Department of Asian Studies
Department of Asian Studies

"Making Home Abroad: Language Practices of Japanese Diaspora in the US and Brazil"

A panel discussion by Chiho Sunakawa and and Tomoko Sakuma

Fri, February 22, 2013 | Meyerson Conference Room, WCH 4.118

12:00 PM - 1:30 AM

Chiho Sunakawa, Ph.D in Anthropolgy; Postdoctoral researcher, UT Austin 


"A Virtual Dwelling: The (Re)construction of Families Through Webcam Talk: 

Developments in communication technologies provide us with means to easily gather with others in different parts of the world. Focusing on webcam interactions between diasporic Japanese families in the United States and their extended families in Japan, this paper examines how dispersed family members manage emotional, social, geographic, and temporal distances across households. More specifically, I  investigate how goal-oriented activities, such as sharing meal time, playing role-play games, mothering, and taking a family photo are collaboratively achieved across spaces. 

The data for this paper consist of ethnographic observation, interviews, and video-recorded webcam interactions. Drawing on ethnomethodology, I particularly focus on video-recorded webcam conversations in order to analyze how participants make coherent courses of actions in webcam talk. Detailed analyses of talk and spatial arrangements in webcam interactions allow us to understand how participants share experiences, build relationships, and demonstrate various roles and responsibilities.

By looking at the process in which goal-oriented activities are achieved through talk, I discuss how family members co-construct the translocal and transgenerational perpetuation of a “family” in webcam interactions. I argue that even though families do not live together or close to each other, the interactional activities that are consistently made through webcams create a virtual living space for the families to habituate the presence of extended family members in their ordinary lives. The audio-visual access of a webcam does not simply connect two distant home spaces, but it creates a center for familial, affective, and cultural attachments.


Tomoko Sakuma, Ph.D in Linguisticsa at UT Austin; Lecturur in Japanese Language, Asian Studies, UT Austin 


 "Performing “Japanese” in Brazil: Language ideologies in a Japanese Brazilian cultural association in Sao Paulo, Brazil"

This paper presents a sociolinguistic study of ideologies about language, culture and ethnicity among Japanese immigrants and descendants (hereafter, Nikkeis) in Brazil who gather at a local Japanese cultural association, searching for what it means to be “Japanese”. This study is based on interview data and ethnographic data gathered primarily from participant observations of various social gatherings hosted by the association including Karaoke club, Haiku club and Japanese language courses. Nikkeis are an overwhelmingly celebrated minority group in Brazil. In this context, the cultural association serves as a site where symbolic cultural differences are constructed by those Nikkeis who strive to identify themselves as a prestigious minority. This study examines the way in which the Japanese language is employed as one of the important resources in performing the Nikkei identity, while Portuguese as a means of communication is becoming increasingly indispensable for cultural transmission. It shows how members of the association, including both Japanese monolinguals and Portuguese monolinguals, are in constant negotiation, trying to strike a balance between symbolic values of Japanese, pragmatic needs for Portuguese, as well as their own language competencies. By doing so, this paper demonstrates how ethnicity, culture and language define and redefine one another as they interact and transform over time. It aims to contribute to the Japan study by underscoring the role of language ideologies in rationalizing linguistic as well as cultural choices. 

Sponsored by: The Center for East Asian Studies

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