special reference to the Greater Mekong Subregion". Dr. Yos made an argument similar to James Scott's "state simplification", suggesting that the natural landscape is enclosed by nation-states to gain control over resources. This process, argued Dr. Yos, is detrimental to local communities. He proposed more reseach and greater support for the creation of what he labelled "transnational civil society", made up of local communities, local governments, regional NGOs, national governments, et cetera to create an open space for negotiation.

I am attracted to this type of approach, but feel that many researchers make a crucial oversight concerning the temporality of decision making processes. Many people have written about the compression of space-time as one of the hallmarks of globalization, and I see the approach discussed above as a response to this. However, this response addresses only spatial aspects of decision-making: opening physical spaces to include more voices in decision making.

In addition to expanding physical spaces to be more inclusive, there is a need to open temporal spaces for decision making. An assumption made at multiple scales within global capitalism is that there is a need to constantly advance ourselves, or, in Bush's words, "keep growin the economy". Questioning this "growin" forces us into a moral framework where we can begin thinking about the goals and responsibilities of "the economy". This is a good thing, I think, however we rarely even allow ourselves the TIME to approach these questions. Instead, we blindly march towards some ill-defined future goal-line. However, what could this goal-line be? At an individual level it's easy to define--we all end up in the ground, for better or for worse. At a global level there really is no definable goal-line. The only finite state in the future is destruction of live--so the question is only to what extent. A goal that is definable is maintenance, continuance, or sustainability. This goal is progressive and so there is no point in rushing forward. We would do better to take time to reflect on quality of life, which many would agree doesn't come through speed.

The AGB concept, I seems to me, has a dualistic nature. It could be used to help formulate policies on a transnational stage that would help to ignore local concerns and rush us all ahead towards bigger and bigger economies; or it could be employed as a community concept to help bring about the transnational civil society described by Dr. Yos, where there is room and TIME for a variety of actors to express themselves to create models oriented towards quality life.

So, key questions for me are:

What temporal scale does decision making take place at?

Does this temporal scale fit with the scale of human life?

Does this temporal scale fit with the scale of natural ecology?

What models can we generate to help slow the temporal scale of decision making?

Is this desirable?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

New Life

Congratulations to my little sister and her husband who found out recently that they are going to have a baby!!!! Youngest in the clan is setting the bar. Good job you two, wish you the best.

My fieldwork is sort of non-existent at this point. I've contacted one village where I would like to do research, but haven't heard back from them yet. The village is called Otaki and it's located at the base of one of Japan's volcanoes, called Ontake. The village only has about 1,000 residents and about a third of them are over 65. I've been reading a report on their website from last year that details their plan to gain fiscal independence. It's really quite sad. At the national level there has been a move to amalgamate 3,500 municipalities that existed in 2004 to less than 1,000. At the same time there is a movement towards decentralization, which is partly a reflection of larger trends in Asia. The situation is bleak for villages like Otaki because they have very little economic resources for tax revenue. However, according to their website, the government in Otaki is suggesting a return to their natural resources as a source of income. The question however is how effective forest resource use can be. The situation reflects a post-war history of government supports for agriculture and forestry despite national level movements towards food and timber imports.

See, I got the questions, just need to go find somewhere to get some answers.

Gotta run.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Long waits, long seminars, long baths

First off, this picture is from a "take-asobi" (lit. bamboo playing) event at a temple near my home here. Hundreds of cut bamboo are placed in a bamboo forest and lit with candles. Taiko drummers performed as well. A nice way to spend a fall evening.

Several things to rant about today. I can start by apologizing for not posting more often. The reason is that we don't have a solid internet connection yet, so I've been pilfering off a neighboring wi-fi signal. Japan, despite being light years ahead of the U.S. in cell phone, TV, and toilet technology, is woefully behind when it comes to internet access. I guess I won't say woefully, but rather will point out that I am having to wait a month to get cable internet because they don't have the infrastructure . In part this is because Japanese haven't been suckered into paying for cable television like Americans have--whatever the reason, it's a bit annoying. I must say that I love my cell phone though--I can watch TV, scan written characters I don't recognize, and zap bar-codes to see prices--that's a spicya meat-o-ball!

