I arrived in Japan on March 24th 2019.
I came into the Research Fellowship nervous, but confident I would find it a valuable experience. To demonstrate this value I pledged to myself to tweet throughout and decided a kitschy hashtag would be useful. So, armed with #jaspam I posted 17 Twitter entries. For this blog post I am going to revisit each post and add a few more lines of detail. I hope by the end you will get a real flavour for my experiences and the value of international (Japanese) based research.
The culture shock phenomena is quite real. My first post represents my awe to what I saw within the first week. I read this article in The Conversation about a month later and it really resonated with me and helped to reflect on my experiences: Want to become a better person? Travelling more might be the answer
The guidelines set out by the funding body the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science were key to my first month and figuring out how to settle and create productive spaces. Specifically the booklet on Life in Japan, it has information from “If an Earthquake Occurs and You Feel Your House Shaking” to “Post Offices.” With this overload of very useful information I ended up with a good working and living space.
A would highly recommend a trip to Japan and Tokyo. It is a wonderful country. The city of Tokyo with plenty to do. I liked the different Tokyo Metropolitan Gardens, because in a city of just over 9 million people (2015 census) it was great to find quiet spaces.
Pictures throughout my trip helped me to make connections and begin to understand Japanese (sporting) cultures. For example, here I noticed that beverages have a number of functions in Japan and are heavily connected to sport and health. One contradictory function (in my opinion) is the amount of plastic and disposable bottles or vessels used to consume drinks. Japan prioritises convenience over environmental and sustainable practices; yet the convenient practices have brought innovative sporting trends. Such as, in the image I captured the AED machine embedded in a vending machine that is next to a sports facility.
My first experience of elite para-sport in Japan. The Japan Wheelchair Basketball Federation hosted the tournament in what will be a Paralympic venue. I was impressed by the level of sponsorship and Tokyo 2020 signage. For more information about this sports federation please see their website (and on Google Chrome you can translate using an add on) https://www.jwbf.gr.jp/ . In terms of research this weekend I began to use different language. In the UK I used the terms ‘disability sport’ and ‘national governing bodies’ whereas in Japan the terms are ‘para-sport’ and ‘national sports federations.’ Here I saw and heard this in practice.
A personal highlight for me here, the Grand Sumo Tournament. Beyond the great day out I did some further research. Interestingly, the sport is plagued with some interesting issues, for example, there is a debate about the role of females. The example of gender discrimination here and in Sumo culture more broadly is representative of the traditionally patriarchal values embedded in Japanese culture. I need to reflect on this more as my research on the Sumo (and other sports) suggests that gender in Japan is a separate research topic! Yes, a diplomatic position.
I spent the first two months doing a literature review and what was quite nice is coming across colleagues work. A kind reminder that we should always be reading (and talking to others about their publications). It is a great read!
A great trip to Japan Sun Industries (with the flight photos to boot), at this point I am just over half way and really beginning to see the history of para-sport in Japan. The JSI visit, also, triggered a breakthrough in understanding the significant historical and significant UK influence of Japan’s approach and involvement in the Paralympics. I will be presenting this element of the research at: The British Society of Sport History Annual Conference 2019, Liverpool Hope University, Friday 6th –Saturday 7th September 2019. The oral presentation is titled ‘The Japanese committee was responsible for the bungling’: an analysis of media based narratives of Japan and the Paralympic Games.
Continuing with the media theme, the articles in the Guardian and my ability to translate Japanese articles (using Google again) helped bring to light key elements of my research project. I have circled around the question: who has responsibility? Using my knowledge from London 2012 and growing knowledge of the Japanese/Tokyo situation the debate around Paralympic legacy and policy is a complex landscape! This triggered a huge part of my data collection and I hope to publish at least one academic paper around the topic of who and how this contrasts between the UK and Japan… watch this space.
Possibly my proudest moment! Methodologically I had never used microfilm to collect primary archival data. I managed to conquer the machine and database (English instructions provided) with the help of a wonderful National Diet Librarian and some broken ‘Englanese’ conversations…
Like the UK (perhaps more so) in Japan elite athletes are judged by their identity and appearance. Moreover, these athletes all play on the ‘global’ stage of sports which is highly valued in Japan. This understanding of elite sport helped me better think about why Japan engages with sport mega events so much.
Similar to my comment about Becs’ journal article (above) the academic world is small! On this day I met two of my favourite academics on a tour of the Tokyo 2020 venue sites. Speaking to them about my project and more generally was hugely useful. Not simply to develop my ideas, but (it may sound daft) to speak in English for an extended period of time (in research speak). I had not realised until the end of June that I had been on my own little planet. I did not often feel isolated, yet subconsciously I had burrowed into a non-native English speaking environment where I communicated in different forms of English. It is difficult to articulate. One of my biggest learning experiences was researching in a non-English speaking or alphabet country. It has a real impact on many aspects of your daily and researching life.
The frequency of my Twitter posts increased by the end of June and into July as I have growing confidence in what I want to say. Plus, as you can seen from the posts above and below a raft of UK researchers were in Japan. I was fortunate to be able to spend time with them and contributed to their visit. Perhaps one of the biggest impacts of their visit for me was to think through how I could continue (in a manageable way) to research between Japan and the UK…
On the back of thinking through international collaboration I posted this tweet and asked for advice. A further reflection is the role of technology. There is absolutely no way I could have been as effective in Japan without Google translate, Skype, Mendeley, Twitter etc. etc. The different digital platforms I used help me to stay connected and engaged with my ‘foreign’ environment. However, can I sustain this once I am in the UK? I want to think through this more and begin develop better digital international collaborative practices. Any further ideas and platforms would be most appreciated!
Four months flies by. It has been a push, however, I managed to collect a good level of data. Granted I now need to catalogue and analyse. If you want a preliminary snapshot of my research findings and report, please, do email me email@example.com and I will get a copy over to you. I could not have done this without my supporting academics Dr. Nobuko Tanaka (Toin University of Yokohama) and Dr. Gyozo Molnar (University of Worcester). A big thank you to them! Plus, the JSPS funding body and the generous research allowance they provided. I have used the allowance to make numerous research trips for interviews and archival collection; newspaper printing; and Japanese to English translation of select documents.
The opportunity to contribute to a research / teaching environment at Toin University of Yokohama has been a privilege. The styles and practices are similar and different to the UK, in equal measures. I think I am going back to the UK a ‘better’ academic and hopefully some of the Japanese students I engaged with feel like ‘better’ students for meeting me. It has been difficult with the language barrier and volume of research commitments. If / when I come back out to Japan I want to engage more with the language and basic conversational level. I have noticed that having some Japanese phrases goes along in Japan!
With that in mind… thank you for reading this blog… or in Japanese ありがとうございました (Arigatōgozaimashita) … many people ‘liked’ or commented on my #jaspam posts and it has been a great resource to:
- help my research
- keep my spirits high
- feel part of a (research) community
Now. I must return to the UK. Retire my hashtag. And process all of my experiences. Last November I wrote a blog about coming to Japan… I can’t begin to write in-depth analytical points or conclusions. Nevertheless, hopefully, this July 2019 blog has shown how the use of tweets has helped me keep track and begin to form such analytical points and conclusions. I would highly recommend this approach for people who research abroad for limited amounts of time.