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Lives in Motion: Composing Circles of Self and Community in Japan

106 LivesInMotion
Edited by Susan Orpett LONG
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From the deathbed to the commuter railway station, from the marriage market to the fish market, from the baseball field to the grave, this volume explores the diversity of contemporary Japanese society by studying how people “compose” their families, their communities, and their own identities. Challenging fixed boundaries characteristic of institutional analysis, these essays comprise an anthropology of real people who age, who play, and whose lives speak to ours even over chasms of cultural differences and misunderstandings. The contributors are historians, sociologists, and anthropologists of Japan who engage these ideas in their research and who have been inspired over the years by the spirit of David Plath’s anthropology of self.

Part I includes essays by Susan Long, Kamiko Takeji, and Scott Clark which explore how the meaning of self is created through long-term engagement with convoys, those with whom one coauthors biographies. The second set of chapters investigates the process of creating circles of interaction, identity, and meaning beyond that inner circle. Keiko Ikeda considers the cocreation of individual and collective meanings among consociates of locality. The chapters by Paul Noguchi and by David McConnell and Jackson Bailey describe negotiations of identity among consociates within the workplace, while Theodore Bestor and William Kelly focus on constructions of regional and national identity. In Part III, chapters by Christie Kiefer, John Grossberg, Morioka Kiyomi, and Robert J. Smith bring us full circle to reconsideration of composing the self, but within the widest possible social universe that includes the aging, the dying, and the spirits of the dead. | 312 pages


  • Preface
  • List of Contributors
  • Introduction

Part 1 Inner Circles

  • Shikata ga nai: Resignation, Control, and Self-Identity Susan Orpett Long
  • Reinterpreting Mate Selection in Contemporary Japan Kamiko Takeji
  • My Other House: Lifelong Relationships Among Sisters of the Hayashi Family Scott Clark

Part 2 Wider Circles of Relationships and Meaning

  • Power in Ambiguity: The Shido Shuji and Japanese Educational Innovation David L. McConnell and Jackson H. Bailey
  • Logomotion: Shiranai Station - From JNR to JR Paul H. Noguchi
  • Kenka Matsuri: Fighting with Our Gods in Postindustrial Japan Keiko Ikeda
  • William W. Kelly
  • Theodore C. Bestor

Part 3 Closing the Circle by Opening the Circle

  • Autonomy and Stigma in Aging Japan Christine W. Kiefer
  • Formulating Attitudes Towards Death: A Case Study of a Japanese Jodo Shin Buddhist Woman John Barth Grossberg
  • Eternal Engagements: Solidarity Among the Living, the Dying, and the Dead Morioka Kiyomi
  • The Living and the Dead in Japanese Popular Religion Robert J. Smith


  • "A very good book that makes an important contribution to the study of self in Japan. The book succeeds well in bringing forth the individual diversity that characterizes Japanese lives as they grow and change through experience and time.” — Journal of Asian Studies
  • “A fitting tribute to [David] Plath for his major contribution to the field of Japanese anthropology.” — Journal of Japanese Studies
  • “A valuable guide for those who are interested in understanding Japanese lifestyles. … For all kinds of readers, specialist and nonspecialists, academic and nonacademic, who will find it nourishing rather than destructive.” — Monumenta Nipponica


  • Susan Orpett LONG is Associate Professor of Anthropology at John Carroll University. She is also author of Lives in Motion: Composing Circles of Self and Community in Japan (CEAS No. 106), and editor of Caring for the Elderly in Japan and the United States: Practices and Policies (Routledge). Her current research compares bioethics, culture, and end-of-life decisions in the two countries.

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