So, what could possibly be worse than waiting a long time for internet (and actually I'm being overly dramatic, it's not THAT bad): six hour graduate seminars--in Japanese. That's right folks. A week ago, on the 10th, I attended my first seminar with fellow students studying under Yamada-sensei, my adviser at Kyoto University. Basically the seminar is just a chance for students to present material they are working on. The problem is they don't seem to know how to PRESENT, rather they read, and read, and read, and read. After they read, and read, and read, and read they receive feedback, and more feedback, and more feedback, and more feedback. . .concerning the most trivial things. Now, I'll add a caveat that this is all being filtered through my brain, which is less than perfect at recognizing complex Japanese, however I think I'm getting the gist of things. I had heard from a classmate in Hawaii that much of the work done at Kyoto is quite atheoretical, and the sense that I get is that he was right. Much of the presenting being done covers people's fieldwork ad naseum, from the location, to the specifics of how a certain practice is done. It sounds like early 20th century American anthropology. That's fine with me, if that is what people want to do, I don't find it very engaging, but perhaps that's just me. What I mind is having to sit through the whole process! The first seminar I attended started at 1:30 in the afternoon and didn't end until 7:30 that evening--holy numb ass cheeks batman! Yesterday's seminar was a bit better--we finished at 6:00--whoopee. Sounds like I'm going to be presenting later this month, which will be hilarious, but surely not so lengthy.

Since my negative ranting has reached an (in)appropriate length, let me shift to a positive--baths. For those who don't know, there is no central heating in Japanese homes. Kerosene stoves are used, but only sparingly (I'm sure there are exceptions). Basically, the idea is to keep things just tolerable--meaning that you have to wear warm clothes inside as well. The evening bath, therefore, becomes truly the sweetest part of everyday.

Bare skin, goosebumps;
skittering into the bath-room.
I pull back the lid to find swaths of thick steam.
A bowl full of hot water to wash feet and bottom;
heavy splashes begin to pinken my skin.
Toes, heels, thighs, knees, bottom--then slip in altogether.
Cold tensioned knots loosen and drift away like balloons
that slip from the inattentive hands of children.
I hear cool October winds brushing past the window,
so I lower myself further into the bath.
Sweat sits in beads on my brow,
but I stay longer in the warm silence
imagining the length of things:
a bristlecone pine on Notch Peak in Utah;
a sunset in Baghdad;
a fishing net on a boat in Sweden;
a watchband on sale at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan;
a breath.
I pull myself from warm water thoughts,
where a mikan orange and soft pajamas wait for me.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Yesterday I attended an "undoukai", literally exercise meet, at my nephew's preschool in Kyoto. For those who haven't experienced an undoukai, it's an event for school kids to show their parents what they have been learning, in terms of athletics, at school. For non-Japanese, or perhaps just for anthropologists, the whole scene can be quite surreal.

An undoukai is full of pomp and circumstance, as most events in Japan are, that is fascinating in its ability to reinforce what has come to be called Japanese culture. I'm sure an "outsider" watching a similar event in America would be able to make similar observations. However, America has no analog for the undoukai, which makes it particularly interesting--but again,
this may only be anthropological curiosity.

The first thing I noticed at yesterday's undoukai were strings of flags of countries from around the world hung over the field where the event was taking place. I found this odd as the undoukai is a distinctly Japanese phenomenon that has absolutely nothing to do with international anything. The effect, however, is a sense of commonality through sport with the global community--the reality was that I was the only thing remotely "international" apart from the flags (and I was an oddity).

As passive objects, the international flags at the undoukai become "Japan-ized" through their visual appearance against ritualized performances that express the homogeneity of Japanese culture across space and time. Parents who have lived in the same neighborhood since they were kids reminisce about the time they did the very exercises they now consume as spectators--a sense of an enduring culture is inevitable, and not at all a false sense. However, one wonders when the international flags were first hung, offering a cultural innovation (or a cultural consumption?). Now the flags too have become a natural symbol of a Japanese undoukai (I saw the same flags while watching a popular cartoon on TV).

Anthropology hogwash aside, undoukai's are remarkable to an American who is not used to seeing communities come together year after year to relive and reinvent the same ritual. I don't remember sports ever being a part of my public education, and certainly don't remember sitting with neighbors to eat lunches that each family had prepared on their own. Unlike America, Japan is too small for each family to wall themselves into a large piece of property where those living next door can be avoided. People in Japan, or at least in Nagaokakyo, gather in neighborhood parks to play, chat, and renew the relationships that sustain them.

Friday, October 5, 2007


The wife and I safely landed in Japan at about 4:20 pm local time on October 4th. How we made the flight and the ride from the airport with all of our luggage is a mystery to me, but somehow it all worked out--nothing broken either. The staff at the airport were wide-eyed when we walked up with all of our crap. A group of rich white folks on a tour of Japan were equally surprised as the MK Taxi employees piled our crap into the tiny van that was to take us to Kyoto--"let`s challenge", said the driver with a smile.

I`ve titled this entry "kikoku", made up of the kanji for "return" and "country". Usually this word is reserved for nationals returning to their own home country, but I feel it is appropriate for me to use it for myself. Coming back to Japan is as much "returning home" to me now as returning to Utah is. The deserts of southern Utah and the mountains of central Japan are for me the lands of my birth--the places where I have apodictically felt the beauty of life. Kyoto too is a hometown for me. It`s where my wife is from, but it`s also where I fell in love--in several ways. I look forward to maneuvering down Kyoto`s narrow backstreets and taking in the wonderful smells that increase with the cool days of autumn.

My family here are all doing well. My oldest niece is in junior high now, playing basketball--so, I`m looking forward to shooting some hoops with her (I can fool her into thinking I can actually play--well, perhaps I can). "Catch ball" will be on the agenda as well, with my older nephew who plays center for his little league team. Today the whole family is going to my younger nephews preschool for his "undoukai", literally "exercise meet", where the kids will do all sorts of goofy exercises--always good fun. My youngest niece began talking since we have been in Hawaii and is now quite the comedian. She`s been living in China and attends an international school taught in English and Chinese, so once and a while she`ll slip in random English words--yesterday she gave thumbs up and said, "good, good". I`ve taught her to call me "uncle", but with the accent it comes out as "anko", which means "sweet bean paste"--I`ve been called worse.

I`m having to readjust to the size of things here again. I don`t remember feeling so BIG in my in-law`s house, but I`ve already banged my head on the doorway once. My back remembers the low kitchen counters as well.

So, I`m supposed to do some research here apparently, and that is going to be my next trick--figuring out how that goes. Next week I`ll be going to the university to meet with my professor and make an ass out of myself with my crappy Japanese--excellent. Anyway, here I go!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Moutain Meadows

I read a Deseret News article today about the 150th anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre (link below).

It troubles me that the LDS leadership feels compelled to control this piece of land when descendants of the massacre victims are calling for federal control. Part of my uneasiness comes from the newspaper article itself, which states explicitly about three times that Brigham Young himself DID NOT order the massacre.

As far as I understand, it's nearly impossible to make a factual statement one way or the other concerning Young's role in the massacre. However, it is a fact that his role in the massacre has been questioned by historians and others (hence the author's adamant denial?).

Beyond their refusals to relinquish control of the Mountain Meadow land, the LDS leadership's unwillingness to investigate the massacre in any detail adds to my feelings of disturbance. When the current monument was built about a decade ago, bodies of some of the victims were exhumed, but forensic anthropologists were given only about 24 hours to examine the skeletons before then governor, Mike Leavitt, ordered them re-interred.

The strategy seems to be: memorialize so that we can forget about it. That's the odd thing about memorials, they serve to consecrate historical events and solidify a single narrative so that other voices can be forced to the margins and eventually silenced. In other words, memorials help us remember one story so that we can forget the others.

This isn't to say that the LDS Church is any more or less responsible, beyond the story they have memorialized, for the lives that were lost 150 years. It is to say however, that by seeking to keep the massacre buried beneath a monument LDS leaders ensure that some doubt will remain. But, if the monument does its job adequately, even that doubt will soon die down and the secrets of the past will lay quietly buried among the bones of the Mountain Meadow victims.,5143,695206187,00.html

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

God bless Max Roach

The legendary Jazz drummer Max Roach died on August 16, 2007. His funeral was held in New York last Friday. Though I had long admired Roach for his quintessential role as an innovator in jazz, I was surprised to learn of his activism. He once descended on the UN, along with his then wife, Abbey Lincoln, and the poet Maya Angelou, to voice dissent over imperialism and the treatment of blacks in the U.S.--Harlem at the UN--pretty amazing stuff. During a Miles Davis concert at Carnegie Hall in 1961, Roach stopped playing and walked to the edge of the stage carrying a sign that read, “AFRICA FOR THE AFRICANS, FREEDOM NOW.” This exemplifies the breadth of Roach's activism. He wasn't only fighting against racism in America, he beat past all that to examine the true causes of inequality--digging deep to expose the legacies of colonialism and the dangers of fascism.

What saddening beauty it is to watch these wise men, born into structures of disempowerment and bondage, rise up and flourish, become giants, then slip silently, not passively, back into the milieu that birthed them; the world so unaware.

Max Roach made beautiful noise. Looking at our world should make us realize that we need to listen more. At Roach's funeral Maya Angelou eloquently stated that when a giant tree falls, we should gather around to admire the sacred ground from which it sprang.

Also, today Alberto Gonzalez finally resigned.

Thanks, Max. God Bless.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Brad Pitt might save America

Thought I'd take a few minutes between writing a letter to the town where I am hoping to do research and studying for comps to jot a few words.

I heard an interesting little snippet of radio today. It was a female talk radio host--conservative woman, not sure of her name--and she was talking about Brad Pitt. Apparently he and Angelina are now living (at least part of the time) in New Orleans. My first inclination was to make some snide remark about THAT, but when one realizes that Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are also out there, I suppose you have to give a little props.

However, Brangelina's charity work is not what I am getting at here. This woman on the radio was expressing her astonishment at Brad Pitt stating that Katrina was not a natural disaster, it was a human-made disaster. The radio host's reaction reminded me of a comic I had seen post-Katrina that depicted Bush nailing a wanted poster of "Mother Nature" to a tree.

The message seems to be: Americans are RIGHT, and whether it's terrorists or hurricanes harming us there is no culpability on our part. Terrorists are religious fanatics and hurricanes are freak events--not our fault. Fault--right or wrong--here lies the problem. Perhaps neither terrorism nor "natural" disasters are our fault, yet this doesn't mean we are not culpable in a very real sense.

What Americans witnessed with 9/11 and Katrina were the culminations of complex intertwined sets of historical and natural processes. In an article entitled, The Rat That Ate Louisiana: Aspects of Historical Ecology in the Mississippi River Delta, Tristram R. Kidder explains how human introduced rats set off an ecological chain reaction that decimated wetlands, leaving coastal areas vulnerable to tropical storms. Likewise, one need not read too much Middle Eastern history to begin gaining a sense of the complex socio-political boondoggles that are now the legacy of our post-colonial world.

Now, I know Bill O'Reilly would scream that I am a BAD American for saying such things. But, perhaps it's time that ALL Americans began to deal with the fact that we are all at least a little BAD. America was created through bad deeds, and perhaps admitting to that and dealing with it is the first step towards becoming a good country.

But, what do I know?

Monday, August 6, 2007


Part of my research is focused on historical changes in forest landscapes in Japan. Historical ecology as an approach emerged from critiques of the neo-functionalism of Rappaport, who I wrote about previously. The neo-functionalist approach focused on ecological and human systems as functional entities that took on a timeless quality. The idea was to understand how a system maintains balance, so little attention was paid to processes of change (history). Thinking in terms of ‘non-history’ stemmed from the old dichotomy of nature/culture, which I’ve focused on a lot. In these terms culture is historical, changing—humans create culture and it progresses through time. Due to their very ‘primitiveness’ tribal groups were conceived of as existing outside of culture. Obviously things were not so simple as this, but it’s important to understand how anthropologists (and others) were struggling to think about historical versus natural processes.

It was Eric Wolf and his book Europe and the People Without History that brought historical thinking into anthropology. Essentially, he showed that understanding the history of a certain people was critical to studies in the present. Wolf was well versed in the writings of Karl Marx, so he was particularly interested in showing that the rise of capitalism of had impacted the entire globe; in other words, there were no ‘people without history’.

Notions of historical change demanded the rethinking of notions of indigenous people as ‘noble savages’ maintaining harmonious balances with their environments. Archaeologists had for years understood that different people had different impacts on their environments and so there was a refocusing on understanding the processes of human/environment interactions. In this way historical ecology began to take form. Investigations into the ways that humans impact their environments began to yield interesting results. William Denevan, for example, argued against the ‘pristine myth’ that had developed in America, which conceived of nature as wild and untouched. He showed that pre-contact America was better characterized as a garden, one that had been managed by indigenous groups for thousands of years. Numerous other studies from all around the world began to uncover the footprints in what were thought to be ‘pristine’ environments.

Historical ecology, therefore, begins with the premise that the humans have impacted, to greater and lesser degrees, every part of the biosphere; in most cases these impacts have been occurring for thousands of years.

Japan is no exception. In fact heavy deforestation has been occurring since the 7th century to support monumental construction. Visiting the wonderful temples of Kyoto and Nara takes on a new dimension in this light. What’s more, many forests in Japan have been closely managed since the 17th century. In other words, ‘natural’ forests have not existed in Japan for hundreds of years.

What is Environmental Anthropology? PT. V

Studying for comps is coming along. My office here at the university is freezing though. Who knew I'd need all of my sweaters here in Hawaii. I start my exams in a little over a month, which is absolutely frightening. I really don't feel prepared and still have a lot of reading to get done. But, I'm trying to start formulating thoughts, which is what I'm doing here I suppose. So, though none of this may be particularly interesting, it's helping me.

After this entry I'm going to get away from the narration of the itellectual lineage of environmental anthropology and talk some more about current questions and how they relate to my own research. I'm particularly interested in political and historical dimensions of environmental research in anthropology so I will be talking about that. But, that will have to be next time. For now, here's the last posting conerning the history of environmental anthropology.

As ecology grew as a discipline, a group of anthropologists sought to apply its evolutionary oriented concepts to studies of humans. The basic idea was to situate humans within the local environment and study as one among many kinds of species. The scheme has been termed “neo-functionalism” as it was interested in understanding the functioning of human systems as part of larger ecosystems. Accordingly, neo-functionalist anthropologists drew on ideas from systems theory and thermodynamics concerned with energy flow. The first law of thermodynamics deals with a closed system’s ability to conserve energy, while the second law deals with the movement of a system towards entropy (greater and greater disorder). In sum, neo-functionalists were concerned with observing how human groups function within ecosystems so as to conserve energy and maintain equilibrium.

By far the most famous book to have emerged within this approach was Roy Rappaport’s Pigs for the Ancestors: Ritual in the Ecology of New Guinea People. In this book Rappaport reports on fieldwork with the Tsembaga Maring of Papua New Guinea. In line with the neo-functionalist approach, Rappaport spent a lot of his time counting caloric intake in an attempt to trace energy flows. The title of the book refers to ritualized pig slaughters that occurred periodically among the Tsembaga, whereby meat was ingested in part to provide sustenance to ancestors. Rappaport described this ritual as serving an ecological function by allowing the Tsembaga to control pig populations and redistribute surplus wealth. Though Rappaport’s “Pigs” has been heavily criticized it is often credited as being the first truly ecological study of humans.

The idea of a true ecological study of humans, however, raised a whole new set of questions for anthropologists and resulted in a new set of approaches to understanding humans and the environment. These questions were quintessentially anthropological nature and focused on the human/nature ‘divide’ that Rapport’s study had so masterfully illuminated. In other words, because anthropologists were not ready to accept humans as simply one species among many, there was a need to understand he nexus of human/nature interactions itself. A centralizing paradox thus emerged: humans are simultaneously a part of nature and apart from nature. There was a need to understand the human/nature nexus in broader contexts of history, society, politics, and systems of meaning.

Why we fight and mapping new spaces

A couple of things today. I recently watched a film called "Why We Fight" that I would highly recommend. Thinking again about my comments in my last post concerning the open spaces of democracy, I find myself wondering more and more about the power citizens have to do this. The hope in all the darkness I think is that systems seem to require this stage of control and rigidity in order to find ways to novel forms and processes. A fear that remains with me is the effects of the collapse that is sure to follow the tightening of our current system. Will it be fast? Slow? Painful? I think keeping open the spaces were democracy can thrive is vital, because it is in these same spaces where we find compassion, understanding, and new ways of thinking. The hope is that the new combinations that arise from systemic collapse will lead to brighter futures.

So, that's a little gloomy, but also a little hopeful. Ed Abbey said it well: "Down with Empire! Up with SPRING!"

Second thing today is a piece I wrote about early thoughts on Maps and Space, one of my comp exam questions. It's quite long, so perhaps people can just skim. Anyway, I've been quite intrigued with the questions of power that mapping presents and interested in exploring ways that we can open new spaces and think about alternative futures through the use of old tools. So, here it is:

Maps have always played a roll in encounters between state societies and indigenous communities around the world; including between anthropologists and indigenes. Recent theoretical trends emanating from Western nations have tasked social scientists with exploring the workings of power in these encounters. These explorations have forced reflexive engagements with power as it is expressed in various institutions, discourses, and methodologies at different levels of society. In these reflexive inquiries into the process of inquiry itself maps become critical nexuses interlocking a variety of social-political elements through which we are compelled to consider broad contexts of power. At the same time, maps are also tools, capable of creating effects within the very contexts of power they reflect. Understanding the constructive nature of maps and the effects they create within and between communities are also critical endeavors. At the same time, it is beneficial to consider the activity of mapping as a process that occurs within a specific socio-political context and produces effects at all stages, not only through a final map product. Thus, in considering maps within the context of encounters, it is also essential that we consider the process of mapping.

Harley (2001) has argued convincingly for a discursive perspective of maps as embodiments of specific historical emergences of power. As texts, maps represent not only geographical spaces, but also the political agendas and cultural biases of the map-maker and his commissioners. Thus, we can link Western mapping specifically with the voyages of the Age of Discovery and the establishment of colonial relationships between European nations and other nations across the globe. Early maps and the techniques of mapping grew up in the hands of powerful men who sought to record lands in order to demarcate political boundaries and ensure their access to resources; creating ‘empty’ spaces while lessening the burden of conscience concerning communities on the ground. Therefore maps and mapping, according to Harley and others, are linked to structures of power associated with Western society and colonialism.

The power of maps comes from their ability to reference physical space through abstraction, thereby allowing them to be linked to larger discourses. In his study of the mapping of Siam, Winichakul (1994) expresses the power of such abstraction through his discussion of geo-bodies. The ability to conceive of Siam as a bounded space, argues Winichakul, played an essential role in processes of state-formation. Through their own envisioning of a Siam geo-body Siamese leaders were able to draw on Western mapping techniques and participate in the making of their own state. This raises an interesting set of questions regarding power and cartography. Escolar (1997) suggests that as cartography developed as a discipline it gained epistemological autonomy from the structures of elite power that birthed it, and thus attained neutrality. However, engagements with indigenous communities and mapping have raised new questions regarding any supposed neutrality of maps and processes of mapping.

Clearly, maps are not simply representations of physical space, but also textual representations of mental projections of physical space. What might maps tell us about these mental projections? In an early attempt to address this question, Gould (1973) offers insights into the influence that socio-economic factors have on the mental maps produced by individuals in geographical, and therefore socio-cultural, settings. Brody (1981) and Basso (1996) take us further beyond textual maps to explore the complex cultural processes that serve to link community members (in these cases Native Americans) to their lands through the cross-referencing of geographical features with meaningful stories and knowledge. Ethnographies such as these require that we broaden our concepts of mapping and carefully consider the meaning that ‘maps’ have for indigenous communities. These issues have become particularly critical as anthropologists and other scholars have begun to engage with indigenous groups using mapping as a tool to achieve particular ends. These engagements come as these groups continue to struggle against the powers referenced in Western-style maps.

Engagements between indigenous communities and structures of state power are nothing new; nor are engagements between indigenes and anthropologists. What is new is the use of mapping techniques in these engagements. The earliest attempts at mapping indigenous lands were among First Nation peoples in Canada beginning in the 1960’s. Since that time various mapping approaches and techniques have developed around work with indigenous and other local communities, these include: participatory mapping, community mapping, and public participation GIS.

Though the goals of mapping involving local communities differ from case to case, we might say that the general aim is to represent community landscape perspectives using cartographic techniques. Attempts at ethnocartography, to use Chapin and Threkeld’s term, have made it readily apparent that Escolar’s neutrality is, in fact, extremely elusive. In other words, engagements with indigenous societies have forced into relief the assumptions and biases of Western cartographic techniques. This reflexivity has taken form through attention to the following three areas: 1) the socio-political context in which maps are created; 2) the socio-political context into which maps are placed; and 3) the exclusionary nature of mapping. In sum, maps and mapping occur in socio-political contexts, which they both reflect and influence, ‘freezing’ dynamic processes and resulting in what Fox, et al. call “ironic effects” (2005).

In light of these ironic effects, an appropriate question to ask is: What’s the use of mapping? Indeed, this question has been answered in a variety of ways. Mapping has been used to make counter claims on land (Brody 1981, Peluso 1995), to promote community participation (Weiner, Harris, and Craig 2002), to encourage community cohesion (Parker 2006), and to ensure recognition and resource rights (Fox 2002). The multifarious ways that maps have been employed in work involving local communities suggests that context is key when considering the potential (ab)uses of mapping technology.

In the case of Japan, for example, we must wonder to what ends mapping will be put. Because territorial claims and land claims have been more or less settled since WWII, there is little need for mapping directed at such aims. Yet, Japanese landscapes have changed significantly over the past decades and many rural villages are in danger of extinction. However, the majority of mapping in Japan has taken place at the national level, in line with national interests. Missing throughout much of Japan’s history have been the voices of local communities, despite their bearing the brunt of the asymmetrical impacts of the landscape changes associated with Japan’s urban-focused modernity. Participatory and community mapping could potentially have several benefits for villages in Japan. First, communities would benefit from the process of mapping, which would allow individuals opportunities to work together while interacting with neighbors and the surrounding environment. Second, maps enable a landscape view that would potentially offer new possibilities for managing private and municipal land. Maps would also provide local communities with a medium for conveying their ideas and perspectives to prefecture and national level officials, reversing a top-down trend that has been disastrous for rural areas. Finally, mapping has the potential to illuminate the experience, beliefs, and knowledge of community members that give meaning to village landscapes. This has the potential to reveal values capable of opening new spaces in which the discourses of advanced capitalism can be confronted and countered.

An understanding of maps as points of articulation, conflict, and contestation within broader socio-political contexts invites us to envision novel ways of mapping alternative futures. Anthropological engagements with mapping have revealed the discursive nature of maps. This revelation brings with it new dangers and new responsibilities, but also new possibilities. A common assumption seems to be that once a geographical space is mapped it is no longer open to alternative maps, therefore much work in community mapping occurs at the ‘edges’ of the mapped world. How might we approach community mapping in those areas where maps have long gone uncontested? Might we map new courses of thinking about the world of advanced capitalism?

