NEAC Distinguished Speakers Bureau — Japan Speakers

In 2022, NEAC developed a new component of the DSB: the Speaker’s Program for Early Career Scholars (SPECS). The goal of SPECS is to promote new directions in the study of Japan and Korea and provide opportunities for early career scholars to share their research with a broad range of audiences. With their innovative methodologies, dynamic presentation skills, and social media presence, select up-and-coming scholars may succeed in connecting with a new generation of students, including historically excluded demographics. Faculty at schools with well-established programs on the study of Asia are eligible to invite Early Career speakers to campus and, if relevant, provide feedback on works in progress or other kinds of mentoring. PhD candidate Kaitlyn Ugoretz of the University of California-Santa Barbara will serve as the first speaker in this pilot program.

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Will Bridges

August 31, 2022 – March 31, 2025
Available for live virtual events and in-person events, pending speaker availability

Will Bridges is the Arthur Satz Professor of the Humanities, Associate Professor of Japanese, and Core Faculty member of the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies at the University of Rochester. His first monograph is Playing in the Shadows: Fictions of Race and Blackness in Postwar Japanese Literature (University of Michigan Press, 2020).  His latest publication is a co-edited volume entitled Who Is the Asianist? The Politics of Representation in Asian Studies (Association for Asian Studies, 2022).  He is currently working on two manuscripts. The first is On the Ethics of the Possible: Reimagining Intergenerational Justice at the End of Heisei.  The second is The Black Pacific: A Poetic History.  He is the founding editor of the Journal of Social and Cultural Possibilities.   He is also a Pushcart Prize-nominated author of creative nonfiction.

Presentations Offered by Professor Bridges:

Epistemology of the Violets: Heuristics toward a Sensorium of Afro-Japanese Co-creativity

In Development Drowned and Reborn, Clyde Woods proposes that we envision new worlds—worlds “more egalitarian and democratic,” and more committed to “sustainability” and “social, cultural, and economic justice”—by way of an epistemology of the blues.  The blues are that musical form born in the freedom found in the wake of American slavery.  They are characterized by the expressive deviations of the blue note and the transformation of memories of the sounds of the plantation (field hollers, wailings, and so on) into something more mellifluous.  Woods contends that, with a bit of synesthesia, the modes of listening and sounding out afforded by the blues might help us make better sense of the world and give us a sense of how a better world might be.  

            This talk is interested in the formation of what we might call an epistemology of the violets, or that way of seeing and being in the world at the intersection of the blues and the reds, with “red” here serving as a chromatic stand in for the epistemological and sensorial insights embedded in Japanese creative works.  To date, Afro-Japanese scholarship has been framed primarily by concepts such as representation and reception.  While informative in their own way, such frameworks prime us to think about transferences from one culture (“blues”) to another (“reds”).  The aim of this talk is to provide general heuristics for those interested in the study of the epistemological possibilities of purple, or a way of seeing and creating possible worlds that is neither red nor blue—neither African American nor Japanese—but both red and blue, the emergence upon their coalescence.

Blackness in Japanese Literature in the Age of Hip Hop—A Mic Check

This talk explores the writing and performance of blackness in Japanese literature in an age when the hip hop-inspired signs and techniques of the post-racial exist side-by-side with the legacies and realities of the racial.  Hip hop-flavored Japanese authors and auteurs–Mobu Norio, Yamada Eimi, Ito Seiko, Shing02, Watanabe Shinichiro, and so on—serve as the points of departure for this inquiry.  Barely weighed down by the shibboleths of authenticity, blackness in the cultural works of self-styled “black” Japanese authors such as Mobu Norio and Yamada Eimi becomes less invested in the accurate representation of black people and narratives and more interested in the mastery of putatively black styles. By turning an ear to black voices penned in Japanese, this mic check allows us to hear what becomes of the blackness, and what blackness becomes, in the age of hip hop: a transnational performance of anti-essentialist, highly commodified sonic styles.

The Tragedy before the Blood Commons and Other Dark Fantasies from the End of Heisei

            The tragedy of the commons suggests that there are situations in which actors who have open access to common resources will use that resource in self-interested ways that ultimately deplete the commons.  The tragedy of the blood commons is a twist on its classical counterpart proposed by economist Glen Whitman. Whitman proposes that the undead too face a tragedy of the commons: human beings, of course, are a limited resource, one which must be shared by the zombies or vampires who feed upon them.  If zombies or vampires feed with only their self interest in mind, they will soon have a tragedy on their hands (the overgrazing of the human population), which Whitman refers to as the tragedy of the blood commons.  Whitman’s solution to this tragedy: the privatization of human beings. 

