gavin h. whitelaw : sociocultural anthropology & japanese studies

Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (TUFS) Lecture (2018)

“Japan’s Konbini and the Afterlives of Food”

Waste and expired food products—often referred to as “loss” (rosu)—plays an under-acknowledged role in the functioning of Japanese convenience stores. My talk focuses on the cumulative costs of post-commodity consumptive practices for those whose lives are intimately intertwined with the day-to-day maintenance the world’s most finely tuned and localized distribution and retail system. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and participant observation as a convenience store clerk, I expose the human dimensions of store waste and the significance of leftover and expired consumables in the functioning of and changes within the “convenience” economy.

Wesleyan University, College of East Asian Studies Lecture (2017)

"At Your Konbini: Small Stores, Globalization, and Livelihood in Contemporary Japan"

In Japan, the convenience store, or konbini, sets the standard for fast mass customer service and “localized” global retail. Formally introduced to the island nation in the 1970s, the American convenience store franchise model and associated distribution system have restructured Japanese retail, transforming the neighborhood corner shop into a competitive commercial force with global ties and mass appeal. This lecture examines the ways this everyday place offers new perspectives on the study of Japan and globalization.

SEAA Interview, American Anthropological Association (2015)

Interview conducted with Society for East Asian Anthropology (SEAA) regarding conducting ethnographic research on convenience stores in Japan.

The Japan Times - "Everyday Goods" (2013)

“Mingei” translates as “folk art” and is connected to objects that are made or used by ordinary people on an everyday basis. Usually this evokes hand-crafted objects, such as ceramics, baskets, items of woodwork, etc. As such, the term is evocative of the era before mass global trade. In modern Japan, with cheap imported items freely available, mingei goods production is slowly dying out, now being kept alive by enthusiasts and hobbyists rather than the common people. This raises the question of what the “folk art” of the future will be. The free exhibition “Counter Culture: Japan’s Konbini and Elements of Mingei” at the International Christian University’s Hachiro Yuasa Memorial Museum has come up with a radical answer: the konbini, the ubiquitous convenience store and the items associated with it. ~ The Japan Times

“Mingei and the Material Life of Japan’s Konbini” (2013)

The ICU Hachiro Yuasa Memorial Museum is currently holding the exhibition “Mingei and the Material Life of Japan’s Konbibi” from 9 April to 5 July. ICU invites you to a lecture by Professor Gavin H. Whitelaw, who curated the exhibition, and see for yourself if there are elements of mingei in today’s convenience stores.

BBC 4 Food Programme (2012)

In this installment of the BBC 4's Food Programme, journalist Richard Johnson reports on the impact that the Fukushima nuclear disaster has had on food in Japan. In particular, he seeks for ways that the threat of contamination may be changing attitudes toward what Japanese consumers choose to buy and eat. I assisted Johnson with collecting some of the material for this dispatch.

BBC 4 Food Programme (2011)

In this installment of the BBC 4's Food Programme, the intrepid Simon Parkes guides listeners onto Japanese rooftops, shops and dining tables where producers and sellers are finding creative ways to address a dilemma of political and economic importance -- food self-sufficiency dilemma. I assisted Parkes with collecting some of the material that was used in this story.

Japan Society - "The Konbini Are Coming" (2008)

Somewhere between fast-food purveyor and upscale grocer, between banking center and bookstore lies the realm of the Japanese "konbini." Long catering to Japan's round-the-clock gastronomic, entertainment and banking needs, the Japanese convenience model offers much from which its American counterparts can learn. Famima!!, the U.S. offshoot of Japan's FamilyMart, is the first company to introduce the konbini model to the U.S. and seeks to build as many as 200 outlets on the West Coast by 2009. Our distinguished speakers examine konbini's cultural influences in the U.S. and discuss whether a business model synonymous with Japan's legendary customer service, efficiency and high quality can be successfully transplanted into America's cultural diversity. ~ The Japan Society