CfP Workshop: Cultures of Sense in Japan

February 27 & 28, 2020, Melbourne  

Japan is home to complex and distinct sensory cultures, which shape how people sense, and make sense, of the world. At this two-day workshop, scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds are invited to discuss contemporary and historical sensory cultures of Japan and to explore how the senses, as both subject matter and research methodology, can become a fertile line of enquiry for Japan Studies. The organizers particularly welcome contributions that pertain to hitherto underexamined and denigrated senses, namely, smell, taste, and touch. 

The social sciences has historically been silent on the sensory dimensions of lived experience, favouring questions of language, meaning, and symbolism. This is partially the result of Western “ocular-centrism”, which elevates the visual mode to the realm of reason and rationality within sensory hierarchy (Classen et al. 1994). Immanuel Kant, for example, described smell as “ignoble”, “animalistic”, and unworthy of cultivation. Since the 1980s, the “sensorial turn” has challenged this state of affairs, advocating for a cultural approach to the study of the senses and a sensory approach to the study of culture, (Howes and Classen 2014:13; Stoller 2010). Today, sensory studies is a dynamic and expansive field that attends to diverse sensory cosmologies (Porcello et al. 2010). However, despite the senses often appearing as important themes in research on Japan, sensory studies is not yet a cohesive field within the Japanese academy, or in Japan Studies more broadly (Gould et al. 2019). The senses are thus an untapped resource for research. In its attempt to re-orientate scholarship toward the senses, this workshop follows on from recent contributions to the sensory anthropology of Japan, on touch (Stevens 2011) and sound (the ‘Sonic Japan’ ARC project; Gould et al 2019).

To give just one example, the olfactory sense weaves its way through Japanese cultural worlds, from the complex play of the incense ceremony, to efforts to transform the “cultural odor” of Japan-made products so as to globalize their appeal (Iwabuchi 2002), and to the recent rise of スメルハラ(sumeru hara) or ‘smell harassment’ in workplaces. Smell has also been a key mediator of inter-cultural contact. For example, author Endo Shusaku wrote “Christianity had a foreign scent to me” (in Mase-Hasegawa, 2008, xxii). In Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan Lafcadio Hearn describes “…that first charm of Japan, [is] intangible and volatile as a perfume” (1894). Finally, scent is used to mark out the racialized Other, as seen in tropes of the ‘smelly immigrant’ as a subversive citizen in Australia and Japan. 

In this workshop, scholars are invited to reflect on the following questions in relation to their research:

  • How do senses help people ‘make sense’ of their social world in Japan? How do these sensory worlds intersect with dimensions of power, and in particular, ethnicity, gender, class and age? 
  • How are the senses depicted in the Japanese language, in particularly, in ideophonic (giongo) expressions? 
  • How do senses evoke memory and assist in historical investigation and imagination? 
  • How are the senses employed in fictional and non-fictional accounts of Japan, its communities, spaces, and cultures?
  • How are sensory experiences produced, marketed, and consumed (Moeran 2007)?

The senses are a topic that cuts across disciplinary boundaries and this workshop will invite contributions from all disciplinary backgrounds and theoretical approaches. We particularly welcome submissions on multi-modal, synaesthetic or inter-sensorial experience, as well as on smell, taste and touch, which have been overlooked in previous scholarship.

The workshop will be hosted by Gwyn McClelland (History, Monash University) and Hannah Gould (Anthropology, Melbourne University) and held at The University of Melbourne’s Parkville Campus. 

Details of submission:Applications should include 1. a Title for your paper; 2. An abstract of no more than 300 words; and 3. A short biography of up to 100 words. 
Please email your submission for consideration for this workshop directly to gwyn.mcclelland@monash.eduas an attachment due date2ndDecember (5pm Australian EST)

Bursaries available:Postgraduate students and low waged ECR’s who are interested from interstate/international or rural Victoria are encouraged to include on their submission a request to be considered for a bursary. Courtesy of the Japanese Studies Association of Australia, a maximum of six bursaries of up to AUD$450 will be available for attendance and participation in this workshop. 

Please note that papers will be circulated a few weeks prior to the workshop or late January so that participants can read in advance and the workshop opportunity is made more productive. 


Classen, Constance Victoria, David Howes and Anthony Synnott. 1994. Aroma: The cultural history of smell. London: Routledge.

Gould, Hannah, Richard Chenhall, Tamara Kohn and Carolyn S Stevens. 2019. An Interrogation of Sensory Anthropology of and in Japan. Anthropological Quarterly 92 (1):231-258. 

Hearn, Lafcadio. 1894 [2016]. Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan. Clarendon: Tuttle Publishing. 

Iwabuchi, Koichi. 2002. Recentering Globalisation: Popular culture and Japanese transnationalism. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Mase-Hasegawa, Emi. 2008, Christ in Japanese Culture: Theological Themes in Shusaku Endo’s Literary Works. Leiden: Brill. 

Moeran, Brian. 2007. Marketing scents and the anthropology of smell. Social Anthropology 15 (2): 153-168. 

Porcello, Thomas, Louise Meintjes, Ana Maria Ochoa and David W Samuels. 2010. The Reorganization of the Sensory World. Annual Review of Anthropology39: 51-66. 

Stevens, Carolyn S. 2011. Touch: Encounters with Japanese Popular culture. Japanese Studies 31(1): 1-10.

Stoller, Paul. 2010. Sensuous Scholarship. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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