Becalmed, adrift or slowly sinking? Life aboard the listing Japanese ship of state

Compared with some other industrialized countries, Japan can seem like a pleasant place to live these days. No crazed ideological political leaders determined to rip the nation apart. . . no noisy culture wars or climate change denial and relatively little racist violence. We have a low crime rate, low housing prices, and rock-bottom interest rates. Most of life’s necessities can be obtained at the hundred-yen shop.

   Yes, it’s quiet in Japan. . . perhaps too quiet. While other nations rage against the dying of the light, Japan seems resigned to drift quietly into mediocrity. International per-capita GDP rankings show Japan down at the fringe of the top 30, near Czechia, Slovenia and Lithuania, and far behind the USA. One form of crime — fraud — is steadily on the rise. Government loudspeaker vans tour suburban neighborhoods, warning people not to give money to some stranger pretending to be their son. As the population ages, and more and more very old people find themselves living alone, the fraudsters gather at the door. The government has failed to address the demographic crisis, and by now it is too late. Encouraging immigration is literally the only option, yet our leaders still strive to preserve the myth of racial homogeneity while grudgingly admitting a few more foreigners with a series of half-measures.

    Many of the problems that Japan faces are common to other mature democracies. But along with refusal to countenance immigration, endemic sexism is another Japan-specific issue. On every measure – the gender pay gap, female parliamentarians, women in the boardrooms of major corporations – Japan is always bottom among the G7 nations.

   This, then, is the challenge of our Call for Papers. Is it true that Japan is slowly drifting down the river towards mediocrity? AJJ prides itself on fieldwork-based research, on seeing things with our own eyes. We invite participants to take a look around the subjects of their fieldwork, and ask themselves if the lives they see match the pessimistic view outlined above. Or is there perhaps a brighter future, in which lower population can be combined with improved technology to offer a quieter, less pressurized lifestyle? Please, tell us what you see. And tell us what you see coming.

Paper title/abstract submissions (250 word limit) are due October 16, 2023 and can be submitted to Prof. Tom Gill (replace ‘at’ with @)

gill at

Conference Fees

Tenured faculty and permanently employed: ¥5,000

Non-tenured faculty and non-permanently employed: ¥3,000

Post-docs and graduate students: ¥2,000

Undergraduates: free

Reception Fees

Tenured faculty and permanently employed: ¥3,000

Non-tenured faculty and non-permanently employed: ¥2,000

Post-docs, graduate students: ¥1,000

Undergraduates: ¥1,000


Last year Mark Bookman, an emerging scholar who was already a leading authority on disability issues in Japan, suddenly and tragically died at the age of 31 of a rare disease that had confined him to a wheelchair for most of his life. The last presentation he ever made was at AJJ 2022.

A eulogy for Mark may be found here:

    Now, thanks to a generous donation from Mark’s family, AJJ is pleased to announce the launch of the Mark Bookman Prize, starting with this year’s conference at Meiji Gakuin University’s Shirokane Campus in Tokyo, December 2 to 3.
The prize is designed to boost the career of a gifted young scholar researching people with disabilities or other minority groups in Japan, in memory of Mark Bookman. The prize consists of 50,000 yen and a framed certificate, for the best presentation at the AJJ
annual conference by an emerging scholar on a topic relating to disabilities in Japan. If there is no suitable candidate, the prize may be given to the best presentation on a topic relating more generally to minority groups in Japan. 
An “emerging scholar” is defined as any non-tenured researcher, including graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, independent scholars, tenure-track faculty etc. Questions such as whether a scholar may be considered “young”, “gifted”, “non-tenured” etc. will be at the discretion of the judges, consisting of members of the AJJ Executive Committee present at the conference, plus other senior scholars present at the conference who may be co-opted by the AJJ Executive Committee.

At least three of the judges will hear each presentation, and they will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  1. Originality and importance of topic.
  2. Sophistication of research methods, with preference for fieldwork-driven projects.
  3. Excellence in presentation, with preference for clearly-argued, well-structured, engaging argumentation and delivery.
  4. Ability to respond concisely and convincingly to questions and comments.

The judges will convene after the final round of panels has been concluded at the conference, and compare reports on each of the presentations. If a clear winner is agreed, the result will be announced at the end of the conference. If the judges are unable to come to a unanimous decision, contenders will be asked to submit their presentations by email so that all the judges can see them, and the result will be announced online within two weeks of the conference ending.
   In principle, the prize should be given to a single recipient. However, it may be shared by two or more researchers in exceptional circumstances. It can be held over if there are no suitable candidates.
    The prize has been endowed for an initial period of ten years.