The Institute and Our Community
Strengthening ties with Japanese studies students in Europe
Just a few days after the referendum when the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union this summer, the Centre for Japanese Studies welcomed the third cohort of students from some of the more recent EU member states to Norwich for the International Summer School in Japanese Studies, which we have been running since 2014 in partnership with the Toshiba International Foundation (TIFO) and latterly with additional support from the Sainsbury Institute.
The programme had its origins in a visit by the then President of TIFO, Mr Shirai Makoto, to the University of East Anglia (UEA) campus on the first day of the academic year in September 2013. TIFO is well known to friends of the Sainsbury Institute through its support for the Toshiba Lectures in Japanese Art and Science. Shirai-san was struck by the tremendous energy and buzz on campus that day and we discussed the possibility of working with TIFO to further develop our then nascent Japan-related programmes. At that point our Japanese language degree programme was just one year old.
Several factors encouraged our collaboration further. Firstly, TIFO was looking for new projects and partners to support to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Readers will recall the wonderful exhibition of the Mannendokei, the remarkable myriad clock created in 1851, whose replica was exhibited at the Embassy of Japan in the UK in London, which was also part of this celebration. Secondly, TIFO wanted to support the ‘V4+Japan’ initiative being promoted by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to mark the 10th anniversary of the accession of the four central and eastern European countries that had joined the European Union in 2004 under the Visegrad Treaty, the co-called V4 countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Thirdly, UEA had just established a new programme of international summer schools under the auspices of its International Programmes Office.
The rest is history, and in September 2014 we welcomed our first cohort of students to the programme, which we called ‘Japan Orientation: an Introduction to Japanese Studies’. Selecting the students who would receive bursaries provided by TIFO proved to be a bigger challenge than I had anticipated, as the response to our call for applications for these was much greater than I had expected, though on further reflection I should perhaps not have been so surprised. Courtesy of an introduction from the Japan Foundation in London, I was invited to attend a conference of Japan Studies specialists from central and eastern Europe in Budapest, organised by the Japan Foundation Office there, in February 2014. This was a marvellous opportunity to meet the specialists, and indeed some of the students, in the region. I rapidly realised that my knowledge of the depth and calibre of Japanese Studies programmes in the V4 countries and elsewhere in the region (the Japan Foundation Office in Budapest runs programmes with no less than 13 countries from the Czech Republic to the Balkans) was severely lacking and I was greatly impressed by the quality and range of presentations I heard at the conference. Again, I should not have been surprised, as Japanese Studies is well-established at many of the major universities of the region, including the Jagellonian University in Krakow, the Charles University in Prague, and the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, each of which have long and distinguished traditions of teaching Japanese, along with many other universities throughout the region.
This was not our first foray into Japanese Studies in central and eastern Europe. Over ten years ago in 2003 our then administrator at SISJAC, Uchida Hiromi, travelled through some of these countries following the triennial meeting of the European Association of Japanese Studies held at the University of Warsaw. Hiromi visited a number of museums and other organisations that were known to have holdings of Japanese art. And long-standing members of the Institute’s Norwich community will remember the Third Thursday lecture on the Japanese art held in Czech castles, and the magnificent collection of the somewhat eccentric Feliks Jasieński’s collection, now held by the Manggha Museum in Krakow, which was established by the sadly recently departed doyenne of Polish cinema, Andrzej Wajda, in conjunction with the Japanese director Kurosawa Akira. For several years the Sainsbury Institute took part in the first major survey of Japanese art in central Europe, coordinated by Professor Josef Kreiner with the support of the Toyota Foundation, which led to the publication of the Japanese Collections in European Museum.
The first programme was compressed into two very intense weeks, with over 40 hours of teaching and two academic field trips to London and Cambridge, where our colleagues at the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum volunteered time to give ‘behind-the-scenes’ tours, and the Chair of Sainsbury Institute’s Development Committee (also Bursar of Clare College, Cambridge), Paul Warren, kindly arranged a special lunch in Clare. Taking the feedback from the students on board, in 2015 the programme was extended to four weeks, and this time included Japanese language classes as well. Realising that most of the students applying already had considerable knowledge of Japan and its language, we adjusted the title of the programme for 2016 to ‘Japan Orientation: An introduction to Japan and its place in the world’. The academic programme consists of a series of three-hour seminars, each with a different leading specialist in the field drawn from our Centre for Japanese Studies and Sainsbury Institute’s extensive networks, with topics ranging from anthropology, art history, cultural heritage, journalism, manga, film studies, diplomacy and politics, contemporary Tokyo, to the Anthropocene. Since 2015 the programme has been fully accredited, so that the students can use the experience towards their degree at home. Students each prepare a presentation on a topic of their choice, delivered at the end of the programme, and write a 3000 word essay in English.
The summer school has been one of the most rewarding projects the Centre for Japanese Studies has been involved with. I have greatly enjoyed my annual visits to Budapest, and was honoured to be invited to speak not only at the conference, but also to give lectures at the Central European University in Budapest and the University of Bucharest. The invited speakers have all commented on the exceptional calibre and motivation of the students, who relish the access to CJS and Sainsbury Institute’s networks as part of their experience of studying about Japan in Norwich, in English. Our colleagues at UEA who have heard the student presentations have been equally impressed. We keep in touch with the graduates from the programme by Facebook and email: many are now continuing their studies in Japan and elsewhere, and all are excellent ambassadors for Japanese Studies at UEA.
I am especially grateful to Iwanaga Emi, the then Director of the Japan Foundation Budapest Office and her successor, Tada Sanae, and their staff and network of Japan-related scholars in the countries they cover , without whose support and enthusiasm for the summer school we would not reach the audience of students we have been able to access. We have also received support from the Japan Foundation in London and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan who helped spread the word about the Summer School through their Embassies in the region. For the last two years Sainsbury Institute has contributed three additional bursaries for students from other parts of Europe. The success of the programme is dependant on the support of the International Programmes Office at UEA, along with the Research Office and our wonderful administrative assistant at the Centre for Japanese Studies, Natsue Hayward, who deal with all of the logistics from finance to accommodation to transport, allowing me to focus on the academic content. In 2015 we received additional support from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation which allowed us to run the Japanese language component of the programme. We are most grateful to the Toshiba International Foundation, who have recently committed to continuing their funding for bursaries for students from the V4 countries. We are particularly appreciative that TIFO established this project as a special partnership, rather than making it reliant on their normal grant schemes.
Along with the rest of UEA and Sainsbury Institute, we are committed to continuing to develop strong links with other parts of Europe despite the turbulent times ahead in the wake of Brexit. The next Japan Orientation Summer School will be in June and July 2017, and applications for bursaries close in March. A short video about the programme can be seen on this YouTube link.
Director, Centre for Japanese Studies, UEA
And Head, Centre for Archaeology and Heritage, SISJAC