The executive committee of AJJ (Anthropology of Japan in Japan) is pleased to announce the results of the inaugural Harumi Befu and Mark Bookman Prizes, awarded at the 2023 Annual Conference held at the Shirokane Campus of Meiji Gakuin University.


Harumi Befu, emeritus professor of Stanford University and the founder of AJJ, passed away on 4 August 2022 at the age of 92. Thanks to a very generous donation from his widow, Kei, the prize has been funded for ten years. It is worth 250,000 yen annually, and is awarded for the best presentation by an emerging scholar (defined as any researcher who does not yet have a tenured position) at the annual AJJ conference.

The judging panel, consisting of 16 members of the AJJ Executive Committee and 10 invited senior scholars, decided unanimously to award the inaugural Harumi Befu Prize to Anna Wozny, post-doctoral fellow at Tokyo College in the University of Tokyo, for her presentation Marriage-hunting: intimacy at the nexus of state and market forces.” The runner-up was Maiko Kodaka, adjunct lecturer at Sophia University and Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, for her presentation Womens Consumption of Sex: The Question of Sex Positivism.” The judging panel also highly commended two other presentations: Suffering and Conflicts of Women Priests in Jinja Shinto,” by Koure Makita, PhD candidate, Keio University, and Silences out of the Past: Fables of Rescue and the Politics of Historical Memory in Multicultural Japan” by Dylan OBrien, PhD candidate, University of California at San Diego.


Mark Bookman was a highly gifted young scholar of disability issues in Japan. He himself suffered from a very rare disease, which sadly took his life in December 2022, just after last year’s AJJ conference, when he was just 31 years old. Thanks to a very generous donation from his family, the prize has been funded for ten years. It is worth 50,000 yen annually, and is awarded for the best presentation relating to disabilities or marginalised groups by an emerging scholar at the annual AJJ conference.

The judging panel decided unanimously to award the inaugural Mark Bookman Prize to Esben Petersen, non-tenured instructor at Ritsumeikan University, for his presentation, Supporting Individuals with Autism in Japan: A Personal Insight.” A special jury prize of 30,000 yen was awarded to Mark Frisina, a 4th year undergraduate at Temple University Japan, for his presentation, Building community in care homes: Shizen Camps 10-year mission to empower those in the child welfare system in Japan.” The judges also highly commended Yoshiko Taniguchi, an MA candidate at International Christian University, for her presentation, Structural Violence as Experienced by Street-involved Youth. An Intersectional Analysis of Tōyoko Kids in Kabukichō, Tokyo, Japan.”

It is exciting to see the anthropology of Japan being enriched by these talented newcomers, and we look forward to seeing the battle for the Befu and Bookman Prizes intensify in the years to come.

The abstracts of the seven award-winning papers follow below.


Marriage-hunting: intimacy at the nexus of state and market forces

Anna Wozny, postdoctoral fellow at Tokyo College at the University of Tokyo.

This paper explores the entanglements of economic and political forces in the formation of intimate relationships by drawing on the case of Japanese “marriage-hunting” industry. Marriage-hunting (konkatsu), a term originally coined by sociologist Yamada Masahiro, encompasses myriad private and public sector services that facilitate heterosexual romantic relationships for a fee. Against the backdrop of rapid population decline and aging, marriage-hunting has additionally been defined as an arena with the potential to boost Japan’s marriage—and, by extension, childbirth—rates. Drawing on nine months of multi-site ethnographic fieldwork in Japan, including participant observation in marriage-hunting events and interviews with industry professionals as well as men and women who use these dating services, I demonstrate how the marriage-hunting market implicates individual desires in state reproduction. Specifically, I show how marriage-hunting professionals 1) mobilize population science to link individual experiences to state goals, and 2) rely on discourses of quantification and economization to portray marriage-hunting as a competitive marketplace. I then show how this conceptualisation of marriage-hunting as a market influences individual perceptions of status and desirability. Ultimately, I argue that the marriage- hunting market contributes to uneven social valuation of men and women depending on a mixture of ascribed and achieved characteristics.

