Dis/Embodying Fieldwork in Japan

Erika R. Alpert

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issuepeer-review


When flights reopened in 2020 between Kazakhstan, where I was based, and Japan, where I do my research, my first thought was, ‘Can I still fit in some fieldwork this summer?’ Fieldwork relies on an epistemology of co-presence: the things one can only learn by occupying the same physical space with others, observing their everyday lives, and conversing in the local vernacular, in a century-old tradition going back to Malinowski. Consequently, restrictions on travel make research seem impossible, even though ethnographers have developed new techniques for virtual ethnography while grappling with globalization, migration, and social media development. At the same time, the pandemic reminds us that physical co-presence entails a certain level of vulnerability that can both engender intimacy and endanger fieldworkers. As documented by studies of fieldwork safety in STEM research, researchers are more vulnerable in the field because of the way that the usual rules of interaction are suspended or unknown. This article takes up these issues in a Japan-specific context by contrasting the author’s fieldwork experiences as a young(er) woman studying marriage, dating, and intimacy with the ‘lost’ 2020 field season. It concludes by discussing the possibility of merging digital and traditional methods to increase researcher safety.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJapanese Studies
Publication statusPublished - May 6 2022


  • ethnography
  • vulnerability
  • digital fieldwork
  • face-to-face interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics


Dive into the research topics of 'Dis/Embodying Fieldwork in Japan'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this