SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

  • Sim Choon Kiat “An Active Singaporean Struggles for Active Learning in Japanese Universities”

    No one would object to me declaring that “I am very active”.In my childhood, I used to play the cornet as a member of the marching band / chamber concert band in primary school. In middle and high school, I switched to theatrical club and was an actor and concurrently scriptwriter cum director until I came to Japan to study. The reason why I switched was because of the warm climate in Singapore. It was just too tough to play an instrument in the marching band under the blazing sun.After coming to Japan to study, I returned to the theatrical field again while working as a government official. I appeared twice a year on the stage of the Singapore National Theater as a semiprofessional actor up until I went to graduate school in Japan. Due to this hidden career, once I appear on the stage or in front of people, I am still in the habit of straightening my posture and raising my voice in order to attract attention and treat leading actors and the guest of honor with due respect. When I talk about teaching in universities in Japan as my new “stage”, there was a world of difference from Singapore. Whatever you may say, the reaction from students in Japan is very subdued. Sometimes, everyone keeps silent, like putting on a “Noh” face.Since I have been studying in Japanese universities for more than ten years as an undergraduate, a Masters student and a PhD student, I can say I know well the “inactiveness” of Japanese students.There is scarcely any passionate discussion even in a class at the graduate school of the University of Tokyo, which is said to be the top educational institution in Japan. I am not sure whether these students are just trying to express Japanese “refinedness(奥ゆかしさ)”, or if they do not want what they say to be considered foolish, or if they are just not thinking anything.  Anyway, it is very, very quiet in the Japanese university classroom, so much so that the saying “silence is golden” feels sacred here. This situation is the reason why the Ministry of Education in Japan is now urging schools and universities to practice “active learning”. They strongly encourage schools to develop group discussion, debate and group-work in classes to solve problems actively. I, as an active teacher, do not let such students continue keeping on a “Noh” face, even if the Ministry of Education would not urge this. In other words, I, being so active on the stage, am too proud to leave such students alone. But, since such students have been getting a passive education sitting on hard chairs for a long time, it is not easy to get them to open their silent mouths. I asked them to write comments on reaction papers after class, which many university teachers also do. I forbid them from writing simple reactions which a lot of students in primary schools are apt to use, such as “I was surprised when I know XXX”, “I learned a lot from XXX”, “I am interested in XXX”, and “I enjoyed a lot from XXX “.  I told them I would subtract points for using such simple phrases, and asked them to write their doubts, questions or counterarguments.  I presented several good comments on Power-point as the basis for further discussion in the following class. I can say now that it proved to be effective because many students  tried after that to write meaningful comments that would be taken up in the next class.I also decided to pass students the microphone because I realized that students have a lot to say and thought I would let them discuss further. I did this because writing reaction papers is a form of “reactive learning”, not active learning. As a matter of course, when many students are given a microphone, they turn their faces away, or could not say anything, or opined irrelevantly.It was like an improvised play for me in that I could not try to lead any response or opinion and , had to create an environment in which any response or utterance would be acceptable.. This is why active learning is far more difficult than one-way teaching in which teachers just keep speaking. What I like to emphasize here is that it is not OK to just keep discussing nor for students to just speak any opinion. If fruitful discussions, which are based on academic theories or knowledge, cannot be developed, then it is just a brainstorming session in which they just exchange their opinions.Then, what should we do?  It is not easy to explain fully in this paper.  I will just say that I want to make use of my experience on the stage on this new stage that is the university classroom.  I have had many questions in my mind over the past several years: even if there is fruitful discussion, is it alright that only teachers provide topics or subject of discussion?  Is it necessary for teachers to prepare their teaching materials by themselves? We are now in a time when students can find out any information they want if they check Google.  So, in several of my classes, I, as a teacher, decided to ask students to decide on a concrete theme by themselves although I suggest a rough idea in the syllabus.For example, in an “Introduction to Social Problems” course, I asked students to decide the subjects and questions by themselves. In a lecture of “Theories of Modern Society”, they decided by themselves how to present their opinions or which country and subject to take up. When students present their opinions, I asked them to stop reading in the same monotone manner that Japanese politicians or public officials use when they are afraid of reading mistakenly. If they do so, points would be subtracted. Do not think that it got easier for me by leaving students to be independent or to direct themselves. On the contrary, it became more important for me to prepare myself further to face a situation in which students may choose any subject. As such, I became an “ultra-active” teacher. I have never specified textbooks and have decided to stop distributing lecture materials when I have classes in a computer room. In other words, I have stopped lecturing itself. The reason for this is that I have determined that it is alright once students gather reliable information from searching on the internet and make the most suitable textbook by themselves after I instruct them on the main subject. I allowed students to do this alone or put their thoughts together with group members. Walking around the class, I sometimes spoke highly of a student who put her ideas together using her own words and good materials. Or, I gave questions to the students who just “copy and pasted” wrong or false information. Needless to say, you may be able to imagine that such teachers become busier in class. I cannot write much about my “battle” because of the space limitations of this essay.Fortunately, the classroom environment mentioned above is being evaluated highly and students themselves are also gradually changing.  I do not think that the “inactiveness” of Japanese students comes from the national character of Japan. Rather, it is because students have become too accustomed to the Japanese educational system. It is quite natural that students are more interested in education achieved through cooperation or interactive and two-way education. School lessons are established by teachers and students together. The Japanese campus of Temple University, an American college based in Pennsylvania USA, will move to the campus where I am working now in September this year. It is the first time in Japan that a Japanese and American colleges will share a campus. There will not only be an increase in the number of foreign students but also the presence of male students in classes.I am already excited thinking about how my “battle” will be become more challenging! SGRA Kawaraban 592 in Japanese (Original) (Sim ChoonKiat / Associate Professor, Showa Women’s University )  Translated by Kazuo KawamuraEnglish checked by Sonja Dale
  • Khin Maung Htwe ”From Physicist to Hotel Proprietor”

