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Exploring 21st Century Japanese Systems in a Globalizing World

Research Institute of Contemporary Japanese Systems

The terms Japanology has traditionally been used to refer to the study of Japanese history and culture. This academic discipline originally developed from the viewpoint of Japan as seen by foreigners, or that of Japan's significance for other countries, and was mainly advanced by European and American researchers. Today, studies analyzing different aspects of Japan are making progress in every specialized field of the social sciences, and a mass of knowledge has been accumulated on topics such as Japanese politics, the Japanese economy, and Japanese business organizations. Unfortunately, however, this research has developed in a fragmented way, and the study on contemporary Japan has not yet fully emerged as a unified discipline that brings all the relevant research together in a comprehensive manner.

Meanwhile, the task of exploring how Japan and the Japanese people will survive in the rapidly globalizing world of the 21st century has become an urgent one from both an academic and practical standpoint. It is essential that human resources be effectively linked and interdisciplinary research activities be organized in universities like Waseda, which comprises of a variety of departments with sizable faculty. Doing so will allow us to rethink Japan's place in the world as well as in Asia based on cutting-edge research from every field of expertise, and to effectively transmit these research findings so they can make contribution to our society through meaningful policy proposals and recommendations.

In 2009, Waseda University marked out key research initiatives to be promoted by the university in a strategic manner. One of these was presenting and exchanging information about Japanology and Japanese culture studies. Through this initiative, the university has endeavored to institutionally support and develop ideas for completely new forms of Japanese studies which have never existed before at a university-wide level-from new insights into Japanology and theories about Japanese people, to topics such as Japanese international exchange, Japanese models for peace, the Japanese welfare state model, and the Japanese economics. As if to form the counterpart to this initiative, the university designated the theme of systems under globalization as another strategic research initiative, which covers research on new global and local legal systems, markets, organizations, and business strategies, as well as political and economic integration problems found in regions throughout Asia and the world.

The Research Institute of Contemporary Japanese Systems (RICJS) focuses its efforts on research areas and projects that intersect these two research initiatives, trying to build bridges among the three major fields of politics, economics and sociology, and to better understand various aspects of contemporary Japan in an interdisciplinary and systematic manner. We spoke with Masaru Kohno, the Director of RICJS and Professor of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University, about the institute.

Professor Masaru Kohno, Director of the Research Institute of Contemporary Japanese Systems (RICJS)

Toward Research on Contemporary Japanese Systems

Established in November 2009, RICJS operates in systematic cooperation with the Waseda Institute for Advanced Study (WIAS), Waseda University's unique interdisciplinary research center. Since the founding of the WIAS up to the present day, Professor Kohno has served as a member of WIAS, involved in its operations and activities in the field of the social sciences. Another key member of the RICJS project is Professor Hideaki Miyajima (Faculty of Commerce), who serves as the Director of WIAS and is known as the leading authority on studies of Japanese corporate governance. RICJS focuses on linking young, distinguished researchers visiting WIAS for short or long periods of time with Waseda researchers and, moreover, functions as a platform where people from outside the university can participate in collaborative research and from which new interdisciplinary research can be developed and disseminated.

"The ultimate goal of RICJS is to establish a research orientation that embraces various aspects of contemporary Japanese society as one holistic system," says Professor Kohno. "To work toward this goal, we have focused our efforts around three important themes from among the various problems facing Japan: (1) foreign relations and national security, (2) corporate governance and economic systems, and (3) labor and social security. Drawing on the past research of our participating members, we explore new interdisciplinary approaches within these themes and work to clarify the common structural issues of Japanese systems that transcend these themes."

In line with the three themes, three research groups, each focusing on foreign relations, economic systems, and social security have been organized respectively (Figure 1). The foreign relations group, led by Professor Kohno, is exploring how Japan's postwar pacifism is adapting in the context of a changing Asia and a changing world. The economic systems group, where Professor Miyajima and his colleagues play a central role, is shedding light on the nature of the Japanese economic system as scholars debate about whether economic systems be converged with the American economic system or the world's many different national and regional economic systems be maintained under the pressure of globlization (see related article). And the social security group, led by Professor Toru Shinoda (Faculty of Social Sciences), is uncovering the ways in which employment relationships and the social security system in Japan are changing under the pressures of a rapidly declining birth rate and globalization.