Womens Consumption of Sex: The Question of Sex Positivism

Maiko Kodaka, Adjunct lecturer, Sophia University/ Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

This paper investigates the consumption of female-oriented sexual products by female fans of Josei-muke AV, a pornographic genre for women. It explores these fans’ experiences and perspectives on the reception and impact of such products in the adult market, highlighting the challenges Japanese women face when discussing sexual topics and how this affects their ability to explore their interests.

Based on my doctoral research on female fans of male porn stars in Josei-muke AV, it is evident that these fans do not align with the sex-positive discourse in the current landscape of gender and sexuality politics. Instead, they express hesitance toward the idea of “women enjoying sex themselves”, a concept often promoted in advertisements for self-pleasure products aimed at women. Many of my interviewees believe that sexual pleasure should be led by a male partner, echoing Wong and Yau’s analysis (2018) of Japanese AV as “salvage ideology”—the notion that men are the saviors of female sexual pleasure. This idea has been further amplified by the business collaboration between Josei-muke AV and Josei-muke fūzoku shops, which offer male escort services. This also raises questions about bodily identification in the consumption of pornography.

Through ethnographic research with female fans and women working in the adult industry, this paper provides insights into the complexities surrounding female fans’ consumption of sexual content and their pursuit of sexual positivity. It sheds light on the challenges faced by Japanese women in discussing sexual subjects and underscores the importance of addressing pre-existing gender issues.

Suffering and Conflicts of Women Priests in Jinja Shinto

Koure Makita, PhD candidate, Keio University

The number of women priests in Jinja Shinto has continually increased since women became eligible for the priesthood in 1946. As of 2020, about 17% of the priesthood was female; yet, Shinto society remains androcentric, as evidenced by the distribution of booklets promoting LGBT discrimination in 2022 by the Shinto Political League, which also opposed husbands and wives using different surnames. Some previous works have highlighted the male domination of Jinja Shinto centering on Jinja-Honcho, the association of Shinto shrines.

In this context, women priests often confront various difficulties. The purpose of this research is to describe the challenges that they encounter on a daily basis and how they cope with them. The study is based on fieldwork I have conducted mainly in Saga prefecture since December 2022.

In the 21st century, discussions of morality and ethics in anthropology have focused on the “goodness” of individual decisions and choices. This research adopts this perspective to analyze how the women priests contend with problems due to gender inequalities in Jinja Shinto society, including sexual harassment and a lack of recognition of their fully fledged priesthood, particularly through conflicts with Shinto norms. Furthermore, the paper explores how the suffering of women priests is addressed or not in Shinto contexts.

Silences out of the Past: Fables of Rescue and the Politics of Historical Memory in Multicultural Japan

Dylan OBrien, PhD candidate, University of California at San Diego

Since the 1980s, the story of Sugihara Chiune, former vice-consul for the Japanese Empire in Kaunas, Lithunia, has garnered worldwide attention. The only Japanese person to be recognized as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by the International Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem, Sugihara wrote thousands of transit visas for Jews fleeing persecution in 1940. Recently, claims that Lieutenant General Higuchi Kiichiro of the Imperial Army is ‘another Sugihara’ have been spreading in Japan. From public broadcaster NHK to an endorsement by late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, narratives that Higuchi saved 4,000 to 20,000 Jewish refugees are increasingly visible. While Jewish groups in Japan helped drive the initial push to recognize Sugihara, they have been silent about Higuchi. This paper asks: what shapes the different ways that Higuchi and Sugihara have been received by Jews in Japan – and what might this tell us about historical memory in an increasingly multicultural Japan? Focusing on how claims about Higuchi’s heroism often try to recast Japan’s wartime legacy, I argue that representations of Jews in narratives about Higuchi are impacting Jewish historical memory of Japanese-Jewish relations, with significant implications for the present. Drawing on my ethnographic fieldwork with Jewish communities in Tokyo, I argue that Jewish communities’ public silence and private dismissal of Higuchi challenges prior scholarship’s contentions that Japanese discourses about Jews stand apart from Japanese-Jewish relations. Conversing with anthropological analyses of silence and refusal, I outline foreign residents’ absences from public debates about them as ethnographic sites to study how Japanese discourses about foreigners shape the perceptions and politics of people beyond such discourses’ intended audience.