    Everybody has a dream. Some people can make their dreams come true and some have to walk away from their dreams. A lot of children dream of becoming doctors, engineers, artists, businessmen, and so on, devoting themselves to improve their skills to become famous in the world in their own fields.In my childhood, I dreamt of becoming an airplane pilot. However, now I am the proprietor of “Hotel AKIMOMI” which I established in Pyin Oo Lwin in Myanmar,  a highland sightseeing resort similar to Karuizawa in Japan. I studied abroad in Japan in October, 1988. I grew up in a family of optometrists, but had no interest in medical science and wanted to become a pilot. However, my parents opposed this. As a result, I majored in physical science at Mandalay Technological University and, after graduation, studied abroad in Japan. I visited many places in Japan as a tourist and for conferences, and boarded together with seminar students.  In Japan, I could experience and enjoy various sceneries and cultures and also enjoyed various Japanese food cultures. When I travelled across Myanmar in my childhood during in the 1970s, there were no hotels nor ‘min-shuku’ (private guesthouse) and I had to stay at the houses or cottages of our relatives. I could stay at national guesthouses sometimes because my father had some connections. At that time, hotels in Myanmar were almost only occupied by foreign tourists. When I visited Kalaw, a highland tourist spot, I stayed at the Kalaw Hotel which was built in the British era. It was my first opportunity to stay at a hotel. Kalaw is a town where many summer resort houses were built during the English colonial era and is known as “pine hill”. There are a lot of foreign visitors, especially from Europe and America, and even now it is very famous for trekking on Trip Advisor.Everything about the experience became an unforgettable memory, much like the first encounter with a lover, the feeling of staying at a hotel for the first time, the preparation of the rooms, the taste of breakfast, the comfortable air and atmosphere of the English colonial style. I visited Kalaw many times after that and thought about staying at this hotel. However, even so I never imagined that I would run my own hotel. In 1997, I obtained a doctor’s degree from the Faculty of Engineering at Waseda University. I returned to Myanmar after serving as an assistant for the School of Applied Physics. There were no positions for “physicists” in Myanmar and I devoted myself to working towards the development of Myanmar through using my experiences in Japan as a proprietor. As I was a researcher while studying abroad, after returning to Myanmar I tried my hand at being “a shrimper with a PhD in engineering”, “a scientific farmer” and “a hotel proprietor who thinks about different cultures and environmental conservation.” It is the image of old Japan, rather than new Japan, that remains in my mind. For example, I am interested most in buildings which make full use of traditional Japanese wood craftsmanship. When I was building “Hotel AKIMOMI”, I asked a Japanese architect in his 70s who had profound knowledge of traditional Japanese wooden houses to help me realize my dream image of Japan. It took about two years to complete. I could reproduce the image of Japan through a restaurant for Japanese food, a large public bath and food stands made using materials available in Myanmar. I aimed to achieve the best service and the best engineering which I had experienced in Japan in Myanmar.As a result of this, many hotel guests appraised my hotel as “a little Japanese village”.With regard to international appraisal of hotels, we received 4~4.5 out of 5 on “Trip-advisor”. On “Booking.com”, we got 8.3~8.7 out of 10 and 8.0 out of 10 on “Agoda”.In January, 2018, we received the “ASEAN Green Hotel Standard Award”. For this Award, five hotels out of all the hotels in Myanmar were selected, and “Hotel AKIMOMI” was ranked the top. The confidence to try new things, persevering until one succeeds, caring about the responses of guests, and looking into issues pertaining to work. Shifting from “physicist to hotel proprietor” is my proudest achievement in life.     SGRA Kawaraban 590 in Japanese (Original) (Khim Maung Htwe /Proprietor of Hotel AKIMOMI)   Translated by Kazuo KawamuraEnglish checked by Sonja Dale
  • Song Han “My Thoughts on “GENGOH” “

    The hot topic right now (as of March, 2019) is the title of the new imperial era (“GENGOH” 元号). With the change in the name of the imperial era, there will be a huge impact on Japanese society. I, as a specialist of Chinese literature, am interested in the news which reports that Japanese classical literature is being studied as a source for the name.  In the past, it was a usual practice to select the name from Chinese classical literature. According to sources, however, “Kojiki (古事記)” and “Nihon Shoki(日本書紀)” (both about the birth of Japan) have been taken up vigorously for discussion this time.Some people say that this is nonsense because both “Kojiki” and “Nihon Shoki” are based on Chinese classics. As such, people may say that no matter what the name of the new era will come from Chinese classics. Others say that such arguments are nonsense and that it is important to take the name from Japanese classics. It seems that the point in this dispute is the uniqueness of Japanese culture. I, as a foreigner, am not in a position to join this controversy. However, I would like to share my thoughts because the culture of the imperial era system came from China. The era name is a numbering system (calendar era) which takes one year as a unit, just like AD (Anno Domini) or the Christian Era, which we are using commonly now.  According to research by Zhao Yi (趙翼), a historian of the Qing Dynasty (19th century), “建元”, which was enacted by Emperor Wu of Han (漢の武帝) in BC 140 and which was the first era named in East Asia. Emperor Wu of Han was one of the most prominent absolute monarchs in Chinese history, and it is said that the resolute ruling system established in the Han dynasty unified the kingdom. You may think I am digressing from the topic of the name of the imperial era in Japan, but this actually has a lot to do with it.  In the year BC45, Julius Caesar established the Julius calendar. This naming meant that the ancient nation dominated not only land (space) but also time. It was essential for farmers to follow the calendar for farming. In ancient times, a nation itself could calculate and declare the calendar every year. As such, the era name was a symbolic system to dominate time in a country. It is easy to understand the importance of the calendar in the Three Kingdoms Period (Wei (魏), Shu (蜀), Wu (呉) )in ancient Chinese society (3rd century).   ― details of the history of the Three Kingdoms are omitted ―The oldest era name in Japan is “Taika”, established during the rule of Emperor Koutoku.  It is well-known because of the Taika Reform (大化の改新) (AD 645).  Because top-level people at the time understood well the meaning of naming an era, through this Japan expressed itself to the world as an independent nation for the first time. After Taika, era names have continued though there have been discontinuations for short periods. When I think of the new era name against this background and history, I am deeply interested in what it will be. In ancient Japan, it was as an expression of being an independent nation that the era name was adopted from Chinese classics. However, it is now considered as undignified by some intellectuals to have an era name taken from Chinese classics. Individuality, which has been considered as unchanging despite the passing of time, may change in meaning depending on the values of the time. The era name is not limited to Japan and we can say the same of the cultures of other nations. There is no human that does not desire themselves, their communities, their society, or their country to be essentially unique and original. Anybody can try to argue against this, but people (including myself) may unintentionally show their nationalistic attitude in doing so. When we analyze the individuality of cultures, we may be able to say that Iraq, Syria and Egypt - countries which were the cradle of culture - are particularly original . Or, perhaps it is Africa, as the birthplace of all human beings, that has originality. I will stop this dreary discussion here. But, being given this opportunity, I would like to add one more dreary saying by Ryunosuke Akutagawa: “Culture is a match-box. It is ridiculous to handle a match-box seriously. But, if you handle it carelessly, it will be dangerous.”  SGRA Kawaraban 591 in Japanese (Original)  (Song Han / Associate Professor (Japanese Literature), Ferris University)  Translated by Kazuo KawamuraEnglish checked by Sonja Dale