"The factors all of these issues have in common are the recognition that changes in policy are called for under globalization, institutional changes occurred, and standards and principles at an even more fundamental level transformed," explains Professor Kohno. "Using these common denominators as a clue, along with historical evidence of what Japanese systems were originally like, we hope to make innovative discoveries on the ways Japanese systems change and/or not change over time as we explore new interdisciplinary methodologies, drawing on the rich collection of research of each of our members."

Figure 1: The three thematic areas and an exploration of their common structure

The research activities of the institute search for points of contact among the three different research groups, which are respectively based on the disciplines of political science, economics, and sociology, and have progressed with a constant awareness of the need to clarify the interface among the disciplines. At first, the potential linkages among the three fields were examined through workshops that were alternatively held by each of the groups. In April of fiscal 2010, a joint workshop combining all three areas was held, and the institute started conducting full-fledged collaborative research. During the 2010-2011 fiscal years, the institute was able to secure external research funding in a successful manner and launched a number of projects involving researchers from Waseda University and other universities in Japan and abroad, including full-scale public opinion surveys. In fiscal 2011, the institute began disseminating its research findings in research papers, books and other media, as well as holding international symposiums and international workshops with the help of researchers from other countries (see photos below).

"I feel that we've been able to work out the connections among the different fields and developed a unique interdisciplinary point of view more smoothly than expected," says Professor Kohno. "For example, the report given by the social security group at the joint workshop in April 2010 received valuable insights into not only the current conditions of specific national and regional welfare states, but also general theories and issues affecting multiple Asian countries. The input of the foreign relations group then led to a meaningful discussion about the linkages between these issues and security issues. Also, at the first international symposium held in January 2011, Professor Masao Nakamura, an economist from the University of British Columbia, discussed the presentation given by Professor Chikako Ueki (areas of specialization: international politics, international relations) from Waseda's Faculty of International Research and Education in a session on East Asian security arrangements in the 21st century, offering original insights from a North American perspective of East Asia and an economic standpoint."

Japanese Corporate Governance: Toward Its Redesign and the Recovery of Its Competitiveness [Nihon no Kigyo Tochi: Sono Saisekkei to Kyosoryoku no Kaifuku ni Mukete] (Toyo Keizai, June 2011), a book written and edited by Professor Hideaki Miyajima that compiled the research findings of the economic systems research group.

One of the monthly workshops alternatively held by each group. These workshops foster interdisciplinary discussions that transcend boundaries among specialized fields.

The international symposium Foreign Relations and Domestic Systems of 21st Century Japan: Interdisciplinary Approach and Suggestions (January 2011)
Five reporters from Japan, Canada, Britain and Germany including Professor Gregory Jackson from the Free University of Berlin were invited to the symposium. It was divided into three sessions, each of which included presentations by the pairs of one researcher from abroad and one Japanese researcher. The symposium produced enriching interdisciplinary discussions. (For more information, click here (in Japanese and English).)

Confronting Current Events

Looking at events that are happening right now is, of course, an important part of studying contemporary Japanese society. In academic research, where a considerable amount of theory and evidence is collected, it is difficult to continue studies that analyze real-world changes and trends in real-time. At RICJS, however, researchers have tackled a variety of important recent events head-on, raising issues concerning the Great East Japan Earthquake (see photo below), and addressing the phenomenon of demonstrations and other public gatherings that have arisen throughout the world in conjunction with flash mobs and other new forms of social behavior (see related article by Professor Toru Shinoda, leader of the social security group).

