General Anthropology Division
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: This panel is an exploration of the limits and new possibilities that may emerge from anthropological reflections on how to remain responsive and ethical to the indigenous voices that demand repatriation of human remains as they echo in the twenty-first century Japan: the Ainu and the Ryukyuans, in particular. It is linked with another panel, “Struggles for Repatriating Indigenous Remains inside Japan,” organized by ann-elise lewallen and Koji Deriha.
Indigenous human remains stored in Japanese national universities have recently become the foci of contestation as several lawsuits that had demanded returning those bones have been settled out of court, while other lawsuits are still pending. These increasingly vocal demands for social justice on the part of the indigenous peoples in Japan have already forced anthropologists toward not only responding to these demands but also searching ways to become ethical to the indigenous peoples while keeping in clear view the inescapable legacy of (settler) colonialism that constitutes the present historical conjuncture.
The panel addresses such issues as how memories of historical injustice might deeply impair the present relations among the Ainus and non-Ainus; how it is possible to envision ethics not only attuned the indigenous demands, often varied and frequently divided, but also capable of transforming anthropological practices; how collaborative endeavor in science might become possible as responses to repatriation demands; how does the idea of indigeneity might circulate throughout Japan as the issue of repatriation of human remains has surfaced not only among the Ainus but also among the Ryukyuans.
Noriko Seguchi, a biological anthropologist, foresees the collaborative research as a model of ethical scientific practices. Mai Ishihara, a part-Ainu anthropologist, brings to surface multiple voices in the Ainu struggles for repatriating human remains, a feature often overlooked in heated debates by supporters of repatriation. Yoshinobu Ota, an anthropologist, proposes an ethics of listening as a way to restore the future relations, so far often divided and contradictory, among the indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Japan. Mitsuho Ikeda, an anthropologist, discusses the legal barriers that make it difficult for the descendants to repatriate ancestral human remains stolen from the tombs of local kings during the era of Ryukyu Kingdom.
Two distinguished discussants, Dr. Joe Watkin and Dr. Chip Colwell, who will guide local issues of repatriation of human remains in Japan to wider global concerns for ethics and responsibilities in anthropological practices as we struggle to redefine their relations with the indigenous presence articulated both in political and moral terms.