Doing Fieldwork

Most master students in cultural anthropology and ethnology will do a few months of fieldwork during their first year in order to collect empirical material for their thesis. Students can do fieldwork all over the world and are particularly encouraged to explore cooperation with research staff at the department.

Japansk tempel

Juno Crown was employed as a shrine maiden in order to collect material for her master thesis in cultural anthropology

To research my thesis statement: How the functions of Japanese Miko, a shrine maiden in Shinto religion, represent gender politics and gender normativity in modern Japanese society, I conducted a three-month-long fieldwork in Tokyo, Japan from November 2016 to February 2017. Every year, popular shrines throughout the country employ a few dozen young females to work as Miko for their peak season, from December 31st to mid January. The criteria for the position are, as stated in most shrines ads, to be a healthy young female student, who has long and black straight hair. After making some minor alterations in my appearance to fit the qualifications, and applying to three different shrines, I got a job offer from one of the largest shrines in Tokyo: Tomioka-Hachimanguu, a 400 year old shrine that hires 70 to 80 Miko every year during the New Year holiday. For all first timer Miko, the shrine held a mandatory training day where full-time Miko and other priests taught us how to wear the Miko uniform, the history of the shrine, religious background, how to behave during the shifts and most importantly, purified and exorcised us at the main shrine, and showed the gods we were going to serve them during the New Year holiday. I began my work as a Miko on the night of December 31st, and continued to work for 5 more days in January. My section that I was positioned was called the West Tent, where roughly 20 of us sold amulets, lucky charms, and other sacred goods to shrine visitors. After my service as a Miko ended, I conducted a few semi-structured interviews with three of my co-workers that I met during my time at the shrine, and a shrine employee, who works at a smaller shrine in Tokyo. I also continued to collect data by conducting participant-observation and visual ethnography at shrines throughout Tokyo, and used social media platforms such as Twitter and official blogs to conclude my fieldwork with an cyber-ethnography.

Text and photo: Juno Crown