Basso, K. 1996. Wisdom sits in places: landscape and language among the Western Apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Brody, H. 1981. Maps and Dreams: Indians and the British Columbia Frontier. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre.
Escolar, M. 1997. Exploration, cartography and the modernization of state power. International Social Science Journal 49:55-75.
Fox, J. 2002. Siam Mapped and Mapping in Cambodia: Boundaries, Sovereignty, and Indigenous Conceptions of Space. Society & Natural Resources 15:65-78.
Fox, J., K. Suryanata, P. Hershock, and A. H. Promono. 2005. "Mapping Power: Ironic Effects of Spatial Information Technology," in Mapping Communities. Edited by J. Fox, K. Suryanata, and P. Hershock, pp. 1-10. Honolulu: East-West Center.
Gould, P. R. 1973. "On Mental Maps," in Image and Environment: Cognitive Mapping and Spatial Behavior. Edited by R. M. Downs and D. Stea, pp. 182-220. Chicago: Aldine
Harley, J. B. 2001. "Maps, Knowledge, and Power," in The New Nature of Maps: essays in the history of cartography. Edited by P. Laxton, pp. 51-81. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.
Parker, B. 2006. "Constructing Community Through Maps? Power and Praxis in Community Mapping*," vol. 58, pp. 470-484.
Weiner, D., T. Harris, and W. J. Craig. 2002. "Community participation and geographic information systems," in Community Participation and Geograpic Information Systems. Edited by W. J. Craig, T. M. Harris, and D. Weiner, pp. 3-16. New York: Taylor and Francis.
Winichakul, T. 1994. Siam Mapped: a history of the geo-body of a nation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

What is environmental anthropology? PT. IV

So, I guess I said I was going to write about Julian Steward today.

Steward was born back east and his father was a bureaucrat of some sort. His mother was a Christian Scientist, which appears to have turned Steward off to religion for life. As a teenager he attended a boys school in a small valley at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains in small basin near Owens Valley, California. I'm forgetting the name of the school now, but basically it was a place where the boys lived, worked, and were educated. Steward appears to have fallen in love with the place, and the austerity of his surroundings had a big impact on his approach to anthropology.

Steward's father had passed away at some point and so caring for his mother fell to he and his sister. This was often a burden for Steward as he struggled to pay for graduate studies (and I thought that was only a contemporary problem). Anthropology was still young at this point, with nearly all departments having been started with students of the great Boas. I'm not remembering for sure now, but I believe Steward finished his undergraduate degree at Cornell where he studied zoology and biology. But, the east didn't suit the young graduate's passions and so he went West again to Berkeley, where he enrolled in graduate school in anthropology.

At this time the anthropology program at Berkeley was part of a single department with geography. The "building" that housed the department sounds like it was almost like an airport hanger, filled with an Egyptian sarcophagus and other such archaeological treasures--real Indiana Jones type anthropology. The only two anthropology faculty were Robert Lowie and Alfred Kroeber, both Boas students. The department's faculty also included Carl Sauer, a geographer who has since become legendary in the field.

Steward became very close to Kroeber and carried on a personal and professional correspondence with him for the rest of his life. As he scrapped by with grants from his old school in the California desert, Steward took part in fieldwork to assist Kroeber in studies he was engaged in that focused on the gathering of cultural trait lists to explore theories of diffusion from one group to another. Steward seems to have been entirely indifferent to the work, but it allowed him to begin exploring his own ideas which focused on cultural traits and resource use.

Steward finished his M.A. and then Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, with the latter coming in 1929, just in time for the Depression. Jobs and funding were extremely scarce, so Steward bumped around finding this or that grant to fund fieldwork and further research. He soon married his first wife, who was a child psychologist. She obtained a position at the University of Utah and played a role in helping her husband to get hired as well. Before this, Steward had been appointed to the new department of anthropology at the University of Michigan, but left the job (against the advice of Kroeber) to move to Utah and marry his fiancee. He perhaps should have heeded his former professor's advice, because his marriage was soon in trouble and Steward has become involved with a student (a Mormon gal from Salt Lake City). Divorce was not favorably looked upon and because Steward worked at the same university as his wife, the decision to end the marriage was a terribly difficult one. But, he took the professional risk and finally divorced from his wife and married his new love interest. It appears that his second wife was less educated than his first and therefore paid greater interest to Steward's work, something he must have liked because the second marriage lasted the rest of his life.

That's sort of the juicy part of Steward's life. Most of the information comes from a book called "Scenes From the High Desert" by Virginia Kearns. It's a really interesting read and I'd recommend it to anyone, anthropologist or otherwise. Kearns does a good job weaving her historical narrative into an examination of the constructivity of scientific knowledge. For example, her observation of Steward's apparent need for some ego-stroking from his wife may be reflected in the fact that his theories never sought to account for the activities of women. And with that, on to the theories.

