Still life: Scarecrow sociality, economic abandonment, and public curiosity in rural Japan
[Recorded 4th November 2020] In Nagoro, in the middle of Shikoku, close to two hundred scarecrows stand in the farm fields where nothing but weeds now grow; they wait at the bus stop past which busses no longer run; and they sit in an elementary school devoid of human children. Day by day increasing numbers of visitors from urban centers of affluent countries are making the trek to this small town and its inanimate inhabitants. Reflexively following that curiosity, for the past five years I have visited this town, made scarecrows, spent time with long-term inhabitants of the valley, and talked to the tourists and reporters who come to see a fading rural life set against a seemingly natural backdrop of stunning beauty. In this paper, I argue that the economic conditions that enable the hyper-mobility of urban public curiosity are precisely those that push small villages such as this one to the verge of disappearance. A gendered, spatial, and temporal organization of labor and leisure, curiosity and possibility — all global in scope — condense here into the scarecrow. This talk was originally presented on 4th November, 2020. Joseph Hankins is Associate Professor and Vice Chair of Anthropology and Interim Director of Critical Gender Studies at the University of California, San Diego. His research examines the interplay of flow and capture – of goods, people, and political possibility. His first book followed raw cowhide from his hometown in Texas to a tannery in Japan, examining the gendered labor required to reproduce political arguments that Japan is multicultural. His talk is from his second book project on deurbanization and rural imaginaries.