We are bereft of two members in 2022, Harumi Befu and Mark Bookman, memorialized here thanks to Tom Gill:
1930 – 2022
I first met Harumi Befu in June 1997. He had just retired from a distinguished career at Stanford University, and had been employed by a small, brand-new school called Kyoto Bunkyo University. It had just two departments — cultural anthropology and clinical psychology. Harumi had been put in charge of the Institute of Human Studies, which was supposed to generate research based on the strengths of the two departments. Everyone described him as the university’s panda. If you open a new zoo, you need a panda to bring in the customers. If you open a new university, you need a famous scholar to bring in the students. Harumi was that scholar, and I ended up being his de facto assistant.
I would never have got that job without Harumi’s international connections. It was not intended for a foreigner. The job description was in Japanese and the post was only advertised domestically. But Harumi copied the advert and sent it by airmail to various anthropology friends, one of whom — Joy Hendry, at Oxford Brookes University — showed it to me. My resume, which failed to get me a single interview at British universities, got me a job without even needing an interview at Kyoto Bunkyo University. One fine day in June, I was taken to Harumi’s massive office and introduced to him. Grinning from ear to ear, he welcomed me in and made me feel at home. He was probably the most affable person I’ve ever met.
But he was also a very straight talker. When it was my turn to give a paper at the monthly faculty seminar, I made a complete hash of it. I had this paper I’d written in English, and I thought I could just read it out in Japanese. I could not. It was embarrassing, but the Japanese professors were very polite and found a way to ask me some softball questions to help me save face. The following day, I bumped into Harumi in the corridor. Grinning broadly, he said “Hi there Tom! That was probably the worst presentation I’ve ever heard in my life.” That’s what they call ai no muchi— the whip of love. I’ve never given quite such a bad presentation since — until recently maybe.
Ethnically, Harumi was totally Japanese. Culturally, he had a strong American streak. Born in Los Angeles in 1932, he had gone to Japan at the age of 5 with his family on the eve of World War II and experienced being bombed by the B-29s. In 1947, aged 15, he and his family returned to the US and he would live there for most of the rest of his life, studying at UCLA, University of Michigan, and finally Wisconsin, where he took his PhD. This was the background to his uniquely affable but straight-talking personality.
At this point I’d like to quote a personal communication from Prof. Takami Kuwayama, who knew Harumi well:
“Harumi was more or less ‘deserted’ in Japan at the age of about 5. He came to Japan with his mother around the beginning of the Pacific War, and they stayed at his uncle’s house. He didn’t get on well with his uncle. But one day, when Harumi woke up, he found that his mother had gone back to the US, leaving him and his elder brother Ben alone. By the time the war ended, Harumi had been completely Japanized, being one of those “war boys” who blindly believed in Japan’s virtue. After the war, he eventually returned to California, where he found many goods hardly imaginable in vanquished Japan. He then realized the absurdity of life. I think Harumi’s detached attitudes to both Japan and the US were derived from these early experiences.”
My appointment was just one small example of how Harumi had a way of making things happen. At KBU, he would rather suddenly decide to hold a symposium and I would have the job of handling the invitations. One of those events was a symposium on globalization in 1999. It wasn’t quite such a well-explored topic in those days. The invited panelists were Ulf Hannerz, Mike Featherstone, Brian Moeran and Eyal Ben-Ari. I had the job of transcribing the presentations and Q&A sessions. I still have the transcripts. They are kind of interesting… if anyone wants to see them, just let me know.
Another one of Harumi’s bright ideas was to hold a small informal get-together for people actively engaged in fieldwork in Japan. They all had some kind of connection with Harumi. The presentations included John Davis on Burakumin, Andreas Riessland on yamabushi, Wolfgang Herbert on yakuza, Beverley Bishop on women in the workplace, Jerry Eades on butsudan, Brian McVeigh on educational reform, Mitch Sedgwick on business internationalization, John Clammer on interpreting emotions, Ulrich Moehwald on statistical trends in social values and myself on day laborers. Harumi’s own paper was about the international Japanese diaspora, which would become a major research theme of his. His was one of the few papers that really did have something to do with globalization.
It was an interesting weekend, which concluded with some well-chosen words from Harumi. Right at the end, he gave an even bigger smile than usual and suddenly said that we should definitely make a book out of these fine presentations. That meant a lot more work for me, but Harumi was able to get it published — Globalization and Social Change in Contemporary Japan. It was one of the first books published by TransPacific Press, which his old friend Yoshio Sugimoto had set up in Melbourne in 1998. That book is officially edited by Jerry Eades, Tom Gill and Harumi Befu. Harumi had set aside the rights of seniority and alphabetical order, having his name last on the cover. Again, it was typical of his generosity towards younger scholars.