            This talk is interested in the tragedy before the blood commons.  When the logic of the tragedy of the blood commons is accepted without questioning, something tragic occurs well in advance of the moment we step foot in the commons: we assume that it is in our best interest not to invest in the commons at all.  In so doing, we lose, in the words of Isabelle Stengers, “the very practices that made [us] a community, that cause us to think, imagine, and create in a mode in which what one does matters to others, and is a resource for others.”  This talk thinks through the tragedy before the blood commons as it is animated in works such as Attack on Titan, The Promised Neverland, and Made in Abyss.  What, this talk asks, does the ubiquity of blood commons in end-of-Heisei era anime have to tell us about both the currents of Japan’s animated and cultural history as well as the possibility of better ways of imagining the commons?   

Six Ways to Stand with the Work of Art in the Age of Instagrammatical Reproduction: Tanaka Tatsuya and the Beautiful Plenitude of the Re-Imagination   

This talk explores six ways to see photographer Tanaka Tatsuya’s (1981 – ) signature project, the Miniature Calendar.  The Miniature Calendar project began on April 20, 2011. Since then, Tanaka has posted a photograph of a miniature diorama on his Instagram account every day, without fail. He plans to post in perpetuity.

 The central aesthetic device of the Miniature Calendar is mitate, a term which refers (in the arts) to visual transpositioning.  The term, however, has six definitions.  This talk considers the Miniature Calendar through the lens of all six definition of mitate.  Rather than six analyses of the Miniature Calendar, however, this talk (accepting the methodological invitation inherent to the Miniature Calendar itself) considers the artwork of Tanaka Tatsuya as a prompt to re-imagine how we see things in the world, with “things” here ranging from the possibilities of the humanities to the call of intergenerational justice.          

Will Bridges currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in his term on the NEAC DSB:

4 engagements between August 30, 2022 and March 31, 2023

4 engagements between April 1, 2023 and March 31, 2024

4 engagements between April 1, 2024 and March 31, 2025

Julie Nelson Davis

Julie Nelson Davis

April 1, 2021-March 31, 2024
Available for in-person events or virtual events and webinars

Julie Nelson Davis is Professor of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches modern East Asian art from 1600 to the present. Her research focuses on ukiyo-e, the “pictures of the floating world,” the vibrant prints, paintings, and illustrated books celebrating and advertising the trends, entertainments, and occupations of early modern Japan. Davis is the author of Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty (2007, second edition 2021), Partners in Print: Artistic Collaboration and the Ukiyo-e Market (2015), and Picturing the Floating World: Ukiyo-e in Context (forthcoming 2021). She is currently working on two new projects: one on imitation, homage, and fakery in early modern Japanese art and the second on Hokusai as a book illustrator. Davis has also served as guest curator for numerous exhibition, editor-in-chief for (2020-2023), and president of the Japan Art History Forum (2014-2020).

Please note that for on-campus visits, Professor Davis would also be available to look with students and faculty at local collections of Japanese artworks and illustrated books.

Presentations Offered by Professor Davis:

Reappraising Beauty for the Past and the Present: An Utamaro Case Study

In one of the most famous early modern illustrated books, the Annual Events of the ‘Azure Towers,’ Illustrated (Seirō ehon) Nenjū gyōji, from 1804, artist Kitagawa Utamaro and writer Jippensha Ikku described the festivals and customs that marked the annual calendar for the licensed prostitution district, the Yoshiwara, in the city of Edo. Now regarded as one of the most beautiful books of its time, it has been often described as a kind of insiders’ view into the secret life of the quarter, as though documentary in intent. In this presentation, I overturn that reading and address how the book served to promote the district, arguing that we now, more than ever, we need to put this book, along with other images of “beauties,” into a critical dialogue with their social and historical contexts. Taking up some of the issues addressed by the #metoo movement, this talk further addresses ways to think more critically about the role of art history, literary studies, and Japanese studies in colonialist narratives extending into the present.

