cunnier, Academics | Earlham College - A national liberal arts college in the Midwest Skip to Content
Eric Cunningham
Assistant Professor of Japanese Studies

I am originally from Salt Lake City, and I grew up spending a lot of time in the Wasatch Mountains and the red rock deserts of southern Utah. I first traveled to Japan as an exchange student in 1999. I returned in 2002 as a English teacher on the JET program and then again in 2007 as a research scholar.

Contact Info

Campus Mail
Drawer 73



120 Landrum Bolling Center

Office Hours
Monday 11am-12pm; Thursday 10am-11am


  • Japanese Studies
  • East Asian Studies
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • International Studies
  • Anthrozoology Integrated Pathway


  • Ph.D., University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • M.A., University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • B.A., Utah State University

Selected Courses:

Japanese Popular Culture
Cultures and Societies of Japan
Power, Society and the Environment in East Asia
Tourism in Japan and the Pacific
Japanese Culture and the Environment

As an environmental anthropologist I study human-environment interactions and the ways in which globalized flows of capital, materials, and ideas influence how people give meaning to and interact with the places they inhabit. My central academic interests revolve around the cultural dimensions of sustainability and resource management both as globalized sets of ideas and practices and as practical dilemmas confronting local communities in Japan.

My first research project looks at forest ecologies in Japan’s Kiso Valley as contested spaces where meanings are produced by local residents, government officials, and other actors who draw upon global networks of materials, ideas, and relationships. I ask how forests in central Japan’s Kiso Valley come into being and are reproduced as cultural objects infused with contentious ideas of nature, nationhood, citizenship, and governance.

My second research project focuses on inbound tourism in Japanese rural communities. I am interested in the roles that tourism plays in how rural communities and environments are imagined, constructed, and maintained.

A new research project looks at keirin bicycle racing, one of a few forms of legalized gambling in Japan. I am particularly interested in considering how gambling influences the structure of this sport and the crafting of athletic bodies.

N.D. The Unseen Forest: Spectacles of Nature and Governance in a Japanese National Forest (book manuscript).

N.D. Nature interrupted: ways of living and loving in the wake of volcanic eruption (article under review, Conservation and Society)

2016. (Re)creating forest natures: Assemblage and political ecologies of ecotourism in Japan's central highlands. In Political Ecology of Tourism: Community, power and the environment, eds. M. Mostafanezhad, R. Norum, E. J. Shelton & A. Thompson-Carr. New York: Routledge.

2016. Cunningham, E. J. Dam Close Water Resources and Productions of Harmony in Central Japan. Nature and Culture, 11, 69-92.

2010. Cunningham, E. J. Des forêts et des Hommes. Pouvoir, subjectivité et résilience dans une forêt gèrée par l'état au Japon (Forests and Men. Power, subjectivity and resilience in managed forests of Japan). In Nature, technologies, éthique. Regards croisés: Asie, Europe, Amériques. Actes de colloque, eds. J-P.Pierron & M.-H. Parizeau. Québec: Les Presses de l'Université Laval.

American Anthropological Association
Society for East Asian Anthropology
Anthropology and Environment Society
Association for Asian Studies

My teaching philosophy is rooted in commitments to diversity, justice, and a respect for all persons. I feel it is my responsibility as an educator to encourage and develop students’ abilities to critically engage with the world using appropriate methodological, conceptual, and theoretical tools, while instilling in them a sense of ethical consideration and respect. I find that my personal philosophy of teaching resonates deeply with the ideals of Earlham College and their expression in the thoughts and practices of students. This deep resonance continues to inform and propel my teaching at Earlham.

Earlham students are lively and engaged; they are passionate and committed to their ideals. They care about each other and the well-being of their communities. They are insightful, inquisitive, and eager to pursue truth while respecting diversity. Earlham students are a joy to teach.

Being outdoors is my favorite past time outside of teaching. I often find myself on long drives and/or walks with my dog, Pualani. While exploring, I like to take photos, listen to birds, and look for flowers or trees that I do not yet know.