My current research is on disability activism in Japan and the United States. This article discusses the equipment that I carry when I do field interviews. My kit is optimized for size and weight. Everything fits into a regular backpack. If I know I won't need the computer to write notes, then the camera and iPod fit into a small handbag.
- Apple iPod (40 gigabyte 3G)
- iTalk microphone
- BTI iPod battery
- Latest podcasts to listen to on the train
- Apple Powerbook G4 12"
- AC adapter and extension cord
- Microsoft Word
- LogoVista System Soft Dictionary (Kojien; Eiwa/Waei Dictionaries)
- Leica M7 (0.72x) camera - yes I'm resolutely analogue
- Keitai mobile phone. You can't survive in Japan without your keitai.
- Meishi business cards are also essential in Japan. You are no one without your meishi (名刺）.
- Notepad and pen (analogue technology is always necessary; great for writing notes on the train or for getting people's addresses/numbers)
- Map. The small metropolitan map books by Shobunsha (昭文社) are the best. They are very compact but have great detail. They're designed for pedestrians, not drivers.
- At least ¥20,000 in cash just in case my informants decide to go out drinking afterwards
- Lip gloss. Cough drops. Lactose tablets. Pocket tissues. Other personal items.
iPod: My primary interview technique is unstructured personal interviews. I use my iPod with iTalk microphone to record them. I always request oral permission before interviewing. With the built-in battery, I get around 2 hours of interview time. With the BTI iPod Battery, I get more than 10+ hours (I don't know, I've never taken it that long). I try not to shut off the tape-recorder, even during breaks, since I forget to turn it back on -- or my informant says something really critical during the break.
PowerBook: I use my PowerBook G4 12" to take notes in Microsoft Word (using MSWord 2004's new Notebook View). I transcribe notes in romaji because it's faster and I don't have to worry about doing Kanji-henkan (i.e., I can blind-type and maintain eye-contact if I'm typing everything in romaji, but can't do so in kana/kanji). After the interview, I go back and fill in details. All of my fieldnotes are labeled by date and name, for example: 20050507-GraceHouse-Shirata.doc. They are in the same folder which helps me scan quickly to find a place or person I've interviewed. Someday, I'll post one of my field notes as an example. Not today.
The PowerBook G4 12" only gets about 2-3 hours of battery life. The AC adapter is often essential. My informants do not seem to mind. I bring an extension cord just in case the standard cord doesn't reach. I input data from the meishi I get directly into AddressBook. I also attach a comment to the entry that says when I interviewed them, this helps me synchronize it later with my field-notes. I take the voice recording files from the iPod, scans of any documentation they gave me, and put them in the same folder as my field-notes
Leica: I use the camera to take snaps of the office, portraits of the people I'm interviewing, and general scenery photos. This helps me situate the place and people in my mind. I have a terrible memory for names and faces, so this is an important part of my fieldwork. I'll often take a photograph of something (a sign in the office perhaps) in order to jolt my memory later on. I'm resolutely analogue because I'm an anachronism (actually because I enjoy analogue photography). I always request oral permission before taking photographs.
Different Kits for Different Purposes: If I'm doing mainly photojournalism (e.g., when I'm covering protests), then I carry an entirely different kit centered around my Canon 10D digital camera. And yet a different kit when I'm doing multi-day fieldwork. These will be discussed in separate articles.