  • KABA Melek “The New Turkish Word for “Syrian People”

     My home country is Turkey.  It is very rare in our daily conversation to say things like “It is a very beautiful day, today!” Instead of such conversation, the three big issues of  politics, economy and religion are our most popular topics which are talked about and discussed tirelessly. Recently, the word “Suriyelilier (Syrian people)” started appearing in our conversation.This new word “Suriyelilier” is not a simple nor innocent word which just means “Syrian refugees” or “Syrian” as a race or home country.  We hear about this word very often and on many occasions - when we walk in the streets, when we take the bus, when we attend class and so on. I would like to carefully consider this word. Refugees from Syria began to come to Turkey on March 15, 2011. According to the Turkish Immigration Bureau, 3.57 million Syrians are living in Turkey as of February 2019.  Syrian refugees are also living in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and European countries. In the case of Turkey, they can easily cross the border by walking across as both countries are close geographically.      Is it possible, however, to talk about actual daily life through figures? It is not easy for the refugees of war to blend in with Turkish society which differs in culture and language despite our religious affinity. We have learned that Turkey is a country in which different races can live together since the era of the Ottoman Empire. I have doubts, however, as to whether we are really tolerant of people from other countries. The Turkish government is trying to support Syrian refugees in various aspects. Special schools are prepared for children and the young, of whom there are many. The government has also prepared special classes for school teachers who teach the children of Syrian refugees. For adults, they have established Turkish language classes and support for finding jobs.  However, despite this I feel uneasy because of the suspicious looks I’ve noticed ordinary Turkish people give Syrian people in their daily lives. A university student said “Syrian people can enter universities in Turkey without exams. It’s unfair’ We have been studying for entrance exams.”  According to my investigation, Syrian refugees can enter universities through the same procedures as other overseas students as long as they get equal marks in Turkish language tests.  There are some universities which accept Syrian refugees without exams, but this is a small number. One day, a middle-aged neighboring lady, who is a pensioner, complained to me: “Syrian people seem to be paid a higher salary every month than us. I don’t like it.” I investigated again and found that Syrian refugees, who cannot find any jobs, are paid salaries for which they can afford to go to ordinary restaurants five times a month. I found the headline of a big newspaper claiming “1300 Turkish Rilla Salary for Syrian refugees”. According to the story, 1300 Rilla is the minimum wage for the Syrian refugees who can get jobs. There is a slightly different meaning in the headlines and in the story.     It is very trying for me to talk about women and the children of Syrian refugees. There are many cases of violence against women. Cases of second wives who are Syrian widows. Cases of prostitution. Some children do not go to school because of their work. On the other hand, when I went to the waterworks bureau to handle some paperwork for my move, I saw a middle-aged lady in the traditional national costume of Cappadocia. She was helping arrange the water procedures for a refugee who came to Turkey who could not understand the Turkish language. Her neighbors had prepared a room complete with furniture for the refugees to live in. That was very heartwarming.  We can easily see that Syrian refugees who were well-to-do in Syria are rich in Turkey too. But, problems about poverty cannot be solved so easily. Recently we can find many academic papers on refugees from Syria as a new theme.A paper examined the words for Syrian refugees which have been used in the media.The words which were used most were: ‘slave trade’, ‘illegal’, ‘cases of infectious diseases’, ‘betrayers of countries’, ‘beggars’, ‘families which have many children’. When I see such discourses in the media, I recall words such as ‘discrimination’ and ‘prejudice’ which non-European refugees or workers have experienced in European countries. For example, Turkey sent a lot of migrant workers to Germany in the 1950s, and Korean workers have also moved Germany.As time passed by Turkish people created new words to describe ‘Syrian people’ while labeling them as ‘the others’. From the viewpoint of Turkish people, “we can ill-treat them and feel a sense of superiority over ‘the others’”.  The word “Suriyelilier” means ‘the others’ for Turkish people, and represents what Indian people were for the English, or African people for the French.  We are ”good”, because it is the “Suriyelilier” before us who are “bad.”       Somehow, I cannot get used to this new word “Suriyelilier”. Somehow, I am concerned with the meaning of the word. We are neighboring countries and have similar cultures.We are all Muslim. I am sure that the teachings of Islam which loves all things is being forgotten in the Middle East now. SGRA Kawaraban 589 in Japanese (original)  (KABA Melek / Associate Professor, Oriental Culture, Nevsehir Hace Bektas Veli University (Turkey) )  Translated by Kazuo KawamuraEnglish checked by Sonja Dale
  • John Chuan Tiong Lim ”One Country, Two Systems”- Four Primary Factors For Non-Support by Taiwanese society –

     On January 2, 2019, Xi Jinping made his significant announcement about the “five principles” directed at the unification of Taiwan and China. It was a guideline for Taiwan by Beijing authorities in the “new era” of Xi Jinping.  In the wake of this announcement, Taiwanese media became a daily frenzy of debates and the issue was analyzed and commented on from various perspectives. The Taiwan issue, an old yet new issue, was heating up. However, what many people in Taiwan could not understand was why Beijing authorities adhered to “one country, two systems”, as the only system for the unification of cross-strait relations despite it never have been accepted in Taiwanese society for over forty years. ・Negative reactions in Taiwan against “one country, two systems”  The two major political parties (ruling and opposition) in Taiwan, expressed their different reactions against the unification outlined in Xi’s five principles(習五条). In the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Tsai Ing-wen herself stated that Taiwan absolutely would not accept the “one country, two systems” ideology, and said “we adhere to an opposition to “one country, two systems” as a will of the Taiwanese people, an absolute majority. This is the “Taiwanese Consensus.”” Her comments were not unexpected. What Beijing authorities focused their attention on was the attitude of the Nationalist Party headed by Wu Den-yih. On the day after the announcement of “Xi’s five principles”, they reacted by releasing a statement consisting of six clauses from the cultural diffusion committee in the Central Committee of the Party. According to their statement, they emphasized strongly that they support the “consensus of the year 1992 (92年コンセンサス)”. This means that both China and Taiwan recognize “one China,” but different interpretations of the expression “one China” are permitted. Mr. Wu, however, avoided direct reference to Xi’s definition of the “new content” of the “1992 consensus,” saying that “both sides endeavor toward the unification of China”. However, he indirectly rejected Xi’s proposal by saying that “at this stage, it would be difficult to get full support