The Ghost in the Brush: Mastery, Genius, and the Artist Katsushika Ōi

Katsushika Ōi (ca. 1800-1860) was regarded in her lifetime as an exceptional artist. Her famous father, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), wrote that her pictures of beautiful women were better than his own, while another contemporary artist commented that she had made a “reputation as a talented painter.” Yet only some dozen paintings and a few illustrated books bear her signature as work of her own. Given her reputation, why are there so few works remaining from the hand of Ōi? This talk reconsiders Ōi’s career, style, and legacy in the context of Katsushika house style, arguing that positing “late Hokusai” as a singular genius leaves out the potential for Ōi’s contribution as a “ghost brush.” How this upholds false narratives (where the brush of mastery is singular as well male) is shown as a means of producing another kind of “ghost,” one where workshop practice and collaboration have been vanished in the construction of Hokusai in the Meiji period, when the history of Japanese art was rewritten for reception abroad as well as for profit. How Ōi’s life and work has recently been the subject of the manga series and anime Miss Hokusai (Sarusuberi, 2015) and the novel The Printmaker’s Daughter (2011) will also be discussed.

The Art World of Ukiyo-e: The “Pictures of the Floating World” in Context

Ukiyo-e, the “pictures of the floating world,” are regarded today as masterpieces, with these prints and books among the most iconic (and expensive) in Japanese art. Yet it is often said that ukiyo-e was not appreciated in its home country in its own time, rather that it was when prints and books arrived in France accidentally—as packing material for ceramics—that they were given due credit. In this talk, I debunk the myth of ukiyo-e being so little valued that it was used for packing and wrapping, demonstrating that ukiyo-e was thoroughly appreciated as a field of artistic production, worthy of connoisseurship and even of canonization in its own time. By putting these images back into their dynamic context, we can reconstruct a vibrant, multilayered art world of consumers and makers, where prints, books, and paintings were bought, sold, valued, collected, and discussed. Some were made for a commercial market, backed by savvy entrepreneurs seeking out new ways to make a profit, while others were produced for private coteries and high-ranking individuals seeking cultural capital. As a genre under construction in its own time, these images were part of an art world under active negotiation.

Julie Nelson Davis currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in her term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between April 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023

3 engagements between April 1, 2023 and March 31, 2024

Jennifer Robertson

Jennifer Robertson

April 1, 2021-March 31, 2024
Available for recorded or live virtual events, webinars, or In-Person events*
*Pending on DSB speaker availability and campus restrictions

Jennifer Robertson is Professor Emerita, Departments of Anthropology and the History of Art, and the Penny W. School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She now resides in Seattle, and is Affiliate Professor, Departments of Anthropology and Japan Studies, University of Washington, Seattle. Robertson earned her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Cornell University in 1985, where she also earned a B.A. in the History of Art in 1975. She works primarily in/on Japan where she has lived for over two decades. Robertson is the originator and General Editor of COLONIALISMS, a (now closed) book series on non-Western colonialisms from the University of California Press. The author of Native and Newcomer: Making and Remaking a Japanese City (1991, 1994, 2000), Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan (1998,1999, 2001), and Odoru teikokushugi: Takarazuka o meguru sekushuaru poriteikusu to taishūbunka (2000), Robertson’s seven books and over eighty articles and chapters address a wide spectrum of subjects ranging from the 17th century to the present. Robertson is currently researching, writing, and editing articles on the cultural history of Japanese eugenics; art, science, and technology; sex-gender systems; and human-robot interfaces in Japan and elsewhere. Her newest book is Robo sapiens japanicus:  Robots, Gender, Family and the Japanese Nation (University of California Press, 2018) and a monograph on popular eugenics in Japan is in progress. Robertson’s CV, pdfs of articles, and other information can be accessed at:

Presentations Offered by Professor Robertson:

Robo-Sexism: Gendering AI and Robots in Japan and Beyond

In humans and humanoid robots alike, gender—femininity, masculinity—constitutes an array of learned behaviors that are cosmetically enabled and enhanced. These behaviors are both socially and historically shaped, and are also contingent upon many situational influences, including individual choices. I will explore the sex/gender dynamics informing the design and embodiment of artificial intelligence (AI) and robots, especially humanoids and androids. Although my focus is on Japanese robotics, I will make some comparisons with the design of humanoid robots in the United States. In Japan, the state has advocated for the robotization of the labor force and human-robot coexistence. Child- and elder-care robots are imagined as liberating (married) women from domestic chores so they can pursue a career outside the home. However, as I show, advanced technology does not necessarily promote social progress and can be deployed to reinforce conservative models of sex/gender roles, ethnic nationalism, and “traditional” family structures.