But that book was not the only outcome of Harumi’s informal sessions for fieldworkers at Kyoto Bunkyo University. He suggested turning those gatherings into a regular thing, and almost immediately a new academic organization was born, engagingly named Anthropology of Japan, in Japan. Despite Harumi’s clearly expressed preference for loose, informal organization, AJJ rapidly acquired a chairman, secretary, treasurer, and membership list. Harumi was its lifetime emeritus president. At least in one respect, however, Harumi’s original vision has survived: to this day, AJJ does not collect membership fees.
Harumi had already retired once, from Stanford, when he arrived at Kyoto Bunkyo. Nonetheless, he did some of his best work during these years, writing his best-known book, Hegemony of Homogeneity: An Anthropological Analysis of Nihonjinron, published in 2001, again by TransPacific. In this book, he argues that Japan’s humiliating defeat in World War II, together with the shocking realization that the military regime that had commanded total loyalty now stood condemned of terrible war crimes, made it very difficult for Japanese people to feel orthodox patriotism. Instead, he argued, the flood of publications labeled as “Nihonjinron”, or “theories of Japanese uniqueness”, emerged as a kind of cultural nationalism to replace political or militaristic nationalism. He also called Nihonjinron a “secular religion,” replacing the discredited state religion of Shinto (and to a degree, Buddhism too). The twenty years that have passed since the publication of that book have only reconfirmed its accuracy, as we see with the celebrations following the designation of Mount Fuji, washoku (Japanese cuisine), washi (Japanese paper) etc., as United Nations Cultural Assets, while at the same time Japan has increasingly been dwarfed by China in political and economic influence.
When Harumi retired again, in 2000, he returned to Stanford where he continued to teach classes as an emeritus professor well into his eighties. I stayed on in Japan and only saw him occasionally at conferences. But we did have one more encounter, in 2016, which made a powerful impression on me.
Harumi wrote to me out of the blue, asking me to help locate a family living in his old field site of Shimo-Okada, near Sendai in northeastern Japan, where he had stayed for some months while doing his doctoral fieldwork in 1960. They were called the Aokis, and he was concerned that they might have been harmed by the great tsunami of March 11, 2011, since Shimo-Okada was less than a mile from the Sanriku coast, which bore the brunt of the tsunami. All he could remember about the Aokis’ house was that it was close to the local elementary school. That wasn’t much to go on, and Aoki is a very common name, but by great good fortune the very first person I rang up at the Sendai city hall turned out to be a personal friend of the Aokis. They were quite surprised to hear from a friend of Harumi’s: they had been out of touch for well over half a century.
And so, in June of 2016, Harumi flew over to Japan and my wife and I accompanied him to Shimo-Okada, which today is part of Sendai’s Miyagino ward. The parents of the house had long since passed away, of course, but the son and daughter were alive and well, and the floodwaters of the tsunami had stopped one row of houses before theirs. They still remembered the earnest, bespectacled young man who had lodged with them in 1960. They even had photo albums with sepia prints of Harumi, standing in the garden with their parents and the well-known anthropologist Edward Norbeck, whose research project had enabled Harumi to put in some research time in Tōhoku while serving as Norbeck’s assistant.
Harumi told me an interesting story about the Aokis. Just after he arrived in Shimo-Okada, the teenage son of the family had been in a dreadful traffic accident while riding his motorcycle. He was in hospital throughout Harumi’s stay, and there was fear for his life. The parents were distraught, especially as this was the first son that had been born into the Aoki patriline for three generations. They had had to rely on muko-yōshi (a man who marries one’s daughter and is adopted into the family, taking his wife’s surname) to keep the house of Aoki alive. They consulted a shaman, who concluded that they had angered the gods by cutting down a persimmon tree in their garden to make room for an extension to the house to accommodate their son. They duly planted a new persimmon tree by way of expiation, with the shaman chanting incantations at the ceremonial planting. When we arrived at the house, Harumi was relieved to find the tree looking strong and healthy, and the son hale and hearty in his mid-70s. Apparently the shaman had done the trick.
Yet when we asked if the Aokis had consulted a shaman to explain the giant earthquake and tsunami that had destroyed half their neighborhood, they found the question perplexing. It had never crossed their minds. Like most Japanese, they viewed it as a natural disaster, just one of those things. Harumi was interested to see how the logic of supernatural causes of misfortune apparently applied at the personal or family level, but not at the larger societal level. There’s a doctoral dissertation in there somewhere.