for “one country, two systems” from the majority of Taiwanese. Following this, public opinion surveys about “Xi’s Five Articles” and “peaceful unification, one country, two systems” were announced one after another. One survey, which was conducted and released by the Committee of Cross-Strait Policy think tank on January 9, showed 80.9% of Taiwanese were against “one country, two systems”. Only 13.7% were for the system. Shortly after, the Mainland Affairs Council held a press conference on January 17 to release the results of a public opinion survey. According to the Council, 75.4% of Taiwanese were against “one country, two systems” and only 10.2% were for the system. Moreover, 74.3% do not accept the content of the “1992 Consensus”, namely that “cross-strait areas belong to “One China” and both sides make efforts for unification”. Only 10% of citizens in Taiwan accepted the contents of the “1992 Consensus”. ・The impact of democratization and localization in Taiwan Since the 1990s, the Mainland Affairs Council as well as media outlets have conducted numerous opinion surveys of how Taiwanese people feel about “one country, two systems”. The number of respondents choosing “agree” has never exceeded 30%. We can examine the following four factors for “non-support” in Taiwan to “one country, two systems” from the results gathered over these forty years. Since the 1990s when Taiwanese society went through “localization (本土化)”, the majority of the public opinion has never supported unification. Before the 1990s, the Taiwanese Nationalist Party, as a surviving government of the Republic of China in 1949, set the “unification of China” as a national policy. This was followed by the “counter-attack (大陸反抗)” by Chiang Kai-shek and “Three Principles of the People(三民主義)” by Chiang Ching-kuo.  Up until the early period of Lee Teng-hui in the 1990s, there was a “National Unification Council” which set a “National Unification Party Platform”. However, after 1994, the recognition of Taiwanese people as “Chinese” underwent a change owing to the flourishing of the localization movement in Taiwan and promotion of constitutional reform. Under such political and social change, the ideology of cross-strait unification lost its mass appeal in Taiwan. Even when the Taiwanese Nationalist Party headed by Ma Ying-jeon returned to political power in 2008, neither the “National Unification Council” nor the “National Unification Party Platform” were revived, and the government adopted a policy to “not unify” in cross-strait policy. Taiwanese society understands that “one country, two systems” would lead inevitably to the disappearance of the “Republic of China”. This is not accepted by the Taiwanese Nationalist Party. There is still a clause in the charter of the Party which states that “there is no change in the consistent pursuit of our goal, prosperity and unification of our country”. This is consistent with the idea of the unification of the nation printed in the “National Unification Party Platform”. As it refers to national identity in terms of the national polity of the “Republic of China” as a country and for the pursuit of unification of China under the flag of the “Republic of China,” unification does not mean relinquishing the ideal of the “Republic of China”.The framework for unification outlined by the Beijing authority for “one country, two systems” is a logic of unification based on the disappearance of the Republic of China. It is hardly acceptable by “real” supporters of the Taiwan Nationalist Party.Accordingly, as far as the framework for “one country, two systems” does not include the possibility of returning to a “Republic of China”, the Nationalist Party would never change their attitude. It goes without saying that people in Taiwan who support the Nationalist Party, having been strongly affected by localization in Taiwan, would also never change their minds . ・Key Point:The Taiwan version of “One Country, Two Systems” and cross-strait positionality  Relations between the mainland and Taiwan in the framework of “one country, two systems” outlined by Xi Jinping are understood by many as a relation of “central government and local government”. After the political democratization of the 1990s, this proposition is hardly acceptable by Taiwanese society. The “one country, two systems” proposal for Taiwan submitted by Xi Jinping was an unfinished manuscript and not clear about relations between the mainland and Taiwan. 王英津, a mainland scholar, is seeking to understand the relation between the straits as a special and conditional relation of “central government and semi-government”. Such theories are based on the principle of “securing general sovereignty by the central government” which was proposed by a scholar in the Institute of Taiwanese Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Science. In other words, it would be very hard for major political parties and society in Taiwan to accept the idea of unification under “one country, two systems” if they are unable to show the possibility of a “central government and local government” relationship. Twenty years have already passed since “one country, two systems” took effect in Hong Kong. However, this case does not provide any successful examples for Taiwan. As you may know, “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong and Macao was a plan toward unification with Taiwan. The Beijing government understands “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong as a success, as Xi Jinping has commented at the 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong in 2017 as well as in the announcement of the five principles earlier this year. There is a gap, however, between such official governmental opinion and the actual feelings of people in Taiwan and Hong Kong. One can guess that even in Hong Kong people are losing their trust in “one country, two systems”.According to a survey by the Public Opinion Survey Project in Hong Kong University, in the year 1997, when Hong Kong was returned to China, 63.9% of Hong Kong citizens “trusted” “one country, two systems”. Only 18.5% did not trust the policy.However, according to a recent survey, 21 years after the enforcement of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong, only 45.5% of Hong Kong citizens responded that they “trust” the system. This figure of 45.5% is lower than the 46.9% who expressed “distrust.”  Moreover, the popular elections were unable to bring about a “soft landing,” and the “Occupy Central / Umbrella Revolution” which broke out in 2014 in Hong Kong made people in Taiwan distrust “one country, two system”. Nobody knows how “one country, two systems” in Taiwan will be presented in the future. As to factors which affect Taiwanese society negatively, as mentioned above, if the Beijing side is unable to change their stance and enact a bill which would be acceptable various groups in Taiwanese society including the Nationalist Party. If Beijing just one-sidedly wants the Taiwanese side to change their minds towards “one country, two systems” and the unification of both sides of the strait, it will remain wishful thinking.  SGRA Kawaraban 585 in Japanese (original)  (John Chuan-Tiong Lim / Researcher in Japan Research Institute in Taiwan, Chief of Japan Research Center, Wuhan University )    Translated by Kazuo KawamuraEnglish checked by Sonja Dale
  • Chang Kuei-E “The 3rd East Asia Consortium of Japanese Studies” Report on “Building a Research Network for Japanese Studies”