Robot Thespians in Japan: Staging Science Fiction Futures

Despite the worldwide success in the early 20th century of Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. (1920), the theatre, unlike cinema (including animation), has not been actively utilized as a stage for science fiction scenarios exploring human-robot interactions and coexistence. Films featuring robot protagonists have proliferated since Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and prose science fiction has proved to be more adaptable as film and animation than as theatre. I explore the interface of humanoid robotics, science fiction, and robot theatre in Japan. A description of a robot comedy staged by the all-female Takarazuka Revue in 1932 is followed by a discussion of the Japanese translation and production of R.U.R. in 1924. I, Worker, a play produced as part of the Robot Theatre (robotto engeki) project inaugurated in 2006 by playwright Hirata Oriza and roboticist Ishiguro Hiroshi, is discussed and the capabilities of its gendered robot thespians described. I will assess the didactic role of robot theatre as a genre of science fiction in exploring and interrogating the human-robot interactions.

Cyborg Able-ism: Critical Insights from the Not So “Uncanny Valley” of Japan

I explore and interrogate the development and application in Japan—with cross-cultural comparisons—of robotic prostheses that effectively transform disabled persons into cyborgs, a condition I refer to as “cyborg-ableism.” Included here is a critical reassessment of the so-called theory of the “uncanny valley” (bukimi no tani). In Japan, wearable robotic devices proceed from and depend on a corporeal aesthetics of the gotai (the intact body). Thus, the type of human body that is privileged in the discourse of machine-enhanced mobility is examined. I also discuss the modes of sociality that robotic devices and prosthetics are imagined as recuperating. Apropos 2021, Japanese preparations for the Paralympics are reviewed.

Robot Rights vs. Human Rights: Forecasts from Japan

Japan continues to be in the vanguard of human-robot communication, and since 2007, the state has actively promoted the virtues of a robot-dependent society and lifestyle. As their population continues to shrink and age faster than in other post-industrial nation-states, Japanese are banking on the robotics industry to reinvigorate the economy and to preserve the country’s alleged ethnic homogeneity. These initiatives are paralleled by a growing support among some roboticists and politicians to confer citizenship to robots. The Japanese state has a problematic record on human rights, especially toward ethnic minorities and non-Japanese residents who have lived and worked in Japan for many generations. The possibility of robots acquiring civil status ahead of flesh-and-blood humans raises profound questions about the nature of citizenship and human rights. What does the pursuit in Japan of the “coexistence” of humans and robots forecast about new approaches to and configurations of civil society there and in other techno-states?

“Blood” is a Many-Splendored Thing: Eugenics, Nationality, and Citizenship in Japan

In Japan, citizenship is based on the principle of jus sanguinis. Naturalized citizenship is a possibility, but there is a tacit understanding at large that really real, or “pure,” Japaneseness is qualified (and circumscribed) by “blood” (chi, ketsu). Blood, in this sense, is understood as an active agent responsible for catalyzing an ethos, or a national-cultural identity. For many Japanese today, blood is understood in terms of blood-type, which, despite its controversial serological history, prevails as a popular mode of horoscopy, matchmaking, and personality analysis. I interrogate the compelling fiction of something called “Japanese blood,” a multi-authored “hemato-narrative” that has been nurtured and sustained for over a century. To this end, I assemble comprehensive account of the constructive and deconstructive aspects of blood and blood-type that considers the cuteness industry, eugenics, blood donation, and national identity.

Edible Eugenics: Dietary Reform and Nation-building in Modern Japan

Today, advertisements for health foods and energy drinks are ubiquitous in Japan, and appear on billboards, in magazines, and on television and radio. Japanese companies, like Calpis and Yakult, founded in the early twentieth century, are among the biggest producers in the world of functional foods and nutraceuticals. Japanese consumers constitute the largest Asian market for these products. I investigate how the origin of the health foods industry in history is linked to positive eugenics, which combined dietary reforms and outdoor exercises in growing and strengthening the population of Imperial Japan.

