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Establishing Networks in Japan

By Preston Price

    The experiences that I had in Japan were so amazing that they are almost indescribable.  I spent most of my time in Kobe and Kyoto, and I would have to say that Kyoto was my favorite.  I spent a couple of days just visiting various gardens and neighborhood shrines in Kyoto.  This really adds to the serenity of the city.  Everything was fairly expensive and that was probably the only bad thing about my experiences in Japan.  For instance, although the transportation system was very effective and helpful, it consumes a lot of one’s budget.  Aside from basic observations though, I decided to focus on understanding the Japanese people and compare it with the topic of doing effective ethnographic fieldwork in Japan.

    By the end of the trip I came to realize how helpful and friendly the Japanese people are, and I now I have a strong positive conception of the Japanese people.  They don’t go out of their way to be friendly, but they are helpful when confronted or when trying to purchase something.  The Japanese are very trusting people too.  I noticed that when I was in a store or open market shop, and was carrying around an item that I planned to eventually buy, I received no scrutinizing looks from the shop owners.  I assume this is because they don’t suspect that anyone will not pay for an item.  I really liked the fact that although the Japanese people are extremely ethnically homogenous, they don’t stare or make foreigners feel awkward or unwelcome in any way.

    However, I did speak with some guys from Morocco who said that it is extremely difficult to establish Japanese networks, especially to make male Japanese companions.  This relates to Theodore Bestor’s article, “Doing Fieldwork in Japan,” which emphasizes the importance of creating and using networks to do successful fieldwork.  My point is that although networks are potentially very effective and important in doing fieldwork, they have the potential to be extremely difficult to establish.  One guy who has been in Japan more than a decade said that he has not made one male Japanese friend, and he said that the Japanese are very much business-like in their relationships. The Moroccans told me that they love the Japanese people and the freedoms of the country but foreigners will always be foreigners.  Granted this is one group of guys and they were not doing fieldwork, but is sufficient evidence for me to realize that creating networks may in some places be more difficult than others.  The unique Japanese culture and its norms and taboos relating to social interactions may influence the degree of ease or difficulty when it comes to establishing networks.

    Perhaps the most enjoyable experience that I had was the Japanese student exchange that I participated in.  In my opinion, it was the best way to experience the culture first hand, and I’ve hopefully formed some lifelong friendships.  Interacting with these Japanese students was the first step in creating a network for my own future ethnographic fieldwork in Japan.  I owe thanks to Semester at Sea for aiding me with the initial connection that has served to establish a network via the student exchange.  This suggests that foreign students potentially have an upper hand in doing fieldwork vs. migrant workers or other civilians, who tend to be without connections to the world of academia.

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