Nathaniel Smith

SMITH Nathaniel MichaelSMITH Nathaniel Michael

Research Interests
My research interests are broadly drawn around two topics. The first centers on activist movements and nationalism—an ethnography of Japan’s far right that I have pursued since the mid-2000s—and the second is driven by my interest in cities. In my second project, I am studying social and demographic change in urban Japan through a project on Kabukicho and Shinjuku Ward in Tokyo. The themes of these projects draw me to local research here in Kyoto as well as to a global frame, as I examine the rise of populist and nationalist movements worldwide.
Educational Qualifications
My doctoral training in anthropology was at Yale University, where I also earned an MA in East Asian Studies. Additionally, as a MEXT scholar, I received a previous MA in International Relations from Waseda University. As an undergraduate at the University of California, Riverside, I studied in foreign language, film and visual culture, and the social sciences, and took part in a one-year exchange program to Sophia University during my junior year.
Academic Experience
Prior to my appointment at Ritsumeikan, I was assistant professor of East Asian Studies and Anthropology at the University of Arizona (2013-2021) and the Japan Foundation Faculty Fellow (2011-2013) at UC Santa Barbara’s Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies. I have also held research and visiting positions at the University of Tokyo (2007-2008) and Waseda University (2019-2021).
Selected Publications
  • 2020. Vigilante Video: Digital Populism and Anxious Anonymity among Japan’s New Netizens. Critical Asian Studies. 52 (1), pp. 67-86
  • 2018. Fights on the Right: Social Citizenship, Ethnicity, and Postwar Cohorts of the Japanese Activist Right. Social Science Japan Journal. 21 (2), pp. 235-257
Probably too many! My main hobbies these days are cycling and hiking, both are great ways to spend a weekend here in Kyoto. I also maintain an avid interest in photography and try to make frequent domestic trips that combine the above interests. In the past, I also sang in several bands in California and Japan, and I still seek out chances to enjoy live music as often as I can.
Q1What are your current teaching areas and current research themes?
I currently teach classes at the undergraduate level on topics in anthropology and media studies, and at the graduate level in Japan studies and public diplomacy. My seminar for third and fourth-year students covers topics in anthropology, history, and Japan studies. It is primarily structured around fieldwork-based ethnographic research projects. My own research is currently most active around issues in urban studies of Japan, primarily Tokyo, but I am beginning new research here in Kyoto as well and I maintain an interest in activism and social movements (across various ideological orientations) as well as interests in visual and music related topics.
Q2What do you think the biggest appeal of the JDP is for students?
The JDP is a wonderful way to gain the upsides of two university experiences (in DC and Kyoto), develop a cohort in each city, and cultivate a group of internationally-minded friends that move with you on your journey across both vibrant cities. As an undergraduate I left California to study for a year in Tokyo. It was an experience that played a massive role in my personal development and awareness of the world and I am glad to still count among my close friends people I met that year. As current faculty in the JDP program, the chance to have such a diverse and stimulating experience, both academically and personally, as the foundation of a degree program strikes me as a very compelling way to enter into your adult life.
Q3What do you expect future JDP students to learn and experience during their studies in the JDP?
The beauty of university education is that it is a balance between structure and freedom. You will learn how people (from heads of state to activists to academics) assess the world around us, but more importantly, you will learn how to craft your personal relationship to a given viewpoint or disciplinary lens. Everyone comes to university with some sort of “home.” The university is a chance to take the experiences and expectations of home and try them out in new places with new people. You might find ideas you’d never considered. You might decide that there are perspectives and knowledge you’d like to bring back with you to the community you call home. You might find a new version of yourself. As a faculty member, I enjoy seeing how students navigate new experiences, new knowledge, and new opportunities to shape their own outlook and ability to contribute to on the world we share.