Supporting Individuals with Autism in Japan: A Personal Insight

Esben Petersen, non-tenured instructor, Ritsumeikan University

Since my arrival in Japan in 2015, I have had the chance to be actively engaged with two distinct organizations dedicated to working with individuals on the autism spectrum. The first, KISWEC (Kyoto International Social Welfare Exchange Center), is a well-established private institution with financial backing from the Kyoto City government. The second, Team Lenny, is a grassroots family initiative led by parents of a child on the autism spectrum, and supported by a team of students, mothers, and company volunteers. These two organizations offer divergent philosophies regarding the provision of services for individuals with autism. In this presentation, I delve into an exploration of the distinctive approaches taken by these organizations in treating and accommodating individuals with autism. The aim of this paper is from an anthropological approach to reflect on each of the valuable experiences I have made from working at each organization and consider their implications for improving support systems for individuals with autism in Japan.

Building community in care homes: Shizen Camps 10-year mission to empower those in the child welfare system in Japan

Mark Frisina, 4th year undergraduate, Temple University Japan

While the government is concerned with increasing the birthrate “for a better future,” in reality, there are many children in Japan that do not have their basic needs met. This paper gives ethnographic insights into such marginalized children based on participant-observation fieldwork and interviews conducted since May 2023 at a children’s care home in Chiba via a Japanese NPO. The percentage of children under foster care in Japan is the lowest of all OECD countries (Japan Children Support Association 2017). Large orphanages that regularly face condemnation from the UN and low adoption rates have created increasingly precarious situations for marginalized children. “Shizen Camp” (“Nature Camp) is a progressive organization that has provided communal support for a decade, advocating for children who live in care homes. My focus is on those who live in housing units meant to emulate a “traditional family home,” with care workers acting as proxies for parents.

This paper begins by providing the context of children under institutional care in Japan, and describing the evolution and activities of “Shizen Camp”. The challenges children face on a daily basis, along with the responses and reflections given by the care workers are then highlighted. Attention is paid to how Shizen Camp supports children’s developmental needs through providing outdoor learning experiences, helping them develop social skills, and empowering them to succeed in life. By examining Shizen Camp’s endeavors to foster community with others, this paper unpacks the notion of the “traditional Japanese family” and envisions a hopeful picture of Japan’s future against the backdrop of systemic challenges surrounding child welfare.

Structural Violence as Experienced by Street-involved Youth. An Intersectional Analysis of Tōyoko Kids in Kabukichō, Tokyo, Japan

Yoshiko Taniguchi, MA candidate, International Christian University

Located in eastern Shinjuku, Kabukichō is a red-light district known for its adult entertainment services – including bars, host and hostess bars, cabarets, love hotels, and other sex-oriented businesses. While Kabukichō has remained a significant cultural and entertainment hotspot for adults since the 1960s, early junior high and high school youths who connected through social media began to gather in Kabukichō around 2018. These youths are referred to as Tōyoko Kids and have gained national attention after media coverage for their at-risk and criminal behaviour. While some media sources may portray Tōyoko Kids as reckless, irresponsible youth, in reality, there are structural issues that lead to at-risk behavior. 

This research investigates Tōyoko Kids using intersectional approaches with a focus on at-risk behaviours and papa-katsu (hooking up with sugar daddies) as a form of survival sex work experienced by female Tōyoko Kids. This research analyzes narratives as collected on various social media platforms, as social media is a key tool for these youths to find their communities and potential clients of sex work. Moreover, given that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has addressed new policies regarding Tōyoko Kids, this paper also focuses on to what extent they are effective, and what “effective” means in this context – who do these policies benefit? Through this research, I aim to shed light on social inequalities faced by young, female Tōyoko Kids who are, structurally, the most vulnerable to various forms of violence in this patriarchal and hierarchical society.