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Letter from Our Fellows

365 days as the Handa Japanese Archaeology Fellow at the Sainsbury Institute

Yasuyuki Yoshida, Handa Japanese Archaeology Fellow 2016
Yasuyuki Yoshida, Handa Japanese Archaeology Fellow 2016

The past year has been a dramatic and memorable year for the United Kingdom and for myself. The UK held a referendum that sparked chaos and major leadership changes including the replacement of its Prime Minister. On a more local level, Norwich City Football Club also fell foul after a poor performance season that saw them relegated to a lower category league. While the nation and the City of Norwich have seen better days, the same year for me, as Handa Japanese Archaeology Fellow at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC), was a positively memorable one.

I am an archaeologist specialising in Japanese prehistoric Jomon archaeology. Archaeology is a relatively popular academic discipline in Japan and has a very captive domestic ‘market’. With demand aplenty within the country, Japanese archaeologists are usually not very motivated to study overseas. However, I had always felt that Jomon studies needed to refer to the ethno-history of the Northwest Coast Native Americans and ethno-archaeological, theoretical approaches to hunter-gatherer societies in the English-speaking world, mainly because the Jomon period is frequently regarded as a complex hunter-gatherer society, and it is indispensable to position the field as part of a broader comparative study.

With this in mind, I had started to expand my readings to include literature on the subject in English as part of my research. In addition, I met Dr Simon Kaner, who was one of the few non-Japanese Jomon archaeologist, and who had been actively building a wide network amongst the Japanese archaeological community. I too became entangled in the web he had worked hard to create. My involvement with the outside world came at a fortuitous time when Japanese humanities and social sciences had just begun to push the importance of globalising their research remit. The field of Japanese archaeology was also encouraging its global outreach. Though the term ‘global archaeology’ is still a vague concept, the dynamism inherent is pushing us to become an alternative type of archaeologist. The UK has been, in a sense, one of the forerunners of this movement and its theoretical innovations. Therefore, I naturally gravitated to the UK to eventually set foot at the London City Airport at the end of the last October as a Handa Japanese Archaeology Fellow.

Installing an exhibition he co-curated for the World Art Congress in Kyoto, 2016
Installing an exhibition he co-curated for the World Art Congress in Kyoto, 2016

I have raised the term ‘alternative-type’ archaeologists. So what exactly is an alternative-type archaeologist? In my understanding, archaeology in the English-speaking world is expanding its realm beyond intrinsically built boundaries of nations, sub-divided disciplines, and the authoritative archaeological discipline itself. Contemporary archaeologists are responding to these changing circumstances. I felt the dynamism of how archaeology is researched in the UK for the first time when I joined the Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) Conference held in Bradford in December 2015. The atmosphere and attitude of participants were totally different from those in conferences in Japan. In addition to the TAG Conference, I joined others held in the United States, including the Society for American Archaeology in Orlando and the Society for East Asian Archaeology in Boston, and presented my research papers focusing on various subjects, from shedding light upon Jomon artefacts marginalised in previous studies to the relationship between Jomon archaeological practices and contemporary society. Before each occasion, the staff at the Sainsbury Institute supported me in refining my presentation by pointing out mistakes on English grammar and making the logical composition clearer to a wider audience. Each day during my Fellowship was a series of trial and error extending my modality of research practice on one hand, and on the other hand, struggling to get to grips with British English, as English education in Japan is based on ‘American’ English. I had to improve my hearing to catch up with the rapid speaking speed, and to comprehend the distinctive accent. I also had to master the distinctive spelling and vocabulary of British English such as to understand that ‘to let’ is used for rental properties, ‘massively’ is used in describing even only slightly enhanced situations, and ‘first floor’ for what corresponded to be the second floor in Japan. Indeed, the word ‘lovely’ was also another word that I re-discovered as being attached to many quite normal situations in my daily life.

Although most of the conferences I attended were on archaeology at the Joint East Asian Studies Conference which was attended by academics of various disciplines, I presented a paper with an attempt to argue that Jomon studies could offer a broader contribution to Japan Studies beyond archaeology. Thanks to Dr. Kaner who invited me to join the panel, I experienced a tremendous sense of accomplishment in expanding the horizon of my academic contribution. Furthermore, archaeology as a discipline is currently closely connected with the field of art. As a result, I was involved in the ‘Art and Archaeology’ project at the World Archaeological Congress (WAC) held in summer this year in Kyoto, and participated in a discussion at a Buddhist temple with an art curator who joined via the internet. This event was accompanied by an exhibition and was one of the key events of WAC. Though curatorial work was previously an unfamiliar terrain to me, the numerous opportunities provided by the Sainsbury Institute during my Fellowship such as the monthly Third Thursday Lectures (TTL), events related to art, and discussing daily with the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury fellows who were all art historians, helped me in building the concept of this exhibition titled ‘Garden of Fragments’ which created a unique space within the traditional temple landscape.

He visited a number of archaeological sites in the UK including those in Orkney
He visited a number of archaeological sites in the UK including those in Orkney

During my Fellowship, I also had various opportunities to research many English and Scottish archaeological heritage sites such as Stonehenge, Sutton Hoo and Neolithic sites in the Orkney islands. I also took advantage of my time in the UK to visit cities in different regions of the country including southern England, Wales, and Scotland, and enjoyed their landscapes which are much different from the eastern region of England. Norwich was a wonderful place to live in as well as a convenient base for traveling – although the UK train system was occasionally a nightmare in comparison with the punctual Japanese one.

I will never forget my time in the United Kingdom, all the varied people I met and things I experienced, including quintessentially British ladies and gentlemen, tattooed hipsters, almost half-year rainy or cloudy (called ‘lovely’) weather, balmy summer, abundant number of cafes of which many became my second office. I will also remember fondly the distinctive pubs in Norwich, and its small football club that was too good-natured to remain in the top league, amongst other things. Finally, I will remain close to my friends here whom I will reminiscence with deep affection, and am hoping to come back to this lovely city regularly.

Yasuyuki Yoshida
Handa Archaeology Fellow 2016
Associate Professor, Kanazawa University

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