’s Becoming One: Religion, Development, and Environmentalism in a Japanese NGO in Myanmar
(University of Hawaii Press, 2019) is a rich ethnographic study of the work of a Japanese NGO called the Organization for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement. Watanabe’s deep dive into the daily workings of OISCA explores the “moral imagination” of constructing unity based on a distinctly Japanese-marked set of ideals and practices within the confines of an unusual Japanese NGO working for decades in Mynamar. OISCA is intriguing in its own right, with roots in a postwar new religion (Ananaikyō) and connections both to right-wing politics in Japan, and with commitments both to a kind of new Shinto-derived global environmentalism and also to a Japanist/culturalist social reform agenda. Becoming One
is especially significant as an object of study given not just the NGO’s unusual pedigree, but also the historical relationship between modern Japan and Burma-Myanmar and the ways in which OISCA forces us to reexamine the politics of international aid and development. Watanabe’s book is attuned to the “muddy” (dorokusai
) processes of making people (hitozukuri
) and constructing a shared sense of home (furusato
) that animate the everyday workings of OISCA, as well as the tensions that these goals create on the ground in the training camps.