Theodore C. Bestor

- Reischauer Institute Professor of Social Anthropology
- Director, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies 

Teaching and Research Office:
(617) 496-6539, William James Hall 420
bestor [at]
Curriculum Vitae


PhD in Anthropology, Stanford University, 1983
MA in Anthropology, Stanford University, 1977
MA in East Asian Studies, Stanford University, 1976
BA in Anthropology, Japanese Studies, and Linguistics, Fairhaven College of Western Washington University, 1973


Professor Theodore Bestor is as a specialist on contemporary Japanese society and culture, focusing much of his research on Tokyo. He has written widely on urban culture and history, markets and economic organization, food culture, the fishing industry, and popular culture.

Professor Bestor’s most recent book, Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (University of California Press, 2004), is based on research he has being carrying out since 1991 at Tokyo's vast Tsukiji wholesale market, the world's largest marketplace for seafood and the center of Japan's sushi trade. The book is an ethnography of market life, and examines Tsukiji both historically and contemporarily as a case study in the interaction between cultural patterns and institutional structures that frame complex economic organization. He also researches the development of Japanese food culture broadly, and he is working on a book tentatively entitled Global Sushi that will look at globalization via the interaction of the fishing industry and culinary fashions.

He is the co-editor (with Patricia G. Steinhoff and Victoria Lyon Bestor) of Doing Fieldwork in Japan (University of Hawai’i Press, 2003), a collection of essays on the research experiences of 20 leading foreign scholars of Japan in the social sciences and history.

His first book, Neighborhood Tokyo (Stanford University Press, 1989), was an ethnography of local social institutions and the invention of community tradition in the daily life of an ordinary middle-class district of Tokyo. It received the 1990 Robert E. Park Award for Urban and Community Studies from the American Sociological Association and the 1990 Hiromi Arisawa Memorial Award for Japanese Studies from the American Association of University Presses.

Before coming to Harvard, Professor Bestor taught at Cornell University, where he was Professor (1997-2001) and Associate Professor (1993-97) of Anthropology and Asian Studies. Before that, he was on the faculty at Columbia University (1986-93) and served as staff director for Japanese and Korean Studies at the Social Science Research Council (1983-86).

Professor Bestor first visited Japan as a teenager, and since then has spent over eight years there as a student, researcher, and teacher. He received his Ph.D. in 1983 from Stanford University.


Anthropology 1820: Japan in the Ethnographic Gaze
We examine ethnographies of Japan from the 1930s to the present to illuminate how Japan, as a cultural and social "whole," has been ethnographically problematized and re-problematized in different eras, from different theoretical interests such as culture-and-personality, modernization, and tradition, structuralist, post-structuralist, and cultural studies.

Societies of the World 33
(Formerly Foreign Cultures 84: Tokyo)
Tokyo has been one of the world's great metropolitan centers since the 17th century, both the urban hub of Japanese society and culture, and the intersection between Japanese domestic society and trends of global influence. This course examines trajectories of change in Tokyo's urban culture, lifestyles, social structure, and spatial environment across the city's history, using ethnography, history, literature, diaries, architecture, photography, art, cartography, animation, film, and the Internet to explore Tokyo as an urban culture in comparative perspectives drawn from anthropology, history, and other social sciences.

Anthropology 1995: Food, Culture and Society
(Formerly Social Analysis 70: Food and Culture)
Food is examined for its social and cultural implications; nutritional or dietetic concerns are of secondary interest. Topics include food taboos and restrictions, gift giving and reciprocity, food symbolism and social boundaries, food panics, globalization of food industries, food security and agroterrorism, and the world standardization of food preferences. Examples are drawn from China, Japan, Korea, India, Latin America, Africa, Europe, the Pacific, and the US.

Selected Publications

Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society
Edited by Victoria Bestor, Theodore C. Bestor, with Akiko Yamagata
Routledge, 2011
The Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society is an interdisciplinary resource that focuses on contemporary Japan and the social and cultural trends that are important at the beginning of the 21st century. This Handbook provides a cutting-edge and comprehensive survey of significant phenomena, institutions, and directions in Japan today, on issues ranging from gender and family, the environment, race and ethnicity, and urban life, to popular culture and electronic media. Written by an international team of Japan experts, the chapters included in the volume form an accessible and fascinating insight into Japanese culture and society. As such, the Handbook will be an invaluable reference tool for anyone interested in all things Japanese. Students, teachers and professionals alike will benefit from the broad ranging discussions, useful links to online resources and suggested reading lists.

Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World
Kirakusha (Tokyo), 2007
Tsukiji: the Fish Market at the Center of the World has also been published in a Japanese translation, titled simply Tsukiji. M. Wanami translated the book, and Professor S. Fukuoka wrote an introduction to the Japanese edition. ISBN 4907818882.

Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World
University of California Press, 2004
Located only blocks from Tokyo's glittering Ginza, Tsukiji--the world's largest marketplace for seafood--is a prominent landmark, well known but little understood by most Tokyoites: a supplier for countless fishmongers and sushi chefs, and a popular and fascinating destination for foreign tourists. Early every morning, the worlds of hi-tech and pre-tech trade noisily converge as tens of thousands of tons of seafood from every ocean of the world quickly change hands in Tsukiji's auctions and in the marketplace's hundreds of tiny stalls. In this absorbing firsthand study, Theodore C. Bestor--who has spent a dozen years doing fieldwork at fish markets and fishing ports in Japan, North America, Korea, and Europe--explains the complex social institutions that organize Tsukiji's auctions and the supply lines leading to and from them and illuminates trends of Japan's economic growth, changes in distribution and consumption, and the increasing globalization of the seafood trade. As he brings to life the sights and sounds of the marketplace, he reveals Tsukiji's rich internal culture, its place in Japanese cuisine, and the mercantile traditions that have shaped the marketplace since the early seventeenth century.

Doing Fieldwork in Japan
University of Hawaii Press, 2003
Doing Fieldwork in Japan taps the expertise of North American and European specialists on the practicalities of conducting long-term research in the social sciences and cultural studies. In lively first-person accounts, they discuss their successes and failures doing fieldwork across rural and urban Japan in a wide range of settings: among religious pilgrims and adolescent consumers; on factory assembly lines and in high schools and wholesale seafood markets; with bureaucrats in charge of defense, foreign aid, and social welfare policy; inside radical political movements; among adherents of "New Religions"; inside a prosecutor's office and the JET Program for foreign English teachers; with journalists in the NHK newsroom; while researching race, ethnicity, and migration; and amidst fans and consumers of contemporary popular culture.

Neighborhood Tokyo
Stanford University Press, 1990
- Winner of the 1990 Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award.
- Winner of the 1990 Hiromi Arisawa Memorial Award, sponsored by the AAUP and the Japan Foundation.
- Winner of the 1990 Robert Park Award, sponsored by the American Sociological Association.

Centers, Institutes, and Departments

Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies
Program on U.S.-Japan Relations
Asia Center
Korea Institute
Fairbanks Center for Chinese Studies
Weatherhead Center for International Affairs
East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department (EALC)

Degree Programs

Undergraduate concentration in East Asian Studies
Masters program in Regional Studies East Asia (RSEA)


Harvard-Yenching Library
Documentation Center on Contemporary Japan


Library resources about Japan:
NCC: N. American Coord. Council on Japanese Library Resources

Academic organizations:
Association for Asian Studies
Society for East Asian Anthropology of the AAA
EASIANTH (East Asian Anthropology Listserv)


"The King of Sushi" on CBSNews 20/20
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