Cultural anthropology: refugees and immigrants in Japan; homelessness; political activists; social and new media; digital archive and mediated ethnography; youth culture and new labor; disaster and recovery; oral narrative; Tohoku and Tokyo
Today we are in a "global refugee crisis" of unprecedented and often unimagined proportions. While we in Japan often think of this crisis as being far removed from Japan, in fact it has reached our shores. According to the Japanese Ministry of Justice, in 2010, Japan received 1,202 refugee applications. By 2017, that increased 1,600% to 19,628 (although only 20 applications were approved). While interpretation of these figures is sometimes difficult, it is evident that Japan has become a destination for far more refugees, and the increased number of applicants is overwhelming the capacity of both refugee evaluators and the civil society agencies charged with supporting the refugees while they are awaiting evaluation, often for years. Japan faces a policy challenge in the setting of targets and criteria for refugee evaluation, as well as legal and humanitarian challenges in the ways in which these asylum seekers are supported while in Japan, a core principle of the UN Convention on Refugees. My project proposes to ethnographically study policy implementation around issues of the treatment and management of the large and growing asylum-seeking population within Japan's borders, with particular attention to the role of the State and civil society organizations charged with supporting this population. Specifically, I ask: A) Who are these refugees, why have they come to Japan, and how are they settling here (in particular in contract to the US case)? B) What are the on-the-ground effects of refugee policy in Japan and the US, and in particular, how do we ethnographically document and evaluate the State's and civil society organizations' policy effectiveness in their efforts to support asylum seekers in Tokyo and NYC? C) What are these refugees' relationships to local Japanese community, and how might these refugee find some place within Japanese society? Besides the better understanding of refugee policy and asylum seeker support itself, refugee policy sits at the intersection of some of the most important policy issues in contemporary Japan and in many refugee-accepting nations, including the US. On the one hand, in policies addressing population decline and labor shortage, refugees are often seen as valuable resources. On the other hand, policies that focus on national security or cultural identity frequently imagine refugees as possible threats to the national polity. Evaluation of these issues depend upon a far more intimate knowledge of who these refugees are—their background, skills, and aspirations in coming to Japan—than we have at the moment. The scholarly contribution of this project lies in the identification of new "migrant flows," in this case, refugee flows into Japan that are arriving not through the mediating influence of ethnic enclaves, as many past immigrants have arrived, but more directly dependent upon the State and civil society organizations that are charged with supporting them. This difference will allow us to capture a new pattern of "minority" residents, often from the Middle East and Africa, and also re-think the important but out-of-date concept of "assimilation." Besides academic publications, I will be using the digital oral narrative interview data to create the "Japanese Refugee Archive" with an open community website, tentatively entitled "Refugee TV." This website will have an interactive design that will collect statistical, geographic, and policy information to contextualize selected digital video clips from my research interviews, all translated into Japanese, indexed through user-generated search terms for easy access and meaningful review. This sort of engaged scholarly outreach will enable Japanese citizens can become familiar with refugees and their situation.