Saturday, November 29, 2008


Well, it is actually quite difficult to just wander the streets and find robots. But they do pop up more often then they would in Canada or the UK (or maybe I am just looking for every ad or poster or whatnot that has a robot on it)? But that's okay, wandering the streets is fine. But apart from eating sushi and watching Harajuku girls, a lot of my time is spent corresponding, completing various paperwork, and so on...

I find the impression in anthropology is often that you sort of land in a country, enter on some kind of vague visa, and then just disappear off in the bush. While I suppose you can talk facilely about the "urban jungle" of Tokyo, I'm not sure this line of reasoning works so well in Japan. Its actually kind of crazy---I'm not sure what other countries have this practice, but in Japan they photograph and fingerprint every foreigner as they enter the country. Of course, going through borders is always a problem and I know I have about the least of it as anyone, with profiling and all. But still I feel constantly frustrated by all the paper-pushing. It took about 7 months or more for the big institution of my laboratory and the big institution of my university to agree to terms for me to go to such lab, take the risk all on myself, and hand around/work for them. After finally having that resolved, there are still ongoing issues with the visa, which requires me to get signed documents saying how much money I have sent so they can go to the immigration office and send me a visa, which I am supposed to be outside of Japan to actually use (luckily they agreed I could do it at the Tokyo office instead of having to leave and re-enter). Now I'm also spending my time pinballing around to find an academic affiliation.

Anyway, on the issue of money. The other funny thing is that anthropologists are always worried about having too much more power and too much more money than those they work with. Which I guess is a valid personal concern. But let me tell you, I think in the scheme of things, its not so bad! One person told me that when he first came to Japan to do his PhD they decided he didn't have enough money and he could not enter. He said it was like a disaster, though luckily he could have his parents sign something. These issues are not unlike the UK, which I suppose is fitting seeing as how the UK and Japan are probably the bureaucrat capitals of the world.

So it is very Kafka-esque.
One person tells you to speak to another person who forwards you along to another person...
Funding foundations want proof of your visa before they will disburse your funds that you require in order to obtain your visa...

And so who can I even think of in anthropology who has written about this? That's right, our cohort's favourite, David Graeber ;)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

First Post

Well, I meant to set up a fieldwork blog and with DK being so diligent... I better start writing something!!!

While I am still getting used to this blogging about life, I'll just be a bit ramble-y.

I've been in Tokyo just over a week now. Here's my main thoughts on "fieldwork" so far, though it's hard to say really whether I am really doing "fieldwork". For starters, I'm still waiting to be able to start at my laboratory in January, as well as various visa issues, and trying to set up my academic affiliation. On the other hand, I need to do something with myself, so I try to at least go around (to places where there might be robots especially!) and take notes. We're told that we should take notes on everything, and take a lot of notes. Which is strange. Because on the one hand there seems to be so many things I could write down all the time. Especially in Tokyo, there is constant bombardment of shapes, colors, people. And that's with the inability to really read most signs properly and to understand the conversations going on around me! But it's also very exhausting to be taking notes about things all the time. It also seems trivial and sort of silly. A strange feeling, trying to observe all these things which might occupy your mind for a brief second and then be forgotten. Like on the train, I write down various gadgets that people are using as well as a description of the person using it. I write down interesting advertisements. I write down descriptions of pachinko parlours. It's also difficult I find to be very detailed about these things. How do I explain a pachinko parlour other than loud, smokey, and an overload of flashing lights and colours?This actually works better when you are kind of anonymous, as I can sit there and write in a notebook and nobody really cares. Of course, in a conversation with a person it is not all that easy to pull out a notebook and start writing. I suppose it is also an interesting exercise in memory... trying to put these things in mind and be able to recall them later.

The other thing is how much you feel like a spy, like you are somehow being dodgy! I mainly find this when observing people's behavior. For instance, I found a service robot that moves around a mall so I followed it around while browsing the shops in order to record people's responses. It's just very strange to be half-pretending to look at Lacoste sweaters or Japanese language magazines while I try to note down people's body gestures and interest in a robot that looks something like a giant vending machine.

But as I said, I don't have my laboratory yet and I'm also working on the language. So, it will be interesting to see what "fieldwork" and "note-taking" feels like when I have people who I interact with regularly as my "informants"!