Satbyul Kim is specially appointed Associate Professor of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN) in Kyoto, Japan. She was born in Seoul, and majored in Japanese language and culture before coming to Japan in 2008 to study cultural anthropology at Konan University. She received her PhD at The Graduate University for Advanced Studies (Sokendai).
She is an anthropologist who focuses on the study of contemporary death rituals and visual anthropology. Her main fieldwork site is Japan, where she has been living and working for more than nine years, and where she has conducted several long-term ethnographic studies.
Currently, she is conducting comparative research between South Korea and the UK. In her spare time, she enjoys travelling and playing music.
1. Can you describe a turning point in your career?
Making a short ethnographic film in the third semester of my master degree. I had been usually filming movies during my fieldwork to keep records. One day one of my informants asked me to edit the movie to introduce their activity.
That was the beginning of making ethnographic films for me. It gave me a double identity as both researcher and film-maker. I began to use film-making to develop my research by analyzing feedback about the film. I think this is connected to my current job as a science communicator in the humanities.
2. What question are you currently exploring in your work?
As a communicator, it is how I can use my experience to connect each field site with the public. I need to make use of theoretical and practical aspects of visual anthropology.
In my research field of death rituals, I am trying to conduct comparative research among Japan, South Korea, and the U.K.
After 1990, new death rituals distinguished from the Modern period have been arising in each country. For example, "shizenso" (自然葬) emerged in the 1990s. This may be translated as "natural burial", and refers to scattering ashes. Jyumokuso (樹木葬) may be translated as "tree burial", and is the practice of burying ashes under a tree.
These rituals share similar ideals - such as breaking with the conventions of the family system, and seeking a return to nature - but have developed in different ways according to the influence of each socio-economic context. I am especially interested in how the public sphere in each nation shapes new death rituals.
3. Which artist or writer has had the most influence on you?
The movie director Jim Jarmusch. His focus on everyday life might seem nothing special, but it reveals each person's uniqueness and diversity of life. I think his perspective is very close to an anthropological view. I love his humor and simple expressions.
4. What do you think is the value of the humanities?
We can feel that people who lived in different ages and are living in different regions are not so different from us, by understanding both the universality and the uniqueness of their own cultures. This kind of imagination becomes increasingly important in our present age, when war, terrorism and racism are growing.
5. What does the future hold for your field?
I think visual techniques will become more important in science communication in the humanities. Visual methods make possible non-verbal and sensorial communication. For example, researchers might hold screening events of a film based on their work, and discuss the film with the audience. Discussion would help researcher and audience to understand each other's perspectives, which would develop research.
About contemporary death rituals: these will keep evolving. I hope my research will contribute to our understanding of death and life in this dynamic century.