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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/aypy-dk73


AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Japan Anthropology in Difficult Times: The Ramseyer Controversy and Scholarly Responsibility





Recent publications on the topics of wartime “comfort women” and Japan’s minorities penned by J. Mark Ramseyer, the Mitsubishi Professor of Japanese Legal Studies at Harvard University, became the focus of intense controversy. His article on wartime “comfort women”, posted in the online version of International Review of Law and Economics in December 2020, gained global scrutiny following its coverage in Japan’s right-wing media. Ramseyer claims that “comfort women” willingly entered into sex-work contracts, denying the responsibility of the Japanese military and the government in the “comfort station” system. He insists that naming this system “sexual slavery” is “pure fiction” • a stance shared by Japanese history denialists. Historians, economists, and other international scholars closely fact-checked his article and, finding it to be deeply flawed, demanded a retraction. As attention to Ramseyer’s “comfort women” writings increased, his problematic papers on other issues, including the massacre of Koreans during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and minorities such as Burakumin, Okinawans, and Zainichi Koreans, has also drawn international fire. Critics point to his flawed assumptions about minority history, “victim-blaming” approach, unethical research conduct, and use of Japanese Studies “as a means to vent opinions about race in the United States” (Amos et al., 2021). The Ramseyer controversy poses fundamental questions directly relevant to the meeting theme this year, “Truth and Responsibility.” How should we as scholars fight for truth • as opposed to revisionism • and how should we be responsible and accountable for them? What are the problems in academia that led to Ramseyer’s work getting a pass in multiple peer-reviewed processes until this year? How could the power and influence of American academia, especially of elite institutions such as Harvard, hinder our pursuit for truth and our commitment to fight against bigotry and sexism as anthropologists? The controversy over Ramseyer’s writing must also be understood in the larger political context of widespread historical revisionism in Japan. Because the Japanese right-wing considers the U.S. to be the “major battleground” for the so-called “history wars” on issues such as “comfort women”, scholars of Japan Studies have become targets for either recruitment efforts, or failing that, vicious attacks. The controversy poses critical questions about racism and sexism in Japan Studies as well as the ongoing assault against critical race theory and feminist scholarship in and outside of the United States. In this roundtable, scholars in anthropology and history with expertise in such issues as wartime “comfort women,” Japan’s colonial history, Japan’s minorities such as Burakumin and Zainichi Koreans, as well as feminist and minority activism and right-wing revisionism in Japan, will address the Ramseyer controversy. We will then discuss the larger issues that Japan Anthropology faces in difficult times in light of rising right-wing politics, including questions of scholarly responsibility. The roundtable will provide an opportunity for Japan Studies and Japan Anthropology to engage in collective thinking and discussion for the possible strategies to fight against revisionism, racism, and sexism, and to commit to the social justice for the disadvantaged.


Transcript English (automatic)

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