     The 3rd East Asia Consortium of Japanese Studies was held on October 27, 2018 in Kyoto.  As one of the panels in the conference, we had a panel discussion titled “Building a research network for Japanese studies: An Attempt by SGRA (Sekiguchi Global Research Association /Atsumi International Foundation).” This panel consisted of four presenters, two discussants and a chairperson.   We had an extensive discussion about how SGRA has attempted to build a network for Asian researchers of Japanese studies with the audience which consisted of people from all over the world. . Through looking back at the activities of SGRA since the year 2000 when we first started to establish a network of researchers of Japanese studies, this panel aimed to search for new approaches to pursue. We focused on activities run by SGRA such as the “Japan-Korea Asia Future Forum” (2001~), “Japan-Philippines Shared Growth Seminar “(2004~), “SGRA China Forum”(2006~), and “Japan-Taiwan Asia Future Forum”(2011~).  Through various opinions in such forums or seminars, we could share different views or viewpoints for establishing an “intellectual shared space (知の共同空間)” which can be shared and could also share problems and solutions as well as a vision for the future. During the Q and A session, we had a lively discussion together with the panel participants. I realized anew the keen interests of researchers and personally benefitted greatly from the session.  To start the panel, Prof. Liu Jie (Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University), the chair person, explained first the background and aims of this session and introduced the members. After the four presentations, the two discussants commented and we made time for their discussion.Prof. Liu raised questions such as “how can ‘Japanese studies’ be shared in Asia or in the world?” “how can we build a scheme of Japanese studies in East Asia?”. These opinions had also been raised at the 49th SGRA Forum in 2015 titled “Searching for the new paradigm of Japanese studies”. Prof. Liu himself foresaw and proposed building a network of Asian studies in order to encourage “Japanese studies” as “shared wisdom” in Asia, which can then be shared as an urgent issue. At the same time, he is an adviser for the Raccoon network and gives us comments on our course of actions. He, as a speaker, facilitated the session cheerfully and in an organized manner.     I summarize hereunder the points by the four presenters and the comments by the discussants. The first presenter was Prof. Kim Woong-Hee (Inha University/ Korea). He has been involved with establishing the “Japan Korea Asia Future Forum (JKAFF)” since 2001 and explained the activities of the JKAFF such as the formalities, contents and the extras throughout the past seventeen years. According to his explanation, JKAFF was established as a joint project by the (Korean) Center for Future Human Resource Study (未来人力研究院) / The 21st Century Japan Studies Group and SGRA / Atsumi International Foundation. At present, JKAFF offers opportunities for researchers of Japanese studies and specialists who are involved in actual fields to exchange their opinions about the future of Asia. He dynamically visualized this by using a graph of social statistics which he termed a “network of wisdom” built by Raccoons in Korea and the audiences of JKAFF.  The scientific and empirical basis for the data on the screen gave a strong impact on the audience, including the presenters. Prof. Kim was proud to discuss the successes that JKAFF had managed to achieve despite the unstable relationship between Japan and Korea.  At the same time, he had some misgivings about the present situation regarding how the theme of JKAFF is chosen as well as fostering young researchers to lead the next generation. These points need to be further considered. He stated that he would like to build a dynamic and practical “network for wisdom” which can correspond to cooperation between researchers in East Asia multi-laterally taking into consideration pluralistic and dynamic promotion systems. Korean Raccoon members, who are a treasure trove of Japanese studies experts, are working towards JKAFF. I strongly felt that Prof. Kim has a vivid image of the future of JKAFF in their diversity of themes, plural identities of operation, stable way of raising funds for operation, keeping budget for simultaneous interpreters and de-centralization of the network etc. The second presenter was Ferdinand C. Maquito, Associate Professor, University of the Philippines, Los Banos. He talked about the history, present and themes of the “Japan-Philippine Shared Growth Seminar” which was established in 2004 and fully supported by SGRA. Originally, the seminar was based on just the theme “shared growth,” in which economic growth and distribution proceeded simultaneously. After the year 2010, in cooperation with Prof. Gao Weijun (the University of Kitakyushu), an academic (including environmental issues) joint platform by Japan and the Philippines took shape. Afterwards, such environmental issues were taken up by researchers who had experience visiting Japan. In the past few years, these seminars have developed into “Durable Progressing Seminar by Japan and the Philippines” which aims at three goals: 1)environmental (durable) conservation,  2) fairness (jointly owned), and 3) efficiency (growth).  As the first letters of those three goals in the old Philippines language were “KA, KA, KA”, this seminar was nicknamed the “three “KA” seminar”.    After Prof. Maquito returned to the Philippines in 2017, he has promoted activities such as the “Shared Growth Seminar by Japan and the Philippines” in the Philippines in English. He appreciated having the opportunity to present about his activities in Japan in Japanese at the conference.  He gave his explanation, though hesitant and a little tense, simply and straightforwardly in his clear Japanese.  I thought it very successful.    Prof. Maquito was appointed as one of the people in charge at the 5th Asian Future Conference which will be held in January, 2020. He expressed his resolution for the comprehensive survey of the SGRA Philippines, holding onto the theme “Lasting shared growth:spiritual hometown for everybody and happiness for everybody”. He summed up his words by vigorously stating that he would like to do his best to contribute to the topic of “lasting shared growth” which is not only relevant to the Philippines but also the rest of the world.   The third presenter was Prof. Sun Jianjun (Associate Professor, School of Foreign Languages, Peking University).  As he has been managing the SGRA China Forum since 2006, he presented on the history, present, and problems of the Forum from the viewpoint of “searching for possibilities of reconstruction of the cultural history of the East Asia from cross-jurisdictional view point”. In the early period  (2006-2013), his activities were based at the universities in which Raccoons were based in China, which were a little less than twenty in number and based in Peking, Shanghai, Hohhot, Urumqi, Yan’an). He held meetings for the young (mainly university students) and introduced the transaction of public interest in Japan such as environmental issues and cultivation of human resources. The main purpose in these meetings was the sharing of intellectual information, cultivation of international viewpoints and harmonious personality.  The last presenter was Assistant Prof. Chang Kuei-e (Department of Japanese Language and Literature, Soochow University (Taiwan)). She introduced activities by Taiwan Raccoon members, looking back at the course of history (details, the present and topics) of JTAFF (Japan-Taiwan Asia Future Forum) which was established around 2010.She explained also that JTFFA developed a unique and flexible form of intellectual and cultural exchange that suits their needs.  JTFFA forums have looked at issues such as language, culture, literature, education, history, society and regional exchange. Through such discussions, JTFFA aims at the development of scientific exchange between Japan and Taiwan and to deepen Japanese studies in Taiwan through fostering young researchers. At the same time, they aim to envision a future for Asia where the young can hold dreams and hopes. JTFFA was established just after the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and was supported also by the friendly atmosphere of Japan and Taiwan. They are also financially well off because they are supported not only by universities and the public sector in Taiwan but also by Japanese companies in Taiwan.  The seven Taiwan Raccoons who are responsible for the JTFFA, specialize in different fields and based on their pluralistic and scholarly fields had to work creatively together. On a long-term basis, if we cannot establish any concrete targets which can be approached easily, in other words, if we cannot establish a sustainable vision of an “intellectual common space(知の共同空間)“, we are forced to fall into a sense of impending crisis which dries up our inspiration and ideas our activities.  