My understanding of autoethnography stems from high school, and coincidentally, came about as part of my Japanese studies. It may even be the reason I decided to take DIGC330 in the first place, as I now view my time in this class as the pivotal driver of my appreciation of Japan and Asian culture. My moment of epiphany, as Ellis et.al. describes it; the transformative moment when I knew Japan would have a place in my future.
In Year 10 I went on a study trip to Japan with my class. It was my first trip overseas without my family and needless to say, I was very nervous about the whole experience. My Japanese teacher, Ms David, was a big fan of learning through experience, and so she would set us challenges. Challenges, I may add, that she had avoided telling the Department of Education about as they were sure to be disapproved of. (They prefer the trips where everyone is connected by a long orange rope.)
Each student was given a card of directions written in Japanese (half of which we couldn’t yet understand), and it was our job to translate these instructions and reach the final destination by the approved time. No supervision or guidance, no teacher holding our hands – it was us being thrust into an unfamiliar city with only the vaguest inkling of where to go.
Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes students would get on the wrong shinkansen and alight two hours north of Tokyo, in the next city entirely. What these challenges guaranteed was our engagement with the community and the culture around us. Using our broken Japanese, we asked others for help. We ran through train stations and visited the oddest shops and restaurants. We found that conversing with the locals became easier each day. By the end, none of us wanted to leave.
On our flight home to Sydney, I found there was a new passion rooted in me. As my conversation skills had improved, so had my appreciation for a culture and society that was so far removed from my norm.
I loved every second of that trip. And I love to tell the story.
My narrative ethnography has given me insight into the power of stories, particularly when accompanied with analysis. These “complex, constitutive, meaningful phenomena” are at the heart of the human experience, and it was this insight that led scholars in the past to a more values-driven style of research: autoethnography.
It offers a far more meaningful alternative to traditional, emotionally void research. By allowing our emotions and values to guide our research, we can truly understand the significance of our experiences; hence, the epiphanies.
So, what was my epiphany? That the time I’d spent blindly navigating the foreign cities of Japan would set me up for a future where I’d remain connected to its culture in many ways.
I know that I will continue to engage with the culture, language and lifestyle of Japan in the future, simply because I can see the trail of decisions in my past that have led me here.
Post-Year 10, I continued to study Japanese through to HSC level. From there I would return to Japan to ski in Hokkaido, revisit Tokyo and Kyoto with my mother, renovate my bedroom Japanese-style, develop my online persona around 雪 (yuki, Japanese for snow) and other cultural Japanese symbols, and apply for a scholarship to study for six months in the country.
Where I’ll go from here, I’m not yet sure. But that’s the importance of looking back, isn’t it?
Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol.12, no.1, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>.