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Campus Now

New Year Issue (Jan.)


Returning to the origin and coming face-to-face with Iran.
Searching for social changes under the Islamic system.

Professor Keiko Sakurai / Faculty of International Studies

It all started in the summer of my 3rd year of high school when I opened the pages of a photography book in the local library. I was struck by the indescribable contrast between the well-designed beauty found in the structure of a mosque in Isfahan during the Sassanid Dynasty and the image of a bazaar overflowing with people and goods. I was enchanted by the appeal contained in these photographs, and I entered the Department of History in order to study Persian history. However, less than a year after I entered university, a revolution occurred in beautiful Persia. A monarchy system with more than 2,500 years of history crumbled and the Islamic Republic of Iran, a country controlled by religious leaders, was born. The surprise and shock of this incident provided me with unexpected power. Why did a revolution occur? Why was it an Islamic revolution? Why were religious leaders able to enter into politics? I was struck with one question after another. However, at that time, both Iran and Islam were minor themes of study and there was a lack of written material. I began to study the Persian language in an attempt to get closer to Iran, but my questions only continued to increase. Eventually, without considering my future, I entered graduate school based entirely on my desire to continue studying. Even now, although 30 years have passed since the revolution, I continue to spend my days pursuing the giant mystery of Iran.

Trinkets gathered in Iran. Starting in the back and moving in a clockwise direction, the trinkets are: an enameled flower vase, miniature Koran (red, green), a saint of the Shi'ah sect (draft), the sword of Imam Ali (first generation of the Shi'ah sect), and a pendant containing the image of Ali. A qiblah compass for finding the direction of Mecca, tasbih (prayer beads used by followers of Islam).

However, the environment surround Iran and Islam has changed greatly since that time. After the end of the Cold War, Islam replaced the Soviet Union as a new enemy to the Western world. Furthermore, since the September 11th terrorist attacks of 2001, the word "terror" has been attached to Islam, and the religion has come to be treated wretchedly. Ironically, the need for research in the Islamic region has gradually come to be recognized as a result of these negative events. One example of this trend is the Organization for Islamic Area Studies which was established at Waseda University last year. There is a steady increase in the number of students who wish to study the Middle East and Islam. This increase has caused me to feel increased responsibility. Today, 20% of the global population is followers of the Islamic religion. Unfortunately, even now, there is a widespread trend to attribute Islam as the cause of accidents or happenings that occur in regions inhabited by a large number of Islamic believers. The interpretation and practice of Islam differs significantly according to country, region, and individual. Furthermore, the same beliefs are not held by all followers of Islam. I continue to search for ways to enable people to shed their preconceptions and consider Islamic regions through flexible thought and sensibility.

In 2004, I assumed my post at Waseda University at the time that the School of International Liberal Studies was founded. I am impressed with students who possess outstanding language ability and are able to efficiently perform on examinations and the solving of problems. However, I feel that there are few opportunities for students to thoroughly and carefully consider a problem. Perhaps this is due to the growing trend of creating good-looking reports in a short period of time by performing searches on the internet. In order to develop social creativity and sensibility, it is necessary for students to make continued efforts towards their theme of interest and for them to individually interpret written materials.

Personally, my research in recent years has focused on the condition of Islamic believers living in Japan and on trends in the Shi'ah sect of Islam. These themes are somewhat removed from Iran, so I now want to return to my origin and to once again come face-to-face with Iran. In Iran, accusations of tampering in the congressional election which was held in June have incited a series of demonstrations by young people, particularly university students, who are dissatisfied with the heavy-handed political system. Even though protestors have been arrested, there is no sign of the movement subsiding. Already, more than half of university students in Iran are women. The number of women entering university has continued to exceed the number of men since the late 1990s. Last year, a system for entrance examinations separate by gender was implemented out of concern that male students will disappear entirely if the current trend continues. There is a reality that women are overpowering men under and Islamic system. I hope to use this reality as the starting point when searching for changes in the society of Iran.

Professor Keiko Sakurai / Faculty of International Studies

Born in 1959 in Tokyo Prefecture. Graduate from the Department of Historical Studies at the Sophia University School of Letters. Completed the Doctoral Program at the Sophia University Graduate School of Foreign Languages. Served as a Research Associate at the Meiji Gakuin University International Peace Research Institute and as Assistant Professor/Professor at Gakushuin Women's University. Assumed her current position in 2004. Her major written works include "Modern Iran: Changes in the Country of God" (Iwanami Publishing) and "Shi'ah Sect: The Rise of a Minor Islamic Sect" (Chuko Publishing).