The Archipelago of Blue Flowers: Notes on the Politics of Genetically Modified Life in Japan

Wed 25 July 2012 4-5 pm

Neal Akatsuka, Harvard University

Abstract:  Since 1996 when genetically modified (GM) food and feed were first imported into Japan from the United States, Japanese consumers have grown increasingly wary of the place of such food in their diets. Yet, in 1997, the Japanese brewery and liquor manufacturer, Suntory, in collaboration with the Australian biotechnology company, Florigene, successfully launched sales of a GM blue carnation, Moondust, in Japan. In 2009, the two companies launched another GM blue flower, the SUNTORY blue rose APPLAUSE™, which became the first (and to date, only) domestically produced GM crop in Japan. And with recent announcements of the creation of other GM blue flowers by Japanese scientists – chrysanthemums in 2009, as well as moth orchids and lilies in 2012 – the rose will certainly not be the last GM flower to bloom in Japan. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork conducted since 2008 in Japan, I reflect upon this contradiction in attitudes toward, and possibilities for, transgenic life. Why can GM flowers bloom in Japan, but not GM food crops? What are the social and biological conditions which structure the possibilities for particular transgenic life forms to take root and flourish in Japan, to become viable objects of scientific research and development, agriculture/horticulture, and global consumption and circulation? In this way, I will trace the biopolitics of different transgenic life forms in Japan and explore the consequences for both the futures of humans and plants.

Speaker Profile:  Neal is a PhD student in the Social Anthropology Program in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University. His research interests broadly include the anthropology of science, ethics, the body, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), globalization, Japan, and the United States. He received a B.A. from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in Anthropology with Highest Honors, with a Certificate in Japanese and Minor in American Studies. Hi honors thesis, “Recombinant Bodies that Matter: Tracing a Network of Associations of Genetically Modified Food in Japan,” utilized actor-network theory to explore why Japanese consumers do not desire to eat genetically modified food and how such food comes to (not) matter.