My own educational and research background lies in the fields of folklore, anthropology, and religious studies. My initial research interest in Japan was toward shamanism. This stemmed from my experiences in Okinawa (1988-1992), where my Okinawan friends took me along on a visit to a yuta (a shaman, religious practitioner) and to haunted spots, what I now understand to be Legend Tripping. Entering graduate school in the Religious Studies department at Tohoku University I set about to study shamanism in northern Japan, concentrating on Aomori prefecture. Here I encountered a hitherto unknown way of thinking, a new cosmological outlook for me. I came to understand that the line between this world and the next is not as clear-cut as I had believed. I completed a Master’s Thesis in Japanese tracing the life history, personal cosmology, and work of one female shaman living in Hirosaki City, Aomori prefecture. Progressing on into the PhD program, I started fieldwork on religious belief and social relationships in a farming village. What began as a one year, live-in fieldwork, gradually extended in to four years. Reflecting upon my lengthy fieldwork, it was only from the third year that the village started to reveal its secrets so to speak, and I then became able to make some sense of the complicated web of social, political, and religious relationships that the villagers operated within. As the Japanese proverb states, ishi no ue ni mo sannen (“three years on a stone”).
I have researched and published on shamanism, house names, folk dance, shrine systems and cosmologies, supernatural retribution, and social conflict. Presently, my research is focused on the religious material culture of Japan. In particular I am examining the ema 絵馬 (wooden prayer tablets) offered by anime and game fans at shrines.
I am now deepening my exploration of the connection between folk belief and material culture. For the past few years I have been interviewing participants in a ritual for “putting to rest” old, rusted, bent, or broken needles. Additionally, I am investigating the manner in which people use material objects to symbolically cut ties to problematic interpersonal relationships.