Ryo Morimoto

Assistant Professor of Anthropology and the Richard Stockton Bicentennial Preceptor
HMEI Associated Faculty, Program in History of Science Associated Faculty
East Asian Studies Associated Faculty
Office Phone
125 Aaron Burr Hall
Office Hours

By appointment only


Ph.D. Brandeis University, Anthropology


HMEI Associated Faculty
East Asian Studies Associated Faculty
Program in History of Science
Program on Science and Global Security
Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative at Princeton
Program in Asian American Studies
Faculty Fellow, Forbes College

Semiotics, Nuclear Things, Toxicity, Waste, Disaster Studies, Environment, Energy, Robotics, Wildlife, Anthropology of Science and Technology, Applied Anthropology, East Asia (Japan), Indigenous Studies

Short Bio

Morimoto is a first-generation student and scholar from Japan. His scholarly work addresses the planetary impacts of our past and present engagements with nuclear things. Regionally centered on Japan, Morimoto’s research creates spaces, languages, and archives through which to think about nuclear things, along with other not immediately sensible contaminants, as part of what it means to live in the late industrial and postfallout era. He grounds his work in a range of theoretical frameworks—including semiotic anthropology, anthropology of disaster, environmental anthropology, anthropology and the recent history of Japan, anthropology of science and technology, and digital humanities. Morimoto mobilizes them to explore the uses and applications of technologies in social processes whereby certain sensory-cognitive experiences are (im)materialized and to grapple with the techno-sensory politics that emerge in discourses concerning invisible things. His scholarship addresses the experiences of lay public to read situated perspectives against the archive of what has been rendered perceptible.

Morimoto completed his first book project, titled Nuclear Ghost: Atomic Livelihoods in Fukushima’s Gray Zone (forthcoming in June 2023 from University of California Press). This book integrates environmental anthropology, recent Japanese history, and science and technology studies to understand the uses and applications of technologies in social processes whereby certain sensory-cognitive experiences are (im)materialized. Morimoto uses the local term “nuclear ghost” to analyze the struggles of representing and experiencing low-dose radiation exposure in coastal Fukushima, where individual, social, political, and scientific determinations of the threshold of exposure are often inconsistent. Against the state’s reliance on technoscientific measurements to regiment what it means to be exposed, his ethnography explores local experiences of radiation exposure, as well as situated ways of knowing and living with nuclear things in people’s shifting relationships with contaminated others such as wildlife, lands, and ancestors.

Morimoto’s second project focuses on the U.S.-Japan collaborations on building a society enriched by science and technology. He examines the development of remote technologies (robots) in coastal Fukushima to address two urgent issues in Japan and beyond: decommissioning aging nuclear reactors and the aging population. The research explores the following questions: How does the development of agile robots influence the risk calculation of nuclear energy at the policy level and the public perception of its risk? What technologies developed for nuclear decommissioning will become critical for budling a more resilient and more inclusive society? What dual uses (military vs. civilian) emerge from the U.S.-Japan collaborations?

Since 2020, Morimoto facilitates an undergraduate-led project, Nuclear Princeton, which highlights the underacknowledged impacts of Princeton’s nuclear science and engineering on Native lands, communities, and beyond. Nuclear Princeton produced a short animation, Titration, in 2022, which is currently being featured in multiple film festivals in countries such as France, Turkey, and the U.S. During 2022-24, the Nuclear Princeton team will work on a project, Atoms for Memory: Inter-Institutional Storytelling of Nuclear Science at Princeton, funded by the New Ideas in Social Sciences Innovation Fund Initiative by the Office of the Dean for Research.

Morimoto is an executive community member of Princeton Global Japan Lab and a 2022-24 cohort member of the U.S-Japan Network for the Future at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation. 

Before joining Anthropology, Morimoto was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Reischauer Institute of Japan Studies at Harvard University, where he also served as the project manager of the Japan Disaster Digital Archive (jdarchive.org).


Selected Publications

A Wild Boar Chase: Ecology of Harm and Half-life Politics of Nuclear Things in Coastal Fukushima.” Cultural Anthropology, Vol 37, no 1: 69-98. 2022  

Home Otherwise: Living Archives and Half-Life Politics in Coastal Fukushima." Colloquy: Cultural Anthropology, Vol 36, no. 4: 573-579. 2021

Commentary: Ethnographic Lettering: “Pursed Lips: A Call to Suspend Damage in the Age of Decommissioning." Critical Asian Studies, March 22, 2021.

From Nuclear Things to Things Nuclear: Minding the Gap at the Knowledge-Policy-Practice Nexus in Post-Fallout Fukushima. In “Exploring the Gap between Disaster Knowledge, Policy and Practice,” Susanne Hoffman and Roberto Barrios Eds. Berghahn Books, pp. 218-240. 2020

Interpretative Frameworks of Disaster in Society Close Up. In “Natural Hazards, Risks, and Disasters in Society: A Cross-Disciplinary Overview,” Andrew E. Collins, Samantha Jones, Bernard S. Manyena, and Janaka Jayawickrama Eds. Elsevier’s Hazards and Disasters Series, pp. 323-351. 2015

Waves of Semiosis. Is It about Time? On the Semiotic Anthropology of Change. In Peter Trifonas Ed. “International Handbook of Semiotics.” Medford: Springer, pp. 547-564. 2015

“Message without a Coda: On Rhetoric of the Photographic Records.” Signs and Society, 2(2): 284-313. 2014

“The Cult(ure) of the Second Sun: Remembering, Repeating, and Performing the Past Imperfect.” Semiotic Inquiry, Special Issue: Semiotics in Anthropology Today, 32(1-2-3): 161-186. 2012

“Shaking Grounds, Unearthing Palimpsests: Semiotic Anthropology of Disaster.” Semiotica, 192: 263-274. 2012