What we strongly expect from each Taiwan Raccoon is positive participation in an international scientific exchange. They have to develop our forum from a long-term perspective and tackle difficult themes from an integral viewpoint. They have to have interest in historical, political and social issues between Japan and Taiwan and also have to have a high-level of knowledge and the ability to look into such issues deeply.   Following the four presentations, we received feedback from specialists in the field.As the first discussant, Prof. Shigemi Inaga (International Research Center for Japanese Studies and the Graduate University for Advanced Study), commented as follows:He referred to the International Research Center for Japanese Studies which he belongs to, and how their impact on international exchange is far from that of SGRA, which,  though a non-governmental body, manages to remain largely “international.”  He stated that the International Research Center could learn from the strategies used by SGRA.Given the anxiety that scholars have about linguistic problems in submitting papers for international conferences, he showed his agreement in how SGRA adopted the forums in China, Korea and Taiwan. These forums are supported by simultaneous interpretation (the three “KA” seminars were an exception because English is an official language in the Philippines). Finally, he ended his comments by saying that:・It is urgent to consider what Japanese Studies is and what value it should have.・How to build platforms of results, knowledge and interpretation of Japanese studies in East Asian countries (non-Japanese speaking counties) which were discussed throughout the four presentations in this Forum?・How to situate the field of “Japanese Studies”? The next discussant was President ,  Prof. Shyu Shing Ching(Chinese Culture University Foreign Language, Japanese Literature)who summed up the four presentations mentioned above and gave us his impressions and comments as follows:・In the “three KA” Seminars, in the Philippines, they successively took up environmental or natural issues, or fair redistribution of economic profit withstanding against the power of the time.・In the Chinese Forum, they experimented with innovative ideas which focused on rebuilding cultural exchange in the arts and cultures of Japan and China.Both countries have had strong connections in their cultural history.・In the JKAFF, they could realize a sense of solidarity by having the forum mutually between Japan and Korea.・At the first JTAFF, President, Prof. Shyu himself, as a promotor, made use of his own individual style. He could show the potential power of Taiwan as a pluralistic cultural society which has the ability to respond flexibly to social issues.He gave comments encouraging us and pointed out that Raccoons in their own countrieshave succeeded in developing their own activities catered to their own situations and needs.  Prof. Liu Jie, as the chairperson, gave brief comments for each presentation and receivedmany questions from the audience. We exchanged opinions on a wide range of issues. Questions started with enquiries aboutthe activities of the Atsumi International Foundation, Other questions include questionsabout how to apply for funds for projects which would be held in countries other than the four countries presented about and know-how about setting up a common place for Raccoon members to exchange their opinion’. In response to those questions, our Director Ms. Imanishi as well as other Raccoons in the hall explained or advised.From the buzzing atmosphere in the conference room alone, we could experience theimportance of conferences such as this about Japanese studies which can establish intellectual exchange by encouraging academic and cross-cultural dialogue.  All the Raccoon members who have returned to their home countries - Korea, thePhilippines, China and Taiwan - after graduation are so-called “Japan experts”.They have accumulated their know-how for intellectual exchange through theiractivities in their own organizations. I am convinced that such know-how can be broughtinto an international exchange of intellectual information and give birth to new energy.  I hope that this energy can be taken in by international facilitators and extended to international networks and create a renewable cycle of intellectual exchange. I participated in this conference as a panelist and a presenter and gained many newfruitful experiences and precious memories.  Through exchanging opinions with otherRaccoon members and understanding their situations and efforts in their own countries,I hope to develop an innovative approach and convey my understanding of developingour networks of researchers of Japanese studies to my friends in Taiwan.At this conference, I came to realize the meaning and necessity of forming consensusthrough conversation.   Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity to participate, and thank you to all the discussants, presenters and to the chair person. Photos of the Day Resume of Prof. Kim Woong-HeeResume of Prof. Ferdinand C. MaquitoResume of Prof. Sun JianjunResume of Chang Kuei-e Refer to SGRA News (2019, January 24 ) in Japanese (Chang_Kuei-E/Associate Professor, Department of Japanese Language and Literature, Soochow University(Taiwan)) Translated by Kazuo KawamuraEnglish checked by Sonja Dale
  • Chen Yan ‘ Report on the 12th SGRA China Forum “The Potential of Exchange of Japan-China Movies” ‘

     Forty years have passed since the Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed. This May, the “Film Co-production Agreement between the Government of Japan and the Government of the People’s Republic of China” became effective. Though we expected further progress in cooperation in the production of movies between both countries, it has been a cold winter for the movie industry in China. There have been fears about the Chinese government checking tax payments by people in the movie industry severely in order to reorganize the movie industry. As the SGRA China Forum was held in such an atmosphere on November 24, 2018, it moved us very deeply. The Forum was held in the Yifu Public Hall of Renmin University of China under the theme “Potential of Exchange of Japan-China Movies”. Different from past China Forums, the theme of movies is very popular now. I thought it was an excellent opportunity to understand the histories of movie exchange from specific viewpoints not only for researchers and movie fans but also the young who know names such as “Takakura Ken” from listening to their parents’ conversations.   During the Forum, we focused on searching for the potential reconstruction of histories of East Asia from various viewpoints and tried to clarify the historical aspects of cultural effects or interference. We also emphasized the importance of the construction of historical and general viewpoints in East Asian cultural exchange. Based on these aims, starting from the planning stage, we invited specialists in each field in order to understand the impact of Japanese movies on China and vice versa. And we could materialize for the first time the so-called “Listening Comparison (聴き比べ)” between two specialists of the Japanese and Chinese movie histories, inviting Prof. Karima Fumitosi (Honorable Professor, The University of Tokyo) , Japanese specialist for the history of Chinese movies and Mr. Wan Zhongyi(the chief editor of “People’s China”)Chinese specialist for Japanese movies. Prof. Chen Quijia, Vice President, School of Liberal Arts、Renmin University of China, representing the co-organizers, gave an opening speech. As a fan of movies he has been conducting research on Japanese Manga-animation for ten years, and has expectations for such a theme. Ms. Imanishi, representing the Atsumi Foundation, followed and explained the details of the Forum. Prof. Karima introduced criticism in detail about the introduction of Chinese movies into the Japanese market, under the title “What did Chinese movies produce for Japan, the past, present and future”. Recently, by new “contact” by increasing number of Chinese tourists to Japan, contents of anti-Japanese drama which handled Japanese army are being criticized. People say “we will not be cheated because we know the real Japan now.” Japanese side also came to know the real China through seeing Chinese tourists in Japan. Since a very long time ago when we could not have any chance to “contact”, movies have been playing such a role in creating impressions of each other. In fact, the first Chinese Movie Week took place in Japan in 1977. At that time, Chinese loved Japanese movies passionately. On the other hand, when Japanese people saw Chinese movies such as “Dongfang hong (東方虹)、”Eternal Glory to the Great Leader and Teacher Mao Zedong (especially the scene of the funeral ceremony of Zhou Enlai), which reflected the atmosphere of the time, they were shocked.  