Speaking of which, our visit to the Aoki’s made me wonder about Harumi’s doctoral dissertation. He never published it, and was I think somewhat embarrassed that it was based on a mere three or four months’ fieldwork that he squeezed in while assisting Edward Norbeck. (Norbeck had been Harumi’s doctoral dissertation adviser at UCLA before leaving for Rice University. They had a close relationship and I don’t quite know why Harumi went to Wisconsin rather than Rice. At Wisconsin he worked with a very interesting anthropologist called Chester S. Chard. But I digress.)
And so although Harumi went on to great eminence, he was never associated with one particular group of people or ethnographic site as so many anthropologists are. Instead he had made his name as an all-rounder or theoretician rather than an ethnographer. (His textbook, Japan: An Anthropological Introduction, was published in 1971 and was the standard text for budding anthropologists of Japan for a couple of decades before gradually being supplanted by Joy Hendry’s Understanding Japanese Society and Yoshio Sugimoto’s An Introduction to Japanese Society. Unlike Hendry and Sugimoto, who have gone through half a dozen editions of their textbooks. Harumi never updated his popular textbook, I know not why.)
So I will conclude this appreciation by going all the way back to January 2, 1962, when Harumi’s dissertation was approved by the examining committee at the University of Wisconsin.
The dissertation is entitled Hamlet in a Nation, and has occasionally been mistaken for a work of Shakespearean literary criticism. In fact the dissertation is subtitled The Place of Three Japanese Rural Communities in their Broader Social Context, and refers to Harumi’s theme of analyzing the hamlet (buraku), in its relationship to the nation-state. Harumi criticizes earlier ethnographers for confusing the buraku with the mura (village), a larger administrative unit that typically includes a dozen or more buraku. Harumi calls the buraku the fundamental unit of rural society, arguing that the even smaller aza is relatively unimportant in identity formation. In rice-cultivating districts, the interrelationship between aza and buraku is closely tied to rice paddy irrigation: often a buraku will be made up of aza that share the same water source (p.32).
Despite his short period of fieldwork, Harumi managed to get around three hamlets, all of them near Sendai in Miyagi prefecture: Shimo-Okada, Ushirokoji and Sokomae. The first two date back to the Edo era, while Sokomae had been established on reclaimed marshland in the 1930s and was populated by incomers, most of them laborers who had helped with the land reclamation projects. Reading the thesis after sixty years, one is struck anew by the complexity of Japanese rural society and the sensitive observation that Harumi brought to it.
For example, we learn that out of thirty households in Sokomae buraku, one “does not consider itself to be a member of the hamlet even though its residence is within the physical boundary of the hamlet” (p.39). I wish Harumi had told us a little more about this secessionist household, but anyway – this is just one small instance of a general complexity of both administrative structure and personal identity. A single buraku may straddle two school districts; the same aza may use the agricultural cooperative of one buraku to sell its produce, while attending meetings of a different one; and there is a pervasive vagueness as to the status of each social unit. Land ownership was also complex: in Shimo-Okada, “it was common for a man to own as many as ten or fifteen small pieces (of land), scattered over a wide area… some as small as a few square feet” (p.54). Harumi points out that despite the obvious inconvenience of this situation, soon to be rectified by the government’s land rationalization program, it did mean that each smallholder would have numerous neighbors, some from different buraku, so there was a social mingling effect from this extreme land fragmentation.
Historically, the work is notable for capturing rural life in the wake of the great land reform instituted by the occupation authorities in the wake of World War 2. Many of Harumi’s informants had been transformed from landless peasants, condemned to give half the rice they made in rent to an absentee landlord, to independent smallholders. However, the occupation authorities basically allocated to each peasant the land he had been renting previously, so that significant gaps in wealth based on the area of land cultivated had survived the reform.
Geographically, it is significant as the first serious anthropological study, in English, at least, of northeastern Japan: previous prominent works by Embree (1936, Kumamoto) Norbeck (1952, Okayama) and Beardsley, Hall and Ward (1959, also Okayama) had somehow focused on southwestern Japan.
In terms of theory, the book should be read in relation to the long standing debate on dōzoku vs kō. Painting with very broad brushstrokes, the dōzoku, an extensive lineage system based on a root patriline and its branches, was supposed to be typical of the northeast, while the kō, an economic alliance based on shared material interests rather than kinship, was supposed to characterize the southwest. Harumi challenged this conceptualization, finding relatively little evidence of dōzoku type organization in his three hamlets.
