Reflections on international PhD fieldwork in Fukushima, Japan

My name is Claire and I’m going into the third year of my PhD in International Public Health Policy. Many potential PhD students seem curious about PhD fieldwork, and having recently finished my fieldwork in Fukushima, Japan, I’m writing this blog post with the hope of highlighting the potential for international fieldwork and how it can relate to broader research collaborations.

As a bit of background, I first became involved with research in Fukushima when I did a masters degree within the Global Health Policy Unit (GHPU) in 2014-15, and completed a placement-based dissertation in Fukushima. This happened after connecting with a team of researchers led by Dr. Masaharu Tsubokura when they visited Edinburgh to present their research in early 2015. The team was open to engaging with students, and after joint discussions with GHPU staff and the Fukushima team, I was welcomed to carry out research for my masters dissertation in Minamisoma city, Fukushima, for three months. After finishing my masters degree, I stayed on to work as a research assistant at Minamisoma Municipal General Hospital for one year before starting my PhD.

Going into my PhD, which is focused on health inequalities in Fukushima, I knew that I would likely be going back for fieldwork. In the end, I did this in multiple stages. For the most recent and final stage of fieldwork, I was based in Minamisoma from January to June 2018, and spent this time doing qualitative interviews with local residents. The prior connections that I had made in Minamisoma were extraordinarily helpful during this period of fieldwork, as they enabled me to connect with key gatekeepers in the community to recruit interviewees. It was also beneficial to have colleagues in the local context to brainstorm with, for example about how to approach the sensitive topic of inequality with local residents, and the best ways to phrase certain things in Japanese during the interviews.