My IntegrationGPJS Staff Interviews

Making the Best Use of my
Experiences and
Networks to Collaborate
Researchers in Other Fields

Center for Northeast Asian Studies
Tohoku University, Associate Professor

Alyne Delaney

Interest in Social Sustainability in the Wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake

I completed my graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, Department of Anthropolgy, USA, obtaining my doctorate in 2003. In my doctoral thesis, I uncovered the importance of social connections in fishing villages for access to marine resources, and examined how this links into a sound marine environment. I first started this research in 1991. I was interested in Japanese culture and since I was studying in Sendai, I began interviewing the wives of fishery cooperative members in order to gain an understanding of livelihoods and lifestyles in coastal areas.

After obtaining my PhD., I moved to Europe on a post-doctoral fellowship, with this leading to my researching the fishing industry and coastal commons in Europe, SE Asia and southern Africa at Aalborg University in Denmark. This experience was very helpful in broadening the way I viewed the research I had carried out in Japan up until that point in time.

The Great East Japan Earthquake that struck in March 2011 resulted in a tsunami hitting the coastal region of Miyagi Prefecture which was thew location of my main fieldsite. In October of that year, I launched a short-term period of field work in Shichigahama-machi, Miyagi, which had been badly damaged by the tsunami, and focused my research on the rebuilding of the fishing community and carried out a survey on the impact of governmental policies on residents as they worked to restore their lives. Since that time, one of my primary research themes is social sustainability and resilience in the face of changes brought about by disasters. I believe that there is an intrinsic value in culture, and this needs to be protected and championed. One way of doing this is to carry out research into levels of social sustainability that contribute to the creation of resilient societies.

Research into the Field of Coastal Regions in my “Japanese Hometown” of Miyagi Prefecture.

In October of 2015 I was invited to serve as a visiting researcher at the Center for Northeast Asian Studies at the Tohoku University; several years later I returned and was appointed as a tenured Associate Professor in April 2018. The coastal region of Miyagi Prefecture was where I carried out real fieldwork for the first time. The people of Miyagi were extremely kind to me, a researcher arriving from overseas for the purpose of conducting fieldwork, and they share their time with me and allowed me into their lives. Ever since then, I have considered Miyagi Prefecture to be my “Japanese hometown.”

Tohoku University is an excellent university from the perspective of its research and academic environments, and this was one of the reasons why I jumped at the chance to be involved in the Center for Northeast Asian Studies. It is also comparatively close to Tokyo, which is only a 90 minute ride away on the bullet train, while at the same time having some of the best seafood in Japan and blessed with nearby mountains and nature. It provides a broad spectrum for research into anthropology, which is my specialty, and allows me to stay in one place while still researching a wide variety of topics. From these points of view, Tohoku University is situated in an ideal location, and I’m sure that it is rare to find the constellation of so many positive attributes—academic and research quality, along with local society and nature.

I have a history of working with researchers in other fields, particularly with natural scientists. This is an extremely important factor in achieving my research goals. I currently work as an advisor on fisheries management to the European Commission and the Dutch and Irish governments. The reason for this is that fisheries management must involve research on social aspects. The University and my colleagues in the Center for Northeast Asian Studies have high respect for the international experiences that I have accumulated up until now, as well as the international network of contacts that I have built up.

I intend to use the results of my research to conduct interdisciplinary research into coastal zones in the future, covering such aspects as the impact of discharging radioactive water has on local fisheries, the sociocultural impact of seawalls, stakeholder collaboration on eDNA projects, and place attachment and the cultural heritage of specific communities in the tsunami-hit region.

Looking Forward to Collaborating with Students and Faculty Members

I am currently taking part in activities organized by the International Graduate Program in Japanese Studies (GPJS) in my role as a researcher in anthropology. From my point of view, GPJS is a pool of researchers with whom I can have a dialogue and exchange ideas. Especially with my recent work moving ahead more into the ecological and biological side, I very much look forward to working on Japanese Studies with Japanologists of different disciplinary backgrounds. For example, I took part in the Yonaoshi: Envisioning a Better World symposium in 2021, and I found it extremely stimulating. I also look forward to additional collaboration with students and other faculty members.

I think the breadth and depth of the researchers of Japanese Studies we have in GPJS is its strong point. Also, the connections we have with other schools, not only within the program, which consists of European universities that make up the Hasekura League, but also the connections we share with researchers in other universities, are extremely appealing.

There is No Limit to Research Opportunities.
Students are Only Limited by Their Own Imagination

The Cultural Ecology Conservation Laboratory, to which I belong, places the emphasis on the environment and sociocultural anthropology, and it is involved not only in traditional, topical research, but also applied research. Some students conduct “desk studies” and others plan research involving fieldwork into the characteristics of anthropology. A number of students also conduct comparative work in comparing Japan with Alaska, or Russia, for example. The laboratory provides a wonderful environment for students and research students to work together to learn how to present their research, provide constructive criticism, and help one another.

I use a variety of investigative methods in my research. Qualitative interviewing is my main method, although I have also conducted quantitative surveys. I have also begun work with visualization workshops, which use maps and other visual methods. I am especially interested in visual methods, such as photography and film, and have been recently working on graphical abstracts and film editing. Of my current students, one is looking at educational tourism around the Ainu, and another is working on visual research methods focused on Tohoku folkcrafts.

Although it is helpful to have students who share similar interests to my own or the other professors, there is no limit to research opportunities. I believe that students are only limited by their own imagination. Up until now, I have been involved in fieldwork in various parts of the world, including Japan, Europe, Greenland and Africa. It is my wish that students who aspire to become anthropologists will see the GPJS, which champions “beyond the local, beyond the national, creating new value,” as an opportunity to carry out their research with the entire earth as their field.

  • Graduated (degrees in Anthropology/Japan studies) from Macalester College (Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA). Completed a doctorate course at the University of Pittsburgh and became a Doctor of Cultural Anthropology in 2003. Became an Associate Professor of the Department of Planning at Aalborg University (Denmark) in 2008 after a stint as a researcher for the Institute for Fisheries Management and Coastal Community Development (Denmark). Was appointed to her present post in 2018 after a period as an overseas researcher (guest associate professor) at the Center for Northeast Asian Studies, Tohoku University.
  • Main Fields of Research: Cultural anthropology, Japanese ethnography, coastal culture
  • Center for Northeast Asian Studies