I conclude that Harumi’s dissertation was actually quite a significant achievement, and it is a shame that it never got published, although bits and pieces appeared in various journal articles. Maybe it is something that AJJ should consider.
Finally, I would like to call for a minute’s silence as we recall Harumi Befu’s life and his contribution to our field. Mokutō.
December 3, 2022
1991 – 2022
I well remember the first time I met Mark Bookman. He had come to attend the Anthropology of Japan, in Japan (AJJ) Conference at my home campus, Meiji Gakuin University Yokohama, and it was the First of December 2019, just three years ago. His paper that day was entitled “The Art of Collaboration: How Competition, Compliance, and Coordination Affect Diverse Communities in Contemporary Japan” and it very well summed up his research interests and the reason why I hold him in such high regard as a scholar.
As a long-term wheelchair user and disabilities activist, Mark was often subjected to indignities by the public and the authorities, and must have felt both depressed and angry when, for example, he discovered that there were a quarter of a million apartments available for rent in the greater Tokyo area, but less than a thousand even claiming to be wheelchair accessible and virtually none that really were accessible for a man in a 250 kilogram motorized wheelchair. He could have become an angry activist, lambasting the government and the private sector for their ignorance and apathy regarding the rights of people with disabilities, and I would have supported him if he had taken that course.
Instead, however, he chose the road of collaboration. Not that he swallowed or muted his critique of the powers that be — he expressed his views clearly but calmly in a number of committees and forums, most famously the one that planned accessibility for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics that were finally held last year. He was a pragmatist, who recognized that he could best contribute to the disability movement by speaking truth to power in places where those in power would actually be listening.
I was also struck by his use of the word “competition” in his presentation that day. Many people not directly involved in the disability movement are prone to lump together different kinds of disability into an amorphous mass, and feel vaguely sympathetic or not as the case may be. But Mark, with his wealth of research and intense personal experience, recognized that different kinds of disability are received very differently by politicians, government officials and the general public. And like it or not, they are to a degree in competition for limited government funds.
For example, Mark observed that blind people in Japan seemed to get a better deal than deaf people. Japan invented the tactile yellow tiles we see at every railway station and which are now spreading to other countries around the world, whereas Japan was 25 years late on TV subtitling for deaf people. And both those groups did better than wheelchair users, who still lack access to about a third of all railway stations in Japan. I asked Mark how such differences could be explained. I received a lengthy and very illuminating lecture. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had stumbled on Chapter One of his doctoral dissertation, Politics and Prosthetics: 150 years of Disability in Japan. For instance, the Japanese system of braille was standardized in the late 19th century, whereas Japanese Sign Language remains rich in regional variation to this day. This standardized system of communication, Mark argues, gave an advantage to what he calls “blind elites” in campaigning for improvements in infrastructure. It also helped that their disability did not hinder access to public transportation as much as some other disabilities and was obviously not contagious. Thus, Mark argues, blind people in general achieved a special status in the period from the Meiji Restoration to World War II. To some degree, that advantage has survived to the present day.
At this point, we may start to feel uncomfortable. We may not be used to this talk of struggle between rival disability groups, or descriptions of some of their members as elites. There’s something here that jars with our vague feeling of sympathy for “the disabled.” And the two other themes in his presentation that day — compliance (with social norms and government regulations) and co-ordination (between diverse disability groups) — might strike some progressive disability scholars as a little too buttoned down, not quite confrontational enough.
But Mark called it like he saw it. He was a true scholar, devoted to seeking out the truth — even if that truth might be discomforting or sometimes even painful. That is why I view him as a major scholarly talent, who would undoubtedly have become a truly great scholar if his life had not been so tragically cut short.
Please do not misunderstand me. I’m not saying that Mark was resentful of people with other kinds of disability — of course not. As he stated, his ultimate aim was to achieve a truly inclusive society. That was the driving force behind his activism and his very important consulting work. But in his academic writing, any thought of political correctness or sacrificing facts to argument was banished. The best-known biography of my great hero, George Orwell, is entitled The Crystal Spirit (by George Woodcock). Like Orwell, Mark had a crystal spirit and he pursued the crystal truth — that was an absolute. And again like Orwell, he wrote in a clear, unadorned, jargon-free style that could communicate to expert and layman alike. His writing was 100% bullshit-free. He never wrote a single line that did not instantly communicate.
I can offer no higher praise. Like all of us, I’m going to miss this clear-eyed, warm-hearted, straight-talking seeker after truth.
Rest in Peace, Mark.
December 21, 2022