After this period, however, Japanese audiences got to know another China, which was not broadcast by the news but rather through movies along the flow of time. Prof. Karima has stimulated also his interest in China through his work on subtitling Chinese movies at screening parties. During the period, from the latter part of 1977 to 1980, this image that “the common people in China lived a poor life (especially in farming area), but they persevered to live strong” became solid in the minds of Japanese audiences. He presumes that Chinese movies, which describe present Chinese society, did not become popular in Japan because of the strong preconceptions of Japanese viewers.        The cinematic style in movie pictures in China at that time influenced Japanese movie directors like Mr. Nagisa Oshima, and people in the movie world in both China and Japan began to talk very often and communicate with each other. For example, Mr. Oshima’s point of view, from the non-sufferer perspective stimulated Chinese movie director Chen Kaige. Chen came back to story-telling and went on to produce “Farewell My Concubine,” which was a masterpiece of the 1990s. Japanese companies, which were involved in the production of Chinese movies directly by having Japanese engineers, started their own movie companies in China. Japanese actors also began to be active in China. The biggest change in the co-production of movies during these 40 years, besides the fact that they changed the location of movies to China, was that the depiction of relations between Japanese and Chinese in movies became very non-discriminatory and intimate.  Historical viewpoints by Japanese movie directors gave Chinese movies a new means of interpretation and opened up new possibilities. The “Film Co-production Agreement between the Government of Japan and the Government of the People’s Republic of China” was signed this year. Prof. Karima expects that exchange and cooperation between the Japanese and Chinese movie industries will develop further.        In contrast to Prof. Karima’s presentation, Mr. Wang Zhongyi discussed the background of the movie world precisely under the theme “Japanese movies in China – Interfusion, Interchange, and Cooperation”, how movies expressed imagined sceneries of Chinese people and how Japanese movies influenced China.” In short, Japanese movies stimulated Chinese audiences and technical aspects of the movie world. The contents of Japanese movies left a deep impression on Chinese people. During the 1950s, in the early stages of the movie industry of New China, Japanese had already started taking part in the production of Chinese movies. For historical reasons, Shanghai movies were heavily influenced by America and movies in the North-East area inherited the tradition of Japanese movies. The most famous one was “The White Haired Girl” (1950) by Changchun film studios. In Japan, this film was opened to the public in the 1950s and Matsuyama Ballet produced the ballet version of it. Japanese documentaries about the effects of rapid economic growth such as social or environmental problems also made people in China consider these issues. After conclusion of the Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1978, the Japanese movie boom took root in China and Japanese movies are being talked about even now. Through Japanese movies, Chinese audiences came to know about fashion, sceneries, daily lives and social issues in Japan. An image of a hero in a Japanese movie, which could not be seen in Chinese movies, won the hearts and minds of Chinese audiences and a Japanese movie star, who was at the height of his popularity, was born in China. This was Ken Takakura. His movie,“Kimi-yo, Hunnu no Kawa-wo Watare”「君よ憤怒の河を渉れ」(no English title) has been shown on screens many times in the past forty years and continues to have much influence even today. The place where the film is set became a so-called “Pilgrimage to the Holy Land” for Chinese people. Hokkaido, which is where the film by Yoji Yamada, a very famous Japanese movie director, is set has also been featured in Chinese movies many times. However, Mr. Wang emphasized that “the Homeland” for Japanese is the Seto Inland Sea. So, if Japanese and Chinese companies jointly produced a film at the Seto Inland Sea, considering our common culture of “Nasake (sympathy)” the films would be a sure hit.    .       Since the 1980s, events for cultural exchange for people in the movie world and films or dramas through joint production of both countries continued to be produced. “Bo-Kyou no Hoshi”「望郷之星(no English title)」 which was produced in collaboration with NHK and the preface of which was written by Deng Xiaoping, and “Daichi no Ko”「大地の子(no English title)」was based on a Japanese novel received good public response. Recently in the “Internet Era”, there have been a few cases where Japanese movies received an award abroad and became very popular in China first, and after that were released on the Japanese market. Prof. Wang said that we can expect further collaboration not only in movies and dramas but in stage productions, anime as well as games. We had a panel discussion after the talks by the two professors. Prof. Li Daoxin, Peking University, Dr. Qin Lan, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Prof. Zhou Yue, Beijing  Language and Culture University, Dr. Chen Yan, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and Prof. Lin Shaoyang, the University of Tokyo took to the stage. Due to the limited time, they could not have a deep discussion but could share their own understandings and research on the cultural exchange of movies in Japan and China. Dr. Qin shared his educational experience in contemporary literature. Prof. Zhou analyzed works by Koreeda Hirokazu, Japanese movie director and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Chinese movie director. Dr. Chen examined the common market of Japanese movies and anime. Prof. Li, specialist in the history of Chinese movies, appreciated the lectures and remarked that “conversations between Japanese ‘geeks’ for Chinese movies and Japan experts in Chinese media people were very unique (curious) and were rich in content”. Prof. Lin talked about the cooperation between intellectuals in Japan and China, adaptation to Japanese of Chinese historical materials and the image of China in Japan.     Since young students in their twenties who were present had never seen Japanese movies from the nineties or before then. they thought that Ken Takakura, a movie star in Japanese movies, was just an idol for their parents’ generation. Through this forum, however, they came to know the histories of exchange between Japanese and Chinese movies. Inspired by this forum, they may start to study Japanese and Chinese cultural exchange, one which for a new generation is based on Manga and anime. I am looking forward to the future of exchange between Japanese and Chinese movies and to the exchange of academic research based on it.                Photos of the Day Refer to SGRA News (2019, January 10) in Japanese  (Chen Yan / Doctoral Course in Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo)  Translated by Kazuo KawamuraEnglish checked by Sonja Dale
  • Sim Woohyang ” SGRA Forum #61 Report : Globalization of higher education in Japan”

