Yoshida Teigo (1923-2018) Obituary

Professor Yoshida was a visiting scholar at Oxford University when we held the founding meeting of the Japan Anthropology Workshop in 1984, and he agreed to become our honorary Japanese representative. This was a position he held for many years, attending our conferences in exciting locations, and contributing to deliberations on a huge variety of subjects. At our third workshop at the Truman Research Institute in Jerusalem in 1987, where the theme was ‘The Contribution of Japanese Studies to Anthropology’, he put forward an argument which I think has underpinned the confidence of foreign social anthropologists working in Japan ever since. He proposed that the best social anthropology done anywhere is based on cooperation between an inside anthropologist, who knows the local language and culture as a native, and an outsider who can better see how that new culture (for them) differs from their own. Both can of course put their findings and perspectives into the context of their wider training in the field, but I would like to think that this idea explains why so much good work has come out of JAWS which now has a good number of Japanese members, and since Professor Nakamaki Hirochika became our honorary representative in 2008, a very good relationship with our sister organisation in Japan, the AJJ (Anthropology of Japan in Japan). Professor Yoshida’s 1981 paper, “The Stranger as God: The Place of the Outsider in Japanese Folk Religion”, published in English (Ethnology, 20, 2, 87-99) not long before that first JAWS meeting, also put the advantaged position we foreigner researchers seemed to hold in an interesting local perspective.

Yoshida Teigo was born in Tokyo (Yamanote) on February 26th, 1923, graduated from Tokyo University in 1947, and worked through the hierarchy of lecturer to professor of social and cultural anthropology, first at Kyushu University (1953-1969) and then at Tokyo University (1969-1983). He spent periods visiting Tulane University, New Orleans (1965-1966), Northwestern University, Illinois (1974-1975), Pittsburgh University (1980-1981), Oxford University (1983-1984), University of Leiden (1990) and the University of Michigan (1996). After his official retirement from Tokyo University, he took up positions at the University the Sacred Heart (1983-1991), Keio University, and Obirin University (1991-1995), all in Tokyo. He was also professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo and paid regular visits to the Komaba department after he had retired from teaching.

Professor Yoshida was my Japanese supervisor during my first period of fieldwork in Japan, when I became a student of his at Tokyo University, and he remained a staunch supporter throughout his active life. When he and Mrs. Yoshida were in Oxford they introduced me gently but firmly to a high level of the polite language I was setting out to study and which they had absorbed as children growing up in the Yamanote district of Tokyo. Back in Tokyo, he invited me to sit in on classes he was teaching in Keio and Seishin Joshi universities to listen to the differing language his students used in each of these places. He also invited me to give a paper at Keio University on the subject of wrapping, which I was developing at the time, and which inspired some wonderful comments from the Japanese audience. Later, he continued to jump on and off the train from his home in Kichijōji to the Komaba campus to meet me for lunch when I was visiting until he was nearly 90 years old.

Yoshida Teigo passed away on May 29th 2018, leaving his wife, Yoriko, Mitsuhiro, his son who followed in his footsteps and became an anthropologist now teaching at Kanda University of International Studies, and a grandson, Kazuki, who gained entrance to Tokyo University apparently just in time to make his grandfather smile just before he passed on, and who is now diligently studying biochemistry there. Yoshida Teigo’s son, Mitsuhiro sensei, spoke fondly to me about the exciting periods abroad he had spent with his father, including doing fieldwork together in Bali, and also about some joint research they did at an onsen in Gunma prefecture with his mentor Keith Brown. Yoshida Teigo loved doing fieldwork, he reported, and was away every summer in a variety of locations including Melanesia, Mexico and the Ryukyu Islands. In my own experience, Yoshida sensei (senior) did fieldwork wherever he found himself, picking up local expressions in all the cities where we met for the JAWS workshops, and adopting local customs to amuse and delight our hosts as well. His legacy will live on through his many students, and in my case at least, students of students, as we remember him very positively in our work.

Joy Hendry

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