An unfocused view of Tokyo from the University of Tokyo

Research diary outtake:

I met Fumi this morning on the metro in downtown Tokyo. I must have looked lost as she offered me an English map of the city. Now in her 80s, she told me how she learnt to speak English from American missionaries who were in Japan after WW2. We sat next to each other on the Ginza line – “the oldest line in Tokyo, my favorite” she tells me “I remember when all these buildings used to be low-down. Now they are so tall” she said, just before our crowded carriage descended underground.

Her relatives were evacuated from their house in Fukushima after the Tsunami, Earthquake and Nuclear accident hit Japan three and a half years ago. Her sister-in-law now lives in temporary accommodation to the west of Fukushima. I have Fumi’s number and will hopefully be meeting her for tea soon.

The name Fumi means ‘history’, ‘narrative’ or ‘chronicle’. I look forward to meeting her again.

Combined with the heady mix of jet lag and a few glasses of white wine, meeting the Emperor of Japan was one of the more surreal moments of my life. I felt even more out of place as I was in a T-shirt and shorts – though the shorts have been skilfully cropped out by the photographer (below)

I met the Emperor Akihito – known as the ‘heavenly sovereign’ (天皇) of Japan – at a wine reception near Tokyo on the first day of my JSPS funded fellowship.  I’ve been awarded the scholarship to research the ongoing impacts of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in comparison with my existing ethnographic study in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Hosted by the University of Tokyo, I will be conducting fieldwork with communities affected by the disaster.

I spoke with the head of the Japanese Imperial family, and his wife Empress Michiko, explaining my research and talking briefly about my experience of Chernobyl. The Emperor wished me every success in Japan.


What the Emperor was like:

He’s s a small man, in stature and height – fragile with age but pretty active for an octogenarian. When I met him he was purposely shuffling with an entourage and smile.  He asked me some questions and spoke through a translator at times, though I would guess this has more to do with slight deafness than not being fluent in English. We were told to speak loudly and slowly when addressing ‘His Imperial Majesty’.

We were later told that he was also accompanied by a 250 strong security team, but they made their presence fairly subtle – though frankly, a group of researchers probably posed quite a low risk threshold.

We were not supposed to take any photographs, which is a shame. I would have loved an ‘Imperial Selfie’.