Steward's approach to anthropology is known as cultural ecology. Essentially he was trying to understand the cultural features that allowed different groups to adapt to particular environments. He suggested a suite of cultural traits revolving around subsistence activities, and labeled this the culture core. In other words, any of the cultural traits that developed around the obtaining of food were part of the culture core (Steward's lack of focus on women's activities severely warped this concept, as much of the food in small-scale societies comes from the gathering activities of females). Steward hypothesized that, although peripheral traits would exhibit great variation, similar environments would result in similar culture cores. Put differently, desert dwellers in the Great Basin are going to share core cultural characteristics with desert dwellers in Mexico, or Africa, or western China. Once a common culture core had been discovered through cross-cultural comparisons of different groups, this could be called a culture type.

Comparison is the key for Steward. Partly as a reaction to the Boasian tradition that so dominated American Anthropology, he was trying to establish a theoretical framework that could allow for cross-cultural comparisons. Steward was extremely positivistic and so he sought to establish laws that governed cultural evolution. Unlike early evolutionists, however, Steward recognized that cultures could evolve in a great variety of forms, thus he termed his brand of cultural evolution multilineal evolution. In sum, Steward saw the procurement of food as the most basic necessity of humans and therefore suggested that similar environments would produce similar techniques for obtaining food. Peripheral traits could take on a variety of forms, but the core traits would tend to be similar and universal.

So, Steward's main contribution was to bring ecological thinking to anthropology. He opened the door for perceiving humans as parts of natural ecologies and suggested that cultural traits could be understood in part through an examination of their ecological relationships to the natural world in which they existed. It's fair to say that Steward is the father of ecological anthropology. Through his students he established a new direction in anthropology that paid consideration to the environment as a major causal force in human culture. Anthropology focused on the environment --> culture issue for a while, until others flipped the equation and began inquiring about human impacts on the environment. In reality, both of this intellectual threads occurred simultaneously, but in anthropology the former tended to diminish the other. In my next post I'll discuss them both.

What is environmental anthropology? PT. III

So, we're in the Americas now.

I've included a picture of Franz Boas, who I discussed before. Boas was a very strict empiricist who paid little attention to theory that was not supported by evidence. In the case of Anthropology he was highly critical of the evolutionists who had spent much time producing 'armchair' theory based on little actual data. He also perceived the mass extinction of Native Americans occurring in the United States and therefore sought to collect as much information as possible about these indigenous groups. Boas also despised the racist sentiments that were prevalent in much social science at the time and so he specifically targeted his research on culture to show that biology had very little to do with people's intelligence. In terms of the environment, Boas' work suggested that it didn't matter if you lived in Ohio or Timbuktu, your beliefs and behavior stemmed from the culture you had been born and raised into.

Boas' impact on American Anthropology was deep and broad. He set up camp at Columbia and began cranking out the nation's first Ph.D.s in anthropology. Moreover, he sent them out forth as if they were missionaries to spread the word of historical particularism (a perspective that suggests that cultures are entirely unique and therefore must be studied with attention to historical details rather than appeals to larger theories). The nations most famous anthropologists were students of Boas, including: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Alfred Kroeber, Clark Wissler, Robert Lowie, Edward Sapir, and Fay-Cooper Cole. These students established anthropology departments across the country and American Anthropology entered its childhood.

In line with the Boas' culture-focused scheme, few anthropologists paid much attention to environment in the first decades of the 20th century. A notable exception was Clark Wissler whose "culture area" concept suggested that similarities in cultures could be explained, in part, as adjustments to particular environments. In other words, Wissler suggested that though environments didn't PRODUCE cultures, they furnished the mediums through which grew. Thus, a culture had certain elements that were related to the geographical area in which it was located.

Wissler's contemplation of the connection between culture and environment previewed the work of arguably the most important figure in ecological and environmental anthropology, Julian Steward.

Steward is a very interesting figure, who did much of his early fieldwork in the Great Basin among the Shoshone, so I'm quite fond of him. His story is fascinating, so in my next entry I'll try to focus a bit more on him as a person, as well as his important contributions to my discipline.

As an ending note, I'd like to invite whomever might be reading to think about an idea that I rediscovered recently in an article by Terry Tempest Williams. She discusses the "open space of democracy", a need for open spaces: physical, spiritual, emotional, political, and social were new ideas can be presented and discussed so that we can envision alternative futures. As I watch my own country narrow its focus more and more on fictive dangers like 'terrorism' while true dangers lurk both home and abroad (wire-tapping, secret vice-presidencies, attacks on dissent, poverty, AIDS, global warming. . .), I wonder if we can all find ways to re-open some of these spaces for democracy. Can we ignore some of the disctractions and take time to find these places? There are real spaces, between FOX and CNN, where real ideas hum like notes waiting for a singer to sing them into something new and beautiful. I hope we can all begin to find spaces to rethink our world; otherwise they will all disappear.