John G. Russell

April 1, 2021 – March 31, 2024
Available for virtual lectures and classroom visits

John G. Russell is Professor of Cultural Anthropology in the Faculty of Regional Studies at Gifu University, Japan. His research focuses on representations of race and gender in Japanese and American popular culture, the genealogy of blackness in Japan, and the social perception and treatment of otherness. He is the author of Nihonjin no kokujin-kan [Japanese Perceptions of Blacks] and Henken to sabetsu ga dono yō ni tsukurareru ka [How are Prejudice and Discrimination Produced?] and has contributed chapters to Japan’s Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity, Racial Representations in Asia, and Reframing Diversity in the Anthropology of Japan and articles to numerous journals, including Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, Cultural Anthropology, Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique, Japanese Studies, CR: The New Centennial Review, The Journal of Popular Culture, MOSF Journal of Science Fiction, and The Journal of American Cultureas well as to The Japan Times, CounterPunch, Japan Quarterly, and Music Magazine. He is currently researching the American discourse of transracialism.

Presentations Offered by Professor Russell:

Haafu-Truths: The Anatomy of Japanese Prejudice in the Age of Social Media

This lecture examines the discourse of mixed-descent black-Japanese from three perspectives: First, it examines how tropes of blackness are mobilized and articulated in what is essentially a discourse of Japaneseness which employs racialized otherness as a means of situating Japanese within an idealized western modernity. Second, the lecture traces the ricorso, the repetitive, recycled, and intertextual nature of anti-black discourse and its pervasiveness as traced across various online visual, textual, and social media. Finally, it examines how this discourse intersects an equally virulent online anti-Korean discourse.

Anaconda East: Fetishes, Phallic Phantasies, Chimbo Chauvinism, and the Displaced Discourse of Black Male Sexuality in Japan

This lecture will explore the fetishization of the black male body and the construction of black males as hypersexual, bestial sexual other in the context of contemporary Japanese popular culture. Specifically, it will examine these tropes as they both connect to and replicate transnational but primarily American-derived constructions of fetishized blackness and to domestic sites of and for the articulation of Japanese masculinity and patriarchy though a discussion of the Japanese discourse on “yellow cabs,” their re-articulation in the putatively “non-fictional” personal accounts of African American expatriate writers, and in the recent surge of Japanese pornography featuring black males and Japanese women, which present black masculinity and sexuality as primitive predatory, and bestial.

Note: A version of this talk will be published as a chapter in Tamari Kitossa (ed,), Appealing Because He is Appalling: Masculinities, Patriarchy, Colonialism and Erotic Racism, University of Alberta Press. May 2021.】

Zeno’s Ya?: Static Change and Protest in Japan

Thirty years ago, in the wake of racist, anti-Black statements by then-justice minister Kajiyama Seiryoku, a coalition of blacks, majority Japanese, ethnic Korean, Burakumin, and feminist groups came together in Tokyo to protest discrimination in Japan. This talk examines one of the earliest demonstrations against anti-black racism in Japan and compares it and the social conditions leading up to it to the Black Lives Matter protests that have taken place in Tokyo, Kyoto Nagoya, Osaka and other Japanese cities following the police murder of George Floyd. The talk suggests that while public consciousness of racism and public mobilizations against it in Japan have grown in the intervening years, mainstream media has yet to catch up despite the advent of the internet and social media. 

Tracing the Rising Sun: The Intersection of Black and Japanese Lives

Japan has served as a kind of Rorschach Test of American race relations, a barometer of the shifting contours of the African American self as negotiated within the context of American power and privilege. Prior to the nineteenth century, narratives of African American-Japanese contact from the perspective of Blacks are rare, presumably due to the conditions of servitude under which they lived in the colonial world. One of the earliest African American references to Japanese comes from Frederick Douglass who, writing about the arrival of the first Japanese embassy to Philadelphia in 1860, observed that whites greeted them with the same racial epithets used against Blacks. While some Blacks identified with Japanese as fellow “people of color,” and saw the embassy as a harbinger of racial equality, others resented the special treatment whites afforded them and were offended by the disinclination of members of the delegation to associate with Blacks. This talk examines the long and evolving relationship between African Americans and Japanese and the perceived affinities and differences that continue to define it in the digital age.

