2018 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: College of New Jersey

Gender, food and disaster recovery:
Women’s food cooperatives as sites of recovery following the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake of 2011

Mentor: Holly Didi-Ogren, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Students: Yani Aldrich, Jason Sagalow; Annette Giacobbe, and Jordan Gonzalez

The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake of 2011, known in Japan simply as 3/11, caused immense personal and physical loss to the Tōhoku (northeastern) region of the country. This research project proposes to investigate how women’s food cooperatives have played a role in rebuilding community and providing a sense of shared purpose for the women who are involved in them. Women in these cooperatives are at the intersection of demographic changes to rural Japan, shifting discourses about gender, and the promotion of local food as a means of ensuring Japan’s food security. Building on the faculty mentor’s in-depth knowledge and experience in the region, the research team will employ anthropological methods to investigate the role of cooperatives in women’s experiences of recovery in two communities impacted by the 3/11 disasters.

The project will address current global issues of disaster and recovery, food security, and gender in the context of Japan. Interaction and collaboration with the people of Japan is integral to the project, as students will do service learning work through regional disaster-recovery agencies, conduct participant observation with women at local food-related cooperatives in two communities, and do ethnographic interviews with women in those cooperatives. Team members will also learn about disaster recovery efforts in the region through interactions with local governmental and private organizations involved in the efforts.

The anthropological methodology taken in this project requires students to interact and collaborate with our project partners in Japan. Students will directly engage in interactive activities with local women’s food cooperatives that are part of “lifestyle improvement” (seikatsu-kaizen) programs in two communities: an inland community indirectly impacted by the disasters and a community on the coast that was devastated by the events of March 11, 2011.

The research team aims to address the following research questions: How do communities locate themselves after a trauma? Have the disasters had any impact on gender relations in communities? What role have the cooperatives played in recovery efforts? What role does local food play in recovery efforts? Has being involved in the cooperatives contributed to women’s recovery from the disasters?

At the Shimanokoshi Memorial Park in Tanohata, Iwate Prefecture (Japan). This park commemorates the site of the former Shimanokoshi Train Station, which was washed away in the 2011 tsunami. The new station behind us, in the back of the photo. L to R: Holly Didi-Ogren (faculty mentor), Jordan Gonzale, Annette Giacobbe, Yani Aldrich, Jason Sagalow

Yani Aldrich

Since returning from Japan and submitting the preliminary report, we have spent our time analyzing, organizing, and presenting our findings and experiences among academic communities and through our Facebook page dedicated to the project. We have not only have gained important practical and professional skills, but also insight into the impact of natural disasters within a community, what goes into disaster recovery, perceptions of food and safety, and the food and culture of the people of Northern Japan. I have gained an amazing experience to add to my resume and everyday experiences. I have gained skills in project management, cross- cultural communication, and research and analytical skills among other things. Upon completion of this research project, I have already personally expanded upon the interests and passions I have developed and I applied and am now halfway through completing a Master of Science degree in Global Affairs through New York University with a concentration in human rights and international law and a specialization in data analytics, and I have begun preparation for a thesis concerning Japan and Japanese culture. These actions I have taken reflect the passion I have developed for learning about different societies and my desire to be involved in data collection and analyzation in the future. I have also started taking the steps to increase my language skills and enhance my existing knowledge of Japanese. I hope to continue using what I have gained through this experience as I develop my academic and professional career and continue to travel and conduct research.

Yani Aldrich (L) and Annette Giacobbe (R) conducting their first interviews in Tanohata, with two women from the Raga District Fishing Cooperative Women’s Division.

