Friday, April 17, 2009

Olivia Harris

Professor Olivia Harris

We are very sorry to announce that Olivia Harris died in her sleep at University College Hospital on the morning of 9th April. She had been suffering from cancer.

Olivia's funeral will be held at 2:30pm on on Tuesday 28 April at Southwark Cathedral. Everyone is welcome to attend.

The department will be closed from 1.00pm on the afternoon of Tuesday 28th April and all teaching will be cancelled.

Sad news from LSE Anthro

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


In Kyoto, a Call Not to Trample the Geisha

Interesting, when I was in Kyoto I was too shy to ask take photos of geisha/maiko I saw, though I did notice other foreigners (wish there was a more nuanced term but whatever) had no qualms just taking out their big DSLR, snapping a photo on some taken aback or shy group of maiko without asking, and continuing along.

In the article, what really strikes me are the quotes:

  • “They have lived through the ages and remain to this day,” said Ponkka. “They are unlike anything else you see in Japan. Most of Japanese culture today is just a mixture of things from overseas.”
  • “You don’t know who they are and what they do, and so much of them is hidden,” said Anna Kalshoven, a visitor from Amsterdam. “They are like the exact opposite of what we are and what we know” in the West.
What the hell? Okay, I guess they picked the most sensationalist quotes they could find and a fine understanding of the critique of cultural essentialism and orientalism shouldn't be expected. But still... What the hell?

Anyway, this was interesting:
  • Yuji Nakanishi, professor of tourism at Rikkyo University in Saitama near Tokyo, said that the friction over tourist behavior arises from a perception gap. “Japanese tend to associate tourism with historical landmarks, but foreigners are interested in people’s lives and their lifestyles,” he said. “Places like the fish market were never really considered a tourist site until quite recently, so both sides are really confused.”
Now I can see this when you are talking about tourism IN JAPAN. Japanese people, as tourists in Japan, go to temples or shrines or so on. But I'm not sure this is true when they go to other countries (in fact it flatly contradicts the stereotype of camera-trigger-happy Japanese people taking pictures of dogs and Subway fastfood joints, problematic as that image may be). Even in Japan, its not unknown for someone to subtly try to take a picture of me. And, while I do have my occassional bouts of egomania, I don't consider myself to be an historical landmark. Plus, I also thought it interesting how they are saying the foreigners treat Gion/Kyoto as a theme park, which made me really think I need to get around to reading this book which is on the creation of "foreign-themed" parks inside Japan.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Japanese 'villages' and their exotic occupants delighted and mystified visitors to the Great Exhibitions and Worlds' Fairs . At the beginning of the 21st Century, Japanese tourists have reversed the gaze and now may visit a range of European 'countries', as well as several other cultural worlds, without ever leaving the shores of Japan. This book suggests that these and other exciting Asian theme parks pose a challenge to Western notions of leisure, education, and entertainment.

Is this a case of reverse orientalism? Or is it simply a commercial follow-up on the success of Tokyo Disneyland? Is it an appropriation by one rich nation of a whole world of cultural delights from the countries that have influenced its twentieth-century success? Can the parks be seen as political statements about the heritage on which Japan now draws so freely? Or are they new forms of ethnographic museum?

Examining Japanese parks in the context of a variety of historical examples of cultural display in Europe, the U.S. and Australia, as well as other Asian examples, the author calls into question the too easy adoption of postmodern theory as an ethnocentrically Western phenomenon and clearly shows that Japan has given theme parks an entirely new mode of interpretation.

Well, off to Bangkok tomorrow. Let the tourism begin!

The Singularity

Amazing these both appear on the same day:

Computer Program Self-Discovers the Laws of Physics

First Robot Scientist Makes Gene Discovery

Let's see them do anthropology...