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Special Message from AAA President Dominguez for Japan

A special message from AAA President Dominguez for colleagues and friends in Japan:

Dear friends and colleagues in the WCAA,

I am truly distressed, as you no doubt also are, by the devastation in Japan and the continued terrible nuclear disaster potential there. I want to send condolences and the warmest regards of concern and collegiality to the Japanese association, all of its members, their families, students, and friends.

In sympathy and friendship (and on behalf of many thousands of your colleagues),
Virginia

Virginia R. Dominguez
President, American Anthropological Association

There have been inquiries as to people who are interested in providing their technical assistance to Japan, the USAID website has a variety of agencies currently seeking support for assistance in Japan.

6 Responses

  1. Thank you very much for theassociation’s moral support!

  2. [...] via Special Message from AAA President Dominguez for Japan [...]

  3. Today I am following the news in Japan and wondering where all the anthropologists are. At the AAA, we had an inspiring talk about making anthropological expertise public, and about our responsibility to make our knowledge more useful and relevant by engaging with the public. I walked away feeling my discipline had relevance to pressing issues.

    Watching the earthquake/tsunami, and particularly the nuclear-incident coverage, it strikes me (I am not an expert on Japan or Asia), that the responses to this crisis have been as much dictated by Japanese culture and custom as anything else (watch the social conventions of the press-conferences and observe the many instances of face-saving by government and industry officials, as but only one example).

    Why must I rely on Anderson Cooper to interpret (rather incredulously) why, when a truck distributing water in a devastated area ran out, the lineup of people who had been waiting for hours simply “walked away calmly” without rioting or yelling? Why is it that every reporter describes how the Japanese are “responding calmly” and “trust their government” to provide services? What are the historical and cultural conditions that have led Japan to embrace nuclear power so strongly?

    My point is that there is an urgent need for cultural contextualization and interpretive insight here, and there is a tremendous opportunity for anthropologists to provide their input on why the response is taking the course that it is. Where are they, I ask?

    My question specifically to Dr. Dominguez: What has the AAA done to mobilize a coherent group of experts to engage the public with our expertise and insight?

  4. I am a graduate student in Gadjha Mada University, Yogyakarta, central Java of Indonesia (following S.Ann Dunham’s study here and had translated her dissertation into Japanese). So nor am I an anthropological expert on Japan. But as a Japanese citizen, I deeply appreciate kind expression of sympathy, thoughts and prayers of AAA, American people to Japan. I also would like to thank you for USA’s aid for my country.

    As we watched, demonic tsunami swept away innumerable children, men, women, old people, their photos, clothes, houses, cars, roads, temples, shrins,,,,everything in Tohoku area (northeast of Japan). The vast lands are lost as well because the height seems to be getting below sea level. The disaster kills off the local culture, extinguishes traces of the local people.

    The media in Indonesia here also have reported with surprise the calm attitudes, behaviors of Japanese suffers and refugees. In a couple of days I was absorbed thought why Japanese can do such calm behavior in this difficult time. I’m not a expert on Japanese culture but I dare to say empirically that in case of such devastating disaster, a switch of “tsutsushimi 慎み” – in English “modesty” “being reserved” “being humble” – is turned on in Japanese brain or heart. More difficult is the situation, more modest become they (let me write “they” rather than “we” in this article because I see Japan from outside now).

    I don’t know the reason but could presume inductively that their calm behaviors are owing to the ethnically homogeneous society (but they have several ethnic groups indeed, the Aynu and so on), using one major language in one islands-country which had never been occupied by other ethnic groups/nation except being governed by USA after WWII. Because of its historical and social circumstance, Japanese can and try to feel what neighbor want to do/need each other without words. Usually most of them, especially the countryside, keep themselves modest and passive in difficult situation. That behaviors are evaluated as “toku 徳” , virtue or moral.
    Look the lineup of people who are waiting to be given the food or drink. Maybe you could find people keep some space between each other, not so close. The space is called “ma 間” and it is an important factor of communicating way in Japan.

    Of course they have a limit of patience. If people living near the nuclear plant are forced to spend evacuation life so long time, they could burst into anger against the government. Eventually many people around Fukushima plant no longer trust announcements of government and electric industry officials.

    I hope Japanese behaviors in this disaster case would be a useful instance for sociologists, social anthropologists, and anti-disaster officials. Let me point out, however, that Japanese have ethnically peculiar background other than multiracial society like your nation.

    As someone argue, it might be important that anthropologist show interpretive insight in relation to Japanese current condition. I think, however, we can make more use of the anthropological knowledge for reviving the affected communities in the future. People in Tohoku area have a lot of folktale (for example “Tohno Monogatari 遠野物語”, Tales of Tohno) and unique culture in Japan.

    I can’t help preying for my friends who are still looking for their family in the dark coast.

    (I’m sorry for my poor English.)

  5. A special response from President Dominguez:

    Many anthropologists are doing their part to provide information and help in the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We applaud them. Consider joining AAA’s Society for East Asian Anthropology (SEAA). Their list serve has been buzzing with the ongoings of current events and ways to be of assistance. You can also keep checking the website of the Japanese Society for Cultural Anthropology (JASCA). Once the immediate crisis subsides our Japanese colleagues will formulate ways they (and we hope others) may be able to help Japan. Other AAA Sections and Interest groups are also worth consulting, perhaps especially AAA’s Anthropology and Environment Section (A&E), the Biological Anthropology Section (BAS), the Society for Medical Anthropology (SMA), and the Society for Psychological Anthropology (SPA).

  6. Dr. Dominguez and Maeyama,
    Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment and to offer your insights and some resources for reading.

    Let me say also that my heart breaks for Japan and my thoughts are with all the many people affected by these tragedies.

    My comment is more to do with the public engagement of anthropologists alluded to in the AAA plenary, rather than the internal discussions within anthropology, on list-servs, and on campuses (my own is holding a discussion event on Tuesday, and I’m sure many other anthropology departments are hosting similar events).

    But still, the cultural interpretation of Japan on CNN, in the NYTimes, the Globe and Mail, and on al Jazeera is completely devoid of anthropological insight, is superficial and often plainly in error. This, I think, is a tremendous disappointment, given the cultural, historical and political-economic forces influencing how these events unfold.

    It would also seem to me that the AAA could be playing a more active role, for example, by organizing a “rapid response team” of anthropological experts whose work is relevant to a particular disaster or event, and connecting them with media in an effort to make our knowledge more useful, consumable and relevant.

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