Professor Kohno has questioned reconstruction policy following the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 from a philosophical standpoint and raised issues regarding the involvement of experts in policy formation in two Waseda booklets (Waseda University Press).
Left: "The Right and the Good" in Reconstruction Policy: In Search of a Political Economics for Disaster Reconstruction 1 [Fukko Seisaku wo Meguru "Sei" to "Zen": Shinsai Fukko no Seiji Keizaigaku wo Motomete 1] (January 2012)
Right: How to Face a Crisis as a "Concerned Party": In Search of a Political Economics for Disaster Reconstruction 2 ["Tojisha" toshite Ikani Kiki ni Mukiauka: Shinsai Fukko no Seiji Keizaigaku wo Motomete 2] (April 2012)

The public opinion surveys on foreign policy* that have been implemented every month from October 2011 onward, under the direction of Professor Kohno's foreign relations group, have made a significant contribution to these efforts. The surveys continuously monitor Japanese people's awareness and evaluations of foreign policy, and the changes in these factors, using a broad range of survey items. This project marks the first attempt in Japan to implement academically-oriented opinion surveys focused on national security and international relations.
*The institute has been able to carry out these surveys thanks to a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science ("Research into the Formation of Foreign Policy-Related Preferences among the Japanese," Research Project Number: 23243030).

"For example, we include a variety of survey items with a broad perspective, covering everything from respondents' feelings of affinity towards different countries, to their evaluation of the influence of major countries, such as the U.S. and China, and international organizations like the U.N., and their assessment of the Japanese government's stance on foreign policy," says Professor Kohno. "I think it's absolutely essential that we revisit the major premises of democracy, clarifying what members of the voting public feel uneasy about and what they want to see implemented in the area of Japanese foreign policy, and evaluating whether foreign policy is in line with these opinions or not. Recognizing the real-time importance of these surveys, we have been continuously and promptly posting the survey results, data, and tentative analytical reports on the institute's website so they are publically available."

Japan's relations with Korea and China became strained after the shocking events that occurred from August to September, 2012, revolving around the Takeshima and Senkaku Islands. Professor Kohno and his colleagues immediately added questions about these issues to the omnibus questions for their next survey, as part of their efforts to objectively capture short-term trends in public sentiment. As a result, they revealed that there had been a very profound change in Japanese public sentiment in response to the series of events, and that the public was very critical of the DPJ administration's foreign policy stance (see Figure 2). (See related article (in English).)

Figure 2: Blame of the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) administration and the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) administration

"One of our most important tasks is tracking the structural changes exhibited by Japanese foreign policy and public sentiment toward East Asian countries as diplomatic attitudes and feelings toward Japan in East Asia are severely shaken by the Takeshima and Senkaku disputes and other events," says Professor Kohno. "We will continue to carefully observe these changes, as well as the effects changes in the public's perception of foreign policy have on such things as elections."

Fiscal 2013 will mark the final year of RICJS's five-year term as a research institute promoting the university's strategic research initiatives. For this reason, over the 2012-2013 fiscal years, the institute has been promoting research activities designed to lead toward the further development of these initiatives after the term ends, and working to gather and disseminate the results of its international symposiums and workshops in the form of publications, as a record of its research achievements.

"Our research findings have already been disseminated at numerous academic conferences and research institutes throughout the world," says Professor Kohno. "I myself have delivered lectures at universities in Germany, Spain, Canada and the U.S. over the past two years. I am also frequently interviewed by reputable international news organizations, such as Reuters, the Christian Science Monitor and the America's National Public Radio, and on these occasions I rely frequently on our research findings. From this year through the next fiscal year, we would like to work vigorously to transmit our research and research findings, and to further develop ties with the Free University of Berlin, with which we have already built a strong collaborative relationship, and various other world-renowned research institutes that serve as hubs for Japanese studies."

We have great hopes that the establishment of the Research Institute of Contemporary Japanese Systems, which has integrated the three areas of foreign relations, economic systems, and social security, and its activities geared toward the creation of a future site for integrated research will lead to the careful consideration of Japan's future course, enabling effective policy recommendations.

Related Links

Research Institute of Contemporary Japanese Systems, Waseda University
Waseda Institute for Advanced Study
Organization for University Research Initiatives, Waseda University
Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University
Faculty of Commerce, Waseda University
Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University