American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
In Japan, an individual’s place in society is generally reckoned according to kinship affiliations, often said to be characterized by the importance of “blood ties.” What semiotic practices are central to Japanese kinships that diverge from this normative formula? Consider: A “traditional” household with headship passed down along “blood” lines, but where a family ancestor was adopted in. Foster parents who realize that their own practices of raising unrelated children will eventually constitute repetition of ancestral disconnections. A foster daughter for whom signs of kinship affiliation—her own family name, material possessions, and signs conveyed at a gravesite—remain underdetermined or point to unresolvable losses. Material things and practices, like houses, graves, family registries, and embodied modes of interaction like the sharing of food, in some cases provide scaffolding and context for presupposing and enacting relatedness. In other cases, these engagements seem to index future repetitions of past loss and disconnection. Rather than stabilizing kinship sensibilities, signs of relatedness lack identifiable referents. This paper explores how affective and geographical proximity and distance, relationships with ancestors, and engagements with objects and bureaucratic detritus, are taken up discursively and in practice as people in Japan navigate diverse kinship affiliations. These negotiations work to cohere understandings of pasts relationships, even as they perform relatedness into—and out of—being.