Annette Giacobbe

Since the preliminary report, I have returned to Japan to continue my study of not just Japanese, but also business and international relations in the Asian context at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka. Through conversations with various Japanese college students, many were surprised to hear of our research in the northern prefecture, most not even knowing what landmarks are in Iwate. I was happy to share our findings and my reflections with them and encourage them to visit the local areas too, to get away from the city life in Osaka! I returned in December and began to prepare for my final semester at the College of New Jersey. Other students in our research team have presented at events within the school while I was away that semester, so I was given the role to present in San Diego this spring at the 2019 ASIANetwork conference. A poster was created and presented during the time, giving answers to those interested in our research and those who are looking to do a similar project too. Further updates were made on our group’s Facebook page to continue sharing information to a larger crowd, in addition to showcasing photos of our research in The College of New Jersey’s Social Science Building. I was able to find inspiration on the topic of disaster recovery in rural Asian communities to incorporate into my senior thesis for International Studies. From the interviews to the in-depth research of the Tohoku region of Japan, my thesis will ultimately contribute to the greater works on disaster recovery by providing unique evidence found within the research granted by ASIANetwork. In regards to professional development, I have gained skills that will evidently benefit me in the search for employment after graduation. Such skills as professional interviewing, managing travel plans and meetings, critical thinking in a different language, conference presenting, and the comprehensive understanding of Japanese society and culture will set me apart from others within the job market. I look forward to the new opportunities that will arise within the near future.

Annette Giacobbe and Jordan Gonzalez cooking with the Bijokai cooperative in Towa, Iwate Prefecture (Japan). The group made foods using local ingredients with the group, then enjoyed eating them together.

Jordan Gonzalez

After completion of our research and our return to the States, we have spent our time meeting and organizing ways in which we could present our findings through a variety of different means. One example being the presentation at the Celebration of Student Achievement held at The College of New Jersey. Thanks to our research, I have developed my professional speaking skills and have been inspired to pursue a future in Japan. I hope to apply for graduate school in Japan within the following months to pursue a Masters degree in Public Policy. Looking back at our work in Japan I now understand different facets of Japanese culture that I did not prior to our research. I hope to continue using my experience with local farming communities in Japan to further develop my ability to communicate with others from highly different backgrounds.

Meeting with Tanohata Village Mayor Ishihara. We’re holding up yogurt drinks made from local Tanohata milk. Mayor Ishihara sits in front. L to R in back: Annette Giacobbe, Jordan Gonzalez, Yani Aldrich, Holly Didi-Ogren, Jason Sagalow.

Jason Sagalow

After submitting the preliminary report, our group has met many times to plan presentations at two on-campus events at The College of New Jersey: the Interdisciplinary Research Forum and Celebration of Student Achievement. At both we presented our findings and research methods to many interested faculty members and students. Our plans then extended to submitting pictures and descriptions for a photo exhibit in TCNJ’s Social Science Building, which will visually document our research for many students and teachers. Through our project I have personally learned how to better work with and be part of a team, as well as how important a team can be when research inevitably does not go exactly as planned. My ability to interact and learn from people in other countries has improved, and I feel as if my connection to Japan has grown far stronger than it ever could have with only my study abroad experience; this immensely unique experience has given me something no other visit, studying, or job could: a more authentic look into native people’s lives. Creating a research plan about a topic and then going out to see the words on a page manifest themselves into real people and places with your own eyes is incomparable. I began to apply (and later got accepted) for an English teaching position in Japan with the confidence that I both enjoy and can thrive in a foreign country’s more rural areas. I have been inspired to continue my studies of Japanese and the culturally distinctive experiences of the country’s people.

Our group in yukata (summer kimono) courtesy of the Bijokai Group in Towa. First row: (L) Annette Giacobbe and (R) Yani Aldrich Back row L to R: Jason Sagalow, Jordan Gonzalez, Holly Didi-Ogren

We were invited by the Shimanokoshi Festival Youth Division in Tanohata Village to help them put the finishing touches on the mikoshi (portable shrine) for the festival we participated in a few days later. Annette Giacobbe is squatting in front, Jordan Gonzalez is to her right, and Yani Aldrich is standing between them. The head of the Youth Division is showing them how to put the mikoshi on the boards that will be used for carrying it. (Our local coordinator, Mr. Imahashi, is taking photos in the background.) The festival is a key community-building event for the Shimanokoshi District of Tanohata, whose residents were geographically dispersed following the 2011 tsunami.