Michael Sharpe

August 26, 2020-August 25, 2023
Available for in-person events, or live virtual lectures and classroom visits

Michael Orlando Sharpe is an Associate Professor of Political Science in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at York College of the City University of New York and an Adjunct Research Scholar at Columbia University’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute. Dr. Sharpe’s areas of expertise are comparative politics and international relations and his research interests concern looking comparatively at the politics of migration, immigrant political incorporation, and political transnationalism in the Netherlands, Japan, and around the world. His first book, entitled Postcolonial Citizens and Ethnic Migration: The Netherlands and Japan in the Age of Globalization (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), provides a cross-regional investigation of the role of citizenship and ethnicity in migration, exploring the political realities of Dutch Antilleans in the Netherlands and Latin American Nikkeijin in Japan. Some of his work has appeared in the scholarly peer reviewed journals Ethnopolitics, International Relations of the Asia- Pacific, Japanese Journal of Political Science, Policy and Society, Dialectical Anthropology, encyclopedias, and popular media. His current research concerns the politics of remigration or the paid voluntary return of migrants and their families (“pay to go schemes”) and implicit boundary making in liberal democracies. He is interested in the role of racism in political processes. Dr. Sharpe has been a Mansfield Foundation and Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership U.S.-Japan Network for the Future Program Scholar.

Presentations Offered by Professor Sharpe:

Calling the Nation Home and Contesting National Membership: The Political Incorporation of Latin American Nikkeijin (Japanese Descendants) in Japan 1990-2008

This attempts to explain the limited political incorporation of Latin American Nikkeijin (Japanese descendants) (LAN) in Japan 1990-2008. The 1990 Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act reform provides Nikkeijin a renewable visa that has enabled some 300,000 LAN to emigrate to Japan on the basis of Japanese blood descent or ethnicity. Long term marginalized minority groups such as Zainichi Koreans and Chinese are comparatively better incorporated in Japan’s political system and their demands increasingly recognized as more legitimate. I argue Japan’s changing ethnic citizenship regime, political opportunity structure, and structure of civil society combined with LAN language difficulties, newness of residence, small size, low minority status, and powerful myth of return limits their immigrant political incorporation in Japan. Additionally, the paper discusses the 2009 Kikoku Shien Jigyo (Help Return Program) to repatriate unemployed Latin American Nikkeijin to their country of origin. The lecture will present evidence that indicate a move towards a halting (de-ethnicization) (easing access for all immigrants) in Japan.

Is Japan Becoming a Country of Immigration?: Litmus Test for Liberal Democracy

There is growing debate around whether or not Japan will become a country of immigration. Japan is one of the few liberal democracies in the world to have successfully resisted immigration in its postwar economy. However, in the last twenty years, immigration in Japan has increased substantially with various side doors for unskilled labor as well as official entry points for skilled labor with options for fast tracked permanent residency. In 2018, Prime Minister Abe proposed some 500,000 unskilled workers by 2025 to fill jobs in industries with labor shortages while at the same time declaring that this is not an immigration policy. In the face of ageing population and low birthrate, Japan finds itself at a crossroads of whether, how, and when to accept the increasing reality of immigration as a solution to its demographic decline and labor shortage. Will Japan go the way of Western liberal democracies or in the direction of illiberal autocracies such as Saudi Arabia or United Arab Emirates? Japan is a very well organized and disciplined society that has reinvented itself multiple times and been at the forefront of several important postwar innovations. With an ageing population and demographic decline, Japan has a de facto immigration policy that is inevitably expanding, even as it refuses to call itself a country of immigration. Depending on how immigration is framed, managed, and rights are realized in Japan, the country could become a model of acceptance and democratic inclusion or an exemplar of illiberal intolerance and exclusion for the region and the world. The lecture will explore the way in which immigration in Japan can serve as a litmus test for the direction of its liberal democracy.

The Myth of Homogeneity and the Realities of Racism in Japan

Japan is not homogeneous, and racism there and in other East Asian countries is just as pronounced as in the West but manifests itself a bit differently. Japan has just about always had indigenous Ainu, Okinawans, and the Burakumin (outcaste) minority traces its origin to well before the 17 century early Edo era. Like Germany, Japan is a “late developer,” meaning it forms its modern state with the late 19th century Meiji Restoration from a disparate populace and promotion of a common ethnically homogeneous nationalism. With the promotion of Japanese empire, there was expansion via colonialism into Asia where racism and ethnic hierarchy was readily used. This was in fact a multiethnic empire that strived to colonize with the Japanese at the top of the hierarchy and the denigration of other Asians peoples as backwards and inferior. The Zainichi Korean and Chinese minorities have their origins in Japan in the colonial period and continue to face systemic racism. With Japan’s defeat of WWII and end of empire and the signing of the 1954 San Francisco Peace Treaty there is the loss of Japanese nationality for former colonial subjects, the “unmixing of Japan” and one again the embrace of Japanese homogeneity with strict border controls promoted by both Japanese and U.S. authorities as a way to control the perceived communist threat from nearby Korea and China and their foreign residents in Japan. Racism against visible foreigners in contemporary Japan often takes the form of country of origin and level of development. For these reasons, some argue that white Americans and white Europeans are at the top of the food chain of visible foreigners with Africans and South Asians towards the bottom. In 2017 the Japanese government released the results of its first national survey on racial and ethnic discrimination with reports that include employment discrimination, racist taunts, discriminatory speech, Japanese only recruitment, and denial of rental applications. Racism in Japan is often presented as a problem emblematic of heterogeneous Western societies. This lecture will explore the myth of homogeneity and the ways in which it belies and informs the realities of racism in contemporary Japan.

