Preparation, preparation, preparation. I honestly cannot remember the last time I was spending so much of the day just working flat out. Next week is when the real fieldwork – getting out and about – starts, but before that there are lots of emails to send, schedules to write up and logistics to sort.
As I think I’ve alluded to before, this is the first time I’ve ever done any prolonged period of research overseas. In fact, save for a few in-depth interviews conducted in the north of England, virtually everything I’ve carried out so far has been in Scotland. One may well scoff at reading that and think ‘ha, you should have broadened your horizons a bit earlier, ya daft bumpkin’, but in some ways I’m glad I built my research craft in a domestic context before going overseas…because there are enough things to contend with here as it is without having to learn the mechanicals of interviewing or participant observation on the hoof.
Language isn’t the biggest of my concerns, but it does still mean extra time to prepare is required. I can speak a reasonable level of Japanese (I think/hope), particularly around my research topic, but I don’t yet have the contextual knowledge to do what I would do in the UK and just go and have a ‘chat’ with someone. More formalised scholars will shudder at this, but in the UK I often don’t bother with a formalised research schedule – I like to go in with a few basic questions in mind, and then just pick up on what the interviewee says, the idea being that the discussion goes in the direction the in reviewed wants it to rather than the direction I want it to. Here, however, I need to have a few more prompts to hand in order to (a) give me support if I can’t converse as freely as I like, and (b) demonstrate beforehand to very busy policy and industry people that I do actually have a reasonably clear idea of what I want to do.
Then there is travel. Fortunately Japanese transport has exemplary reliability, and when you go on the website to plan your journey you can be sure that the time the website displays is the time the train will actually arrive. The miracle of the internet also makes booking hotels and planning walking extremely easy wherever you are in the world. And don’t even get me started on Google Maps as a means of eliminating just-stepped-off-the-train confusion. On the other hand, where I am going next week is pretty remote, which poses the same challenges as doing rural research in Scotland multiplied by a factor of three on account of linguistic and cultural differences. In fact, it would not be dissimilar to someone from Japan coming to my native Black Isle to do fieldwork. Just as they would manage fine I’m sure I’ll get through, but it is a bit daunting.
As someone who likes to plan far ahead and have everything set up well in advance, going away for a prolonged period of time and having to develop some of the research plan ‘on site’ was probably my biggest worry. I did of course have a fairly detailed idea in mind beforehand of what I wanted to do and made contact with a number of people and organisations to get the bones of the research set up, but from thereon I knew I would have to take it as it came ‘in the field’. The temptation was to jam pack the schedule with meetings and appointments, but I’m already glad I didn’t. When one starts talking to people and firing off emails, things have an awful habit of sprouting arms and legs. Out of just three contacts more than half of my time in Japan is already filled with appointments and commitments, and more things yet are bubbling away. Things are about to get rather busy.
It’s now 9pm at night, and after gobbling down tea I’m just sitting down in a coffee house to write up the blog, work out where exactly I need to go for the ISA pre-conference on environmental sociology in Yokohama tomorrow, and start to make some inroads into a paper that needs revised. Old anthropology textbooks often talk about ‘going native’ – and at this rate, I might not be far off Japan’s famous salaryman lifestyle. If I break out one of the futons tucked away in our research office, it’s time to worry.