Eric Cunningham, Ph.D.

Associate professor of Japanese studies

Email:[email protected]

Department: East Asian Studies
Environmental Sustainability
International Studies
Japanese Studies

Program: Anthrozoology applied minor

Location: Landrum Bolling Center Room 229
801 National Road
Richmond, Indiana 47374

About me

I am an anthropologist who focuses on human-environment interactions in Japan with an emphasis on the ways in which these are informed by cultural understandings and relationships of power. My book project, The Unseen Forest: Spectacles of Nature and Governance in a Japanese national forest, looks at conflicting understandings of forest environments in the highlands of central Japan.

Being outdoors is my favorite past-time. 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.

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.


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

Professional memberships

Research projects

My first research project, The Unseen Forest, 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.

In my second project, I take a critical look at tourism, especially ecotourism, as an answer to the economic and demographic troubles of rural communities in Japan. Specifically, I am interested in the roles that tourism plays in how rural communities and environments are imagined, constructed, and maintained as well as how tourism structures regimes of labor.

Scholarly interest

  • Human-environment interactions
  • Japan
  • East Asia
  • Environmental Anthropology
  • Political Ecology
  • Critical Tourism Studies

Published works

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

2018. Nature interrupted: affect and ecology in the wake of volcanic eruption in Japan, Conservation and Society 16 (1):41-51

2018. Gambling on Bodies: Assembling Sport and Gaming in Japan’s Keirin Bicycle Racing, Japanese Studies 38 (1): 57-74

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

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.