July 17, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Thompson Headed to Japan as Miura Visiting Professor

Thompson with a photo taken of participants in the 2015 September edition of the OHIO-IPU Tsunami Relief Project.

Dr. Chris Thompson with a photo taken of participants in the 2015 September edition of the OHIO-IPU Tsunami Relief Project.

Dr. Christopher Thompson, Associate Professor of Linguistics at Ohio University, will spend Fall 2018 in Japan, representing OHIO as the 43rd Kohei Miura Visiting Professor at Chubu University.

He’ll head up the eighth year of the Tsunami Relief Project, study folk traditions, and connect with OHIO alumni.

“Professor Thompson’s participation as a Miura Visiting Professor represents the next important chapter of academic exchange with our long-standing partner, Chubu University,” said Dr. Joseph Shields, Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Our relationship with Chubu University provides a rich source of intellectual and cultural opportunities for students and faculty at both institutions.”

Thompson served as chair of Linguistics from 2009 to 2018. Dr. David Bell, Associate Profess of Linguistics, took over as chair on Aug. 16.

“The strong relationship between Ohio University and Chubu University makes each institution stronger, and the exchange of faculty is a symbol of that strength,” Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis said. “Dr. Thompson’s long history of deep ties to Chubu University and to Japan will make him an excellent ambassador for Ohio University.”

Every year since 1973, OHIO and Chubu University have exchanged faculty members through a visiting professors program, providing students and professors the opportunity for an international learning experience. OHIO faculty members who travel to Chubu University are Kohei Miura Visiting Professors – named in honor of the founder of Chubu University.

“I was recruited to the Department of Linguistics in order to help enhance the OHIO – Japan relationship, a large part of which was the partnership with Chubu University,” Thompson said. “I inherited the Chubu Study Abroad Program my first semester at OHIO in the fall of 1998, and have been traveling to Japan and Chubu at least once a year (for the last 15 years at least twice a year, sometimes three) ever since.”

Thompson has played many different roles in the OHIO – Chubu relationship.

“For many years, I was the OHIO – Chubu Liaison. In 2012, then-Provost Pam Benoit asked me to serve as the OHIO Executive Director of Japan Relations, which included an expanded role in the institutional relationship during the administration of (former) President (Roderick) McDavis,” Thompson said. “I have created an exchange program for OHIO students, led off campus excursions to Hiroshima and other cities of historical significance for both OHIO and Chubu students, and worked closely with many Chubu Presidents and top executives over the years.”

Eighth Year of Tsunami Relief Project

“Most recently, I initiated a Tsunami Volunteer Program that includes taking both OHIO and Chubu students to the coast of Iwate. We began in September of 2011 following the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami to help with reconstruction and community. This project will run again this fall for its eighth year in a row and will include OHIO students and faculty, Chubu students and faculty,” Thompson said.

“I initiated the Tsunami Relief Project during the fall of 2011, when I partnered with Iwate Prefectural University (IPU) to create an unusual ‘relief project’ that took students, faculty, and alumni from OHIO and Chubu University in a special team effort with students, faculty, and administrators from IPU to the Iwate coast — just beginning to recover from the devastating tsunami that hit the area in March of that year.”

The first year, they visited children in a local kindergarten and cleaned a stream in the city of Otsuchi. The program slowly expanded to include other kinds of clean-up, water delivery and a variety of community development activities. “I also helped IPU work with Chubu to develop a program to bring IPU students to OHIO to learn English like Chubu undergraduates,” he said.

The project now includes a corporate sponsor, Itoen Tea Co., which now provides all of the bottled water and tea used in the community development project. The Tsunami Relief Project has been funded by various groups over the years including the Tomodachi Foundation, a joint U. S.–Japan tsunami relief organization. In 2014, the program was recognized by Iwate Governor Tasso at a ceremony in New York City.

“Two Japanese Consuls General assigned to the Detroit Consulate have visited OHIO so far to learn about Ohio’s first public University with connections in Iwate Prefecture, where some Japanese have never been,” Thompson said.

Studying Post-Tsunami Ghost Sightings, Folk Traditions

“I am a cultural anthropologist specializing in Japan who works in a linguistics department – not such an unusual situation in the field,” Thompson said. “My research in Japan has focused on the praxis of tradition and modernity in rural contexts, especially in Iwate Prefecture (northeast Japan) and Aichi Prefecture (central Japan – the home of Chubu University).”

Thompson co-authored a book (Wearing Cultural Styles In Japan: Concepts of Tradition and Modernity in Practice, 2006. Albany: SUNY Press.) and has written over 25 articles in peer-reviewed journals on topic related to Japanese folklore, folk traditions, folk performance arts, and regional identity issues.

“Since 2011, I have focused on tsunami-related topics, and I am currently working on a project that involves post-tsunami ghost sightings since 2011 on the Iwate coast,” Thompson said. “My project at Chubu this fall focuses on an annual Shinto festival in the Aichi village of Asuke, in Toyota City (the world headquarters of Toyota Motors) in which flintlock muskets introduced into Japan in the 1500s are still fired multiple times a day prior to the celebration by local residents – many of whom work in Toyota-related factories – to purify the town in preparation for welcoming its local ancestral deity.”

Getting Together with Alumni in Japan

Thompson will have lots of interaction with OHIO alumni while he’s in Japan.

“First of all, Chubu University has many alumni on its faculty. I will interact with them regularly while I’m in residence at the Miura Visiting Professor. Tokyo is another hub of OHIO alumni,” Thompson said. “I used to organize gatherings for President McDavis, and in recent years have used my connections to gather alumni for the Vice Provost for International Relations as well as the Provost’s Office.”

Alumni engagement is also built into the Tsunami Relief Project. “In fact, Pat Maher (’07 and ’11 M.A. linguistics alum) is employed as an instructor in the International Relations Program at Iwate Prefectural University,” Thompson said. “He will be working as an IPU faculty member with the OHIO alumni I will have working with me, such as Greg King (’96 double major in Linguistics and Psychology, ’99 master’s in Linguistics and Political Science). I’ll also have one or two Friday night gatherings in Nagoya with whoever can make it.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *