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Building an international network as a base for Japanese literature and Japanese culture research

Waseda University International Institution for Japanese Literature and Culture

Waseda University, taking advantage of its 125th anniversary in 2007, alongside starting up the mid-long term university management plan "Waseda Next 125", with the aim to establish a "research Waseda" which holds water internationally, as a university we systematically and strategically put effort into setting up fields stressing research promotion. In order to achieve this aim, in April 2009, a new research initiative organization was put in place to strategically promote research over the whole university, and in 2009 and 2010, in-campus research project entries, covering the four research initiatives, were asked for each year.

Waseda University International Institution for Japanese Literature and Culture logo

Among these movements, from the start, what was hammered out as a pillar emphasizing humanities research, was to have Waseda as an "international research base for Japanology and Japanese culture", and to achieve this, the idea was to quickly establish the "International Japan Research Organization (provisional name)". As a first step, in 2009, we called for in-campus applications under the theme of "dispatching and exchanging Japanology and Japanese culture research to the world", and from numerous applications the "New Japanese Literature and Japanese Culture Research Through Co-creation with the World" project (research representative: Professor Kunihiko Nakajima of the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences) was selected.

This project, in Waseda University, especially the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, while showing various results gathered over a long time in Japanese literature and culture research, and strengthening the pipes individually built between us and leading overseas research organizations and researchers, has become a system backed by plans which aim for research development that can truly be called international.

Director of Waseda University International Institution for Japanese Literature and Culture, Professor Kunihiko Nakajima

At the same time as the project's selection, in the research initiative organizations, a research institute called "International Japanese Literature and Culture Research Institute" was put in place. It is actively developing into a base for many staff and young researchers from throughout the campus to gather, and as an international network base for Waseda University's Japanese literature and Japanese culture research, as well as functioning as an entry portal for international researchers and exchange students wishing to study at Waseda.

We asked Professor Kunihiko Nakajima, the research representative of the research initiative project and director of the institute, about a number of activities.

In-campus researchers are brought together by taking research initiative opportunities

Compared with science and technology fields, humanities research doesn't have that many chances to receive large sums of research funds. Behind this can be said to be the difficulty in producing visible results that can be practically applied in society and business, and that there is no need for expensive experimental equipment. Even if we can continue research at an individual level by only securing existing institutional research funds, we are in a tight situation when it comes to systematically challenging something new, trying to devise a new international educational research structure.

But, it is needless to point out the importance of humanities research in higher education. Enhancing the international presence of Japanology and Japanese culture, research, culture, economics, politics.each field has a direct link in enhancing Japan's presence, can be said to be an activity with extreme social importance with a high contribution level.

Relationship of the 5 projects
In this research initiative, three international cooperation projects (vertical columns) and two themed projects (horizontal rows) have been put in place. The themed projects also act as a bridge for the three international cooperation projects.

"It is very significant that, this time, the university decides upon Japanology and Japanese culture research as a research initiative, and provides research funding by ourselves. Our university, compared to other universities, has many Japanese literature and Japanese culture academic staff, each possessing an impressive research record and international network. But, until now, they have been swamped with individual research and work in their undergraduate and graduate schools, leaving them with almost no opportunities for systematic cooperation within the university." (Institute Head Nakajima)

We took this application for research initiatives as an opportunity to break free from this situation. 13 managing members, centered on the academic staff of the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, got together and designed the project. At first, we set basic activities around Japanese literature, and built a plan expanding into various fields such as, foreign literature, art, history, visual culture, media, and sub-culture etc. Five specific projects were established, as shown in the following diagram.

The three international cooperation projects covering America, Europe and Asia are cooperation projects from America's Columbia University, French research organization, INALCO (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales), and Asian universities and research institutions from mainly China and South Korea.

A project compiling a visual database of valuable works by Meiji period writer and profound thinker, Naoe Kinoshita (in the possession of the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences), is being undertaken.

"Columbia University is the world's most advanced base for research on Japan. INALCO, France's representative base in Japanese research is also known throughout the world. Waseda University has already established a long relationship with each of these universities and institutions. It is also an advantage that many researchers who are working for those universities and institutions have previously studied at our university. With this chance for our university to become the base, we aim to expand our network linking Japan, America and Europe, and furthermore, Asia with global cooperative research." (Institute Head Nakajima)

Two themed projects of "Media, Writing, Commentary" and "Modern times, Systems, Cities" have been created. Through the creation and practical use of a database of literature and language materials in the possession of Waseda University, the Media, Writing, Commentary Project set out to present new text research and commentary research. Here, in concert with the Columbia Project, we put effort into summarizing the results of post-Manyoshu Japanese poetry research and introducing them to the world. In the Modern times, Systems, Cities Project, we are trying to research, overall and internationally, the relationship between cultural developments including culture and history, and visual theater, and actual historical developments in the environment. Specifically, planned research includes the relationship between the emergence of mass literature like periodic novels, and society, Japanese and Asian representation, including research on the state of Okinawa, and research relating to modern city legends and the transformation of city and media, such as pocketbooks.

Introduction of a double degree program

Joint workshop with Columbia University "new developments in international exchange, higher learning and education - the future of Japanese literature and Japanese culture research -" (At Waseda University, January 2010)

We are also putting efforts into international cooperation for raising the young researchers burdened with the future of Japanese literature and Japanese culture research. Since 2008, before the research initiative, a double degree program between Waseda and Columbia Universities had already been started. In a doctoral program of both universities, students can spend a year in a master's program of the other university and receive their master's degree. Three students from Columbia and one from Waseda have already obtained such degrees from the other university.

"Until now we have mutually and actively conducted student exchanges, but it holds great importance that we now have appropriately institutionalized it and realized degree awarding. A mutual trust toward an educational research system has been created, and we are much more at ease when sending over students than before. Although there aren't that many examples of success from the double degree program, our dealings with Columbia University can be said to be an example of huge success." (Director Nakajima)

Scene from an international exchange at Columbia University, New York (from an onsite midterm report of the double degree program)

In March 2008, Professor Nobuyuki Kanechiku, Professor Hirokazu Toeda in March 2009, and Professor Tsutomu Kusaka in March 2010, all from the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, visited Columbia University for a month, and as well as delivering lectures, participated in international symposiums and workshops, and in cooperation with Columbia's Professor Haruo Shirane and Professor Tomi Suzuki, obtained excellent results. On the other hand, in November 2007, Columbia University's Professor Paul Anderer, Professor Haruo Shirane in January 2009, and Associate Professor David Lurie in May 2010, have been active in education exchanges such as giving special lectures at Waseda University.

In January 2010, a joint workshop with Columbia University titled "New developments in international exchange, higher learning and education - the future of Japanese literature and Japanese culture research -" was held at Waseda University, with staff from Columbia University visiting, and graduates from the double degree program also taking part, and with academic staff and students from Waseda, a quality debate took place on how international cooperation should be in the future. Many researchers and students from related fields within the university gathered making it more successful than anticipated, and I felt the attention drawn to and high expectations for this project.

Steady results such as Japanese-English bilingual publications

Prominent guests, including some from overseas, are invited, and a symposium and workshop with many related lectures is held by the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Less than a year has passed since the beginning of the research initiative project, but we are starting to see steady results coming out. The joint publication project, based on the joint research with Columbia University, is currently working on three titles, with publishers already confirmed for two of those. One is related to censorship, media and literature, and the other Japanese poetry.

"We expect that these will be used as textbooks and references by students studying Japanese literature and Japanese culture around the world. They are planned to be "bilingual publications" with the essays printed in both English and Japanese." (Institute Head Nakajima)

Events in the themed project are on the waiting list. In October 2010 a joint international workshop with INALCO, titled "Traces of Memory," will be held at Waseda, and in the same month, at an event commemorating the 120th anniversary of the establishment of the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, as the first stage of the database creation project of materials held by the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, a visual database of works by Meiji period writer and profound thinker, Naoe Kinoshita will be displayed to the public with a materials exhibition, to showcase the activities of this research initiative.

We also conduct lively exchanges with Asian researchers and students. In the photo, Professor Pak He Sun of Hanbat National University Japanese Department delivers a lecture on "Japanese Classics research in South Korea and the state of education and topics -bringing middle-age classics to the center-" (March 2010 at Waseda University)

In November 2011, the Modern times, Systems, Cities Project will host a symposium and lecture series titled "Border crossing history and Periodic novels-a combination of genre, the globalization of research." Overseas presenters from China and South Korea will be invited, and along with local scholars, writers and critics, will take part in research presentations, lectures and a symposium covering themes about the materialization of historical novels, Ryotaro Shiba, and the emergence of the sword battle stories.

In the three year star-up period of the research initiative we will produce solid results, in the future, secure outside funding and aim to develop autonomously as an international base--we are steadily building a platform toward that goal.

Related links

Waseda University International Institution for Japanese Literature and Culture

Organization for University Research Initiatives, Waseda University

Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Academic Information Database of School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO)

Columbia University