Between Margin and Centre: Researching "Non-standard" Japanese

  • Wim Lunsing Asian Research Centre


Marginality depends on the relationship with something that is constructed as central or mainstream. In cross-cultural fieldwork, the position of the reseracher in relation to his informants may be marginal. Informants may be perceived as marginal in their society. Within academia, particular topics of research may be marginalized and funding organizations may not fund such topics. In the case of my research topics of sexuality, gender and sexual activity in Japan, Japanese government funding organizations appear to be relatively receptive, providing the themes are parsed in a valid academic manner. The bigger problem was establishing academic contacts, as there are few Japanese researchers working on sexuality. As a researcher, my position was not particularly different from other people in the networks and groups concerned. The question of marginality of the informants in relation Japanese society depends greatly on one's vantage point. Generally, informants did not think in terms like marginality and in many ways they were full members of their society. Sexuality, however, is trivialized as a topic, as a result of which coming out as gay or lesbian or discussing one's activities as a a sex worker may lead to some extent of marginalization. However, this is the case with all sexuality that transgresses clearly defined boundaries. Within the academic establishment may lie the biggest problem in relation to marginality. Sexuality is often not regarded as a proper topic for investigation, which may lead to an overtheorization of issues on which few data are available. Many academics have had little sex education and their home cultures often place strong moral judgements on matters pertaining to sex, thus preventing a proper academic discussion.