headshot of katilyn ugoretz

Kaitlyn Ugoretz

August 31, 2022 – March 31, 2025
Available live in person or virtual events and classroom visits

Kaitlyn Ugoretz is a digital anthropologist of religion and PhD candidate in East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research focuses on contemporary Japanese religion, globalization, digital technology, and popular and social media. Her dissertation examines the globalization of Shinto and the growth of transnational digital Shinto communities. Her work has been published in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Japanese Religion, Critical Asian Studies, Asia-Pacific Perspectives, and Religions. She also writes for public venues, including the Washington Post, Religion News Service, and The Conversation. Ugoretz is the Japanese Religions Editor for The Database of Religious History, an organizer for the GAMING+ Project, and the host of the educational YouTube channel Eat Pray Anime.

Ugoretz’s CV, links to academic and public articles, and other information can be accessed at:

Presentations offered by Ugoretz:

Domesticating the Kami: Exploring Shinto’s Globalization Through Material Culture

How does a ritual tradition so often tied to the landscape and people of Japan like Shinto come to be ‘at home’ among non-Japanese practitioners living outside of Japan? What role do materiality and material religion play in dispersed, digitally mediated religious communities? Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork conducted in online Shinto communities, this talk explores the globalization of Shinto through transnational practitioners’ glocalization of everyday ritual practices and the circulation of ritual materials between shrines and parishioners. First, this talk will examine how transnational Shinto practitioners construct their identity as such through the physical construction of the domestic altar (kamidana) and sharing of photos online. Second, it will consider three case studies of the glocalization of traditional Shinto offerings of rice, sake, and sakaki branches. Third, it will consider how Shinto shrines cultivate relationships with far-flung parishioners through the circulation of ritual objects. Overall, this talk demonstrates that digital religion shifts, rather than eliminates, the significance of materiality and the senses for Shinto.

New Forms of Reverence for Unchanged Prayers? Obstacles and Opportunities for Shinto in the Digital Age

Creative use of digital technology has become critical to the continuation of many religious organizations’ activities, especially in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions. However, Shinto has a complicated relationship with the internet thanks to a decades-old taboo against “virtual sanpai” (virtual or digitally mediated shrine worship). This talk will examine Shinto priests’ concerns about and experimentation with adopting digital technology for religious purposes. Together, we will explore questions like: How can prayer rituals and festivals be live-streamed or even held in virtual worlds? Can donations be collected and ritual items distributed online? How can members participate in shrine communities online? What impact does the use of digital media have on the experience of religion and Shinto theology? This talk suggests that there are many historical precedents for the adoption and adaptation of digital media in Shinto, but there are also deeply ideological and practical concerns at stake in keeping Shinto primarily analog.

Sparking Joy, Selling Spirituality: The Untidy Religion of Marie Kondo

Japanese organization maven Marie Kondo’s tidying philosophy continues to spark joy in the hearts and homes of millions thanks to her best-selling books and popular Netflix series. While some commentators have dismissed Kondo for espousing “woo-woo nonsense,” others have come to her defense with references to Japanese culture and “Shinto animism.” What role does spirituality play in Kondo’s brand and the lives of her “Konvert” fans? This talk examines the reception and appeal of Marie Kondo and her approach to organization among Japanese and Western audiences, particularly contextualizing her within the history of Orientalism and Asian religious ‘icons’ in American popular culture. It then explores the ongoing construction of Kondo’s spiritual brand through her books, television series, and website and online shop. The talk suggests that Kondo is best understood as the latest successor in a long line of savvy spiritual therapists in Japan who creatively incorporate popular elements from several religious traditions, both foreign and domestic, to fulfill their clients’ needs. More than that, Kondo masterfully markets a carefully curated and spiritually charged brand of essential “Japanese” culture and soft Orientalist aesthetics for foreign consumption.

