Mitsuo Nakamura is a cultural anthropologist and Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Chiba University, specializing in the study of Islamic social movements in Indonesia. He was born in 1933 to a Japanese Christian family living in Manchuria, which was then part of the Japanese empire. Two years after the end of the war, he and his family returned to Japan. During his high school and college years, he was actively engaged in the left-wing student movement protesting against the threat of nuclear war and the imperialistic resurgence of Japan.
He obtained his higher education from the University of Tokyo; a Bachelor’s degree in Western philosophy (1960), and then switching his major to cultural anthropology and receiving a Master’s degree (1965) from the same university. He continued his graduate studies in anthropology at Cornell University in the USA on a Fulbright scholarship, and obtained a Ph.D. (1976) on the basis of field observation on the Muhammadiyah movement in Kotagede, Yogyakarta. The Carnegie Foundation funded his fieldwork. His PhD work on this modernist Muslim social movement was one of the earliest in the Western scholarship that witnessed and predicted the rising tide of Islamization in Indonesia.
During a brief stay at the University of Adelaide as a senior teaching fellow (1974-75), where he worked on his dissertation for completion, he was requested by Professor Selo Soemardjan of the University of Indonesia (UI) to join the Social Science Research Training Program (PLPIIS) as a research associate for its Jakarta station, which was attached to the Faculty of Social Sciences (FIS) at UI. The Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) financially supported his position at PLPIIS.
After working for the PLPIIS at UI in Jakarta for two years (1976-77), he moved back to Australia as a visiting research fellow at the Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University (ANU), (1978-80), supported by a fund from the Toyota Foundation. He then met Professor William Graham of Harvard University who came to attend an international conference held at ANU, commemorating the beginning of the 15th century in the Islamic calendar. Professor Graham introduced him to join Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions as a visiting scholar, 1981-82.
While at Harvard, he completed the revision of his doctoral dissertation for publication, which was issued by Gadjah Mada University Press, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in 1983 under the title, The Crescent Arises over the Banyan Tree: A Study of the Muhammadiyah Movement in a Central Javanese Town.
Meanwhile, he expanded his research coverage to Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the traditionalist wing of Indonesian Islam, upon the suggestion of Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur, NU’s chairperson and who much later became 4th President of the Republic of Indonesia), who invited him to attend its 1979 Muktamar (national congress) as an observer. This experience resulted in an article entitled, "The Radical Traditionalism of the Nahdlatul Ulama in Indonesia: A Personal Account of Its 26th National Congress, June 1979, Semarang," TONAN AJIA KENKYU (Southeast Asian Studies), 19:2, (CSEAS, Kyoto University, 1981).With his article, he became one of the earliest among the Western scholars who paid serious attention to this robust organization of Indonesian ulama (Islamic scholars) established in 1926, which had previously been dismissed as too backward to be worthy of academic attention.
In 1983, he was granted a Professorship at Chiba University, Japan, where he taught anthropology, Southeast Asian studies and Islamic studies until his retirement in 1999. While at Chiba University, he organized the Study Group on Islam in Southeast Asia, through which he encouraged a number of junior colleagues and graduate students of Japan to engage in research on Islam and Muslim societies in the region.
During the last decades of the twentieth century, the emergence of Islamic civil society organizations in the ‘public space’ of Muslim-majority as well as Muslim-minority societies in Southeast Asia became increasingly visible. Their contribution towards democratization and the advancement of social justice in each country has become real as well as a subject of academic study. In 1999, he organized an international workshop on Islam and civil society in Southeast Asia in collaboration with a number of activist-scholars of the region, including most notably Dr. Nurcholish Madjid of Indonesia, sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. Contributions at the meeting were published later by ISEAS with the title, Islam and Civil Society in Southeast Asia, edited with Sharon Siddique and Omar Farouk Bajunid (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, 2001).
The economic and political crises which hit Indonesia in 1997-98 was a source of great worry for the Japanese government and the public, which became concerned the future of Indonesia after the fall of President Soeharto. The Japanese government decided to send an observation team to monitor the first general elections in the post-Soeharto era in 1999, in which he participated with his wife Hisako. He was also entrusted by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) as its senior research advisor to assess the sovereign risk of Indonesia: from 2001 to 2003, he carried out this assignment by visiting a number of regions in Indonesia for field observation and interviewing, and presented a report to JBIC, which was later published as Religious, Ethnic and Social Problems in Indonesia and Prospects for its National Re-Integration, (JBICI Research Paper No.25, Tokyo, 2003 in Japanese). He emphasized in the report that Indonesia had ushered in an irreversible process of democratization, to which Japan should contribute positively.
From 2004 to 2005, during his tenure as a Fulbright senior visiting scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, he and Hisako volunteered to join again an international observation corps of the 2004 general and presidential elections in Indonesia. The result was published by the Islamic Legal Studies Program, Harvard Law School, as a booklet entitled, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Observations on the 2004 General and Presidential Elections, Occasional Publications 6, December 2005.
In more recent years, he has been concentrating again on the study of Islamic social movements like Muhammadiyah and NU in the Post-Soeharto era. He re-visited the Muhammadiyah in Kotagede, 2008-2009, for follow-up research, and published his findings as a revised/enlarged edition of the old Banyan Tree book from ISEAS, Singapore, with the title: The Crescent Arises Over the Banyan Tree: A Study of the Muhammadiyah Movement in a Central Javanese Town, c 1910s - 2010. The new edition includes Part Two, covering the development of Muhammadiyah in Kotagede for almost forty years from 1972 to 2010. Together with Part One (reprint of the original Banyan Tree book), the new book traces the history of Muhammadiyah in Kotagede for about 100 years, i.e. from 1910s to 2010. He regards this publication to be his personal project to celebrate academically the centennial anniversary of the establishment of the Muhammadiyah in the city of Yogyakarta in 1912.
Meanwhile, he organized, together with Professor Azyumardi Azra, former rector of the State Islamic University of Jakarta (UIN) and current director of its graduate school, and Dr. Ahmad Najib Burhani, a young researcher at the LIPI (Indonesian Institute of Sciences), as well as a number of other Indonesian and foreign colleagues, an international research conference on the one-hundred years old Muhammadiyah at the Muhammadiyah University of Malang (UMM), East Java, in late 2012. Contributions to the conference are to be published in the near future under the general editorship of Dr. Najib Burhani. The book will be a scholarly, yet sympathetic appraisal on the Muhamamdiyah movement, which is undoubtedly one of the oldest, largest, and progressive Muslim voluntary associations engaged in philanthropic activities in education and social welfare in the contemporary Islamic world.
Mitsuo Nakamura is married to Hisako, with three children, and three grandchildren.
Home address of Prof. Mitsuo Nakamura:
4-10-20 Josui-honcho, Kodaira-shi
Tokyo, Japan 187-0022
HP in Japan: +81-(0)80-5111-3297
(As at October 2014)