Kaitlyn Ugoretz currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in her term on the NEAC DSB:

3 engagements between August 31, 2022 and March 31, 2023

3 engagements between April 1, 2023 and March 31, 2024

3 engagements between April 1, 2024 and March 31, 2025

Samuel Yamashita

Samuel Yamashita

April 1, 2021-March 31, 2024
Available for in-person events and recorded or live virtual events and classroom visits

Samuel Yamashita is the Henry E. Sheffield Professor of History at Pomona College in Claremont, California, where he has taught since 1983. A well-established scholar, Yamashita first worked on Confucian philosophers in early modern East Asia, co-translating The Four-seven Debate: An Annotated Translation of the Most Famous Controversy in Neo-Confucian Thought (1993) and publishing Master Sorai’s Responsals: An Annotated Translation of Sorai sensei tōmonsho (1995). He then turned to World War II Japan and reconstructed home front life during the war using two hundred and fifty diaries and memoirs he collected over the course of nearly thirty years. He translated and published eight of these diaries in Leaves from an Autumn of Emergencies: Selections from the Wartime Diaries of Ordinary Japanese (2005) and used his cache of diaries to write Daily Life in Wartime Japan, 1940-1945, which appeared in the University of Kansas Press’s Modern War Series in 2015. Drawing on his collection of diaries and memoirs, he is currently analyzing the responses of Japanese civilians and servicemen to their country’s defeat as a way of gauging their feelings about the war and their responsibility for what happened during the war. In 2009, an invitation to write a history of Japanese food led to a turn to food studies, and thus far he has delivered public lectures on the origins of Japanese foodways and the many cuisines of early modern Japan and published scholarly articles on food in wartime Japan and on Japanese culinary influence on contemporary fine dining in the United States. He expects to complete this project in 2025.

Yamashita is also a seasoned lecturer who has delivered keynote addresses and named lectures to general audiences throughout the country. Well known for his appearances in Greatest Events of World War II in Colour (Netflix, 2019), he recently completed interviews for Inside Japan’s War and Road to Victory in Colour, forthcoming documentaries on World War II.

Presentations offered by Professor Yamashita:

Understanding Daily Life in Wartime Japan, 1937–1945

In his 1945 propaganda film “Know Your Enemy: Japan,” Frank Capra described the Japanese people as fanatical and sheeplike, which was the prevailing American view of the Japanese enemy during World War II. Over the last thirty years, I have been reading the wartime diaries of ordinary Japanese—men, women, teenagers and children—and have arrived at a more complex and nuanced picture of wartime Japanese. In this lecture I will share my findings, explaining how the wartime government mobilized the home front population, transforming them into loyal subjects ready, if not always willing, to fight to the death. I will describe how many Japanese defied their government’s policies and regulations but, in the end, simply accepted the horrors that the “decisive battle” promised to bring.

Did the War with Japan Have to End as it Did?

Every August 6 without fail, articles and editorials appear in newspapers and magazine throughout the world that ask whether the war with Japan had to end with the dropping of atomic bombs. Over the course of my career I have wondered this as well and have spent many years poring over the sequence of events that led to the decision to use the atomic bombs. In this lecture I will offer as full an answer to this question as is possible within an hour: I will describe Japan’s strategic position on the Asian mainland and in the Pacific at the war’s end, deteriorating home front conditions, the many missed opportunities to end the conflict and the military extremists’ final failed attempts to keep the surrender from taking place on August 15, 1945.

“The ‘Japanese Turn’ in the Art, Architecture and Cuisine of Europe and the United States, 1880-2020”

Over the last forty years, Japanese cuisine has had an oversized influence on fine dining in the United States. Chefs cooking at celebrated American restaurants are now freely using Japanese ingredients, condiments, culinary techniques, and concepts, and the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, the leading culinary school in the country, now offers a concentration in Japanese cuisine. This lecture will describe in some detail this “Japanese turn” and argue that this contemporary culinary movement toward Japan is comparable to the Japanese influence on European and American art and architecture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and may be another important Japanese moment in American cultural history.

Samuel Yamashita currently has the following number of speaking engagement opportunities remaining in his term on the NEAC DSB:

2 engagements between April 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023

3 engagements between April 1, 2023 and March 31, 2024