    We had the 61st SGRA Forum titled “Globalization of higher education in Japan!?” was held on October 13, 2018. In Japan today, the cultivation of human resources is promoted aggressively under the keywords “studying abroad” and “English education”. We started off by discussing the present situation of the globalization of human resources which was based on “studying abroad” and “English education”.  We had a constructive discussion about the future, and this was a topic that people from different fields such as the university, government and private sector were all interested in. The venue was crowded with university teachers, Japanese university students, foreign students and people from companies.The number of participants exceeded seventy people. Professor Zhang Jian, Tokyo Denki University opened the event, which was followed by the opening remarks from Ms. Junko Imanishi, Executive Director of the Atsumi International Foundation. Firstly, Sim Woohyang, a research associate at Waseda University, raised issues based on the globalization of universities through sending and receiving students and the cultivation of global human resources. She pointed out that despite vigorous encouragement and financial support from the government, the period of studying abroad is limited and too short. She raised a question about the effectiveness of such short periods of studying abroad in the cultivation of global human resources and the effective and practical use of international exchange in campus life. Her question was based on the results of a survey conducted with students at Waseda University.  Next, Professor Aya Yoshida, Waseda University, gave a presentation about “Globalization in the field of Japanese higher education and its present situation and future directions”. She explained precisely about changes in the cultivation of global human resources from companies to societies, from societies to the nation, and then to universities. She discussed how, with such changes, the image of global human resources has also changed.  After this, she explained how long term studying abroad is becoming very sluggish and short term studying abroad (or overseas training), on the contrary, is increasing. What she liked to point out is that the present employment system of Japanese companies is inconsistent with the present Japanese aim of “co-existence with foreign people” and “globalization of Japanese companies”.     In neighboring country Korea, on the other hand, studying abroad is very active.We invited Professor Sin Jung-Cheol, Seoul National University, and requested him to speak about “the present situation of Korean university students and an analysis of its causes,” which was the title of his presentation. He pointed out that the number of Korean university students studying abroad has been increasing since the nineties and this rate has remained unchanged. He explained the reasons for the increasing number of Korean students who went abroad but also pointed out that the purposes of studying abroad from Korea are diversifying every year.Korea is enjoying an excessive boom in studying abroad while Japan, on the contrary, is worried about the decrease in studying abroad. He ended his lecture by proposing how the cultivation of global human resources, which does not always rely only on studying abroad, but rather is based on present social and economic situation, ought to be. After these presentations and the questions that followed them, we had a panel discussion facilitated by Professor Sim Choon Kiat, Associate Professor of Showa Women’s University. Anecdotal reports from several Japanese universities were presented, followed by a discussion with participants. First, Professor Izumi Sekizawa, Associate Professor of Higashi Nippon International University, gave a presentation about a program for studying abroad at a small-scale local university. Professor. Sekizawa introduced a case in which the short term program led to actual studying abroad but raised a problem for the purpose of promoting studying abroad in that for students at a local university, high costs make it difficult for students to participate.     Next, Murat Cakir, Assistant Professor Kansai Gaidai University, introduced the curriculum at Kansai Gaidai University for developing global human resources and reported on its practice and outcome. He also discussed another program which, utilizing interactions between foreign students in an English language class, brought up global human resources without students having to go abroad.  He brought up the need to look into providing better career guidance for students, an issue that came up in a survey of university students. Lastly, Dr. Kim Bumsu, Specially Appointed Professor of Tokyo Gakugei University, discussed the educational consortium of his private-sector institution and their attempt to bring about international educational cooperation through the program of short-term studying abroad to Korea.  He also introduced international joint undertakings across borders and suggested some systems or methods for developing global human resources hereafter. During the free discussion, we had an active exchange of opinions between participants and speakers. One Japanese student shared her opinions about studying abroad based on her own experiences and asked some questions about the situation in Korea.  A woman working for a personnel management company raised a question about the company’s effort and attitude. Participants who have studied abroad shared their difficulties and possible solutions through exchanging thoughts with Japanese students. We had to extend the forum because there were so many questions and opinions. The heated discussion raised our awareness of these issues, and made us think about the definition of global human resources, the appropriate state of modern societies in which globalization is progressing, and the way of life in such societies. Photo of the day Report in Japanese (Original)  (Sim Woohyang / 2017 Raccoon, Doctoral Course in Educational Societies, Waseda University)  Translated by Kazuo Kawamura              English checked by Sonja Dale
  • Lindsay Ray Morrison “Fukushima Study Tour :Our old home is made of earth (soil)”

    I visited Iitate Village as a member of the SGRA Fukushima Study Tour from May 25 to 27, 2018, early in the summer.  As it was my third visit to Iitate, I felt comfortable and at ease, and came back to Tokyo feeling refreshed and healed by the nature in Iitate rather than taking it as a “serious study tour”. Whenever I go to Iitate, I feel more and more relieved by the lessening risk of danger.Especially this time, as I did not bring a dosimeter I could feel more at ease. If I had brought a dosimeter, my consciousness would be fraught by thinking about the danger around me. I recall feeling courageous upon arrival in Iitate in the past, but upon taking out the dosimeter I would start to get tense. Iitate Village has changed a lot compared with my last visit. We could see newly built buildings here and there and a new highway as well. The village was busy with construction work. Such construction seems to be done in order to use the reconstruction budget, and I do hope that they will be beneficial to the villagers. I still have doubts as to whether such construction projects are for the benefit of construction companies, and not for the benefit of villagers. If that is the case, then it is not true restoration. Only 700 villagers have returned to Iitate. However, most of them return during the day only and live elsewhere at night. Mr. Muneo Kanno (Chief of Agriculture Committee of Iitate) regrets that reconstruction countermeasures by the government were not sufficient for the villagers who wanted to return.  He is concerned about taxpayers’ precious money which will be wasted and not used for reconstruction.. I wonder whether the young villagers really want to return. There are not few who do not want to return after having settled down in evacuation destinations or other villages. According to Mr. Eitoku Kanno, “when a road is completed, the area becomes weaker”.  What he meant was that when an exit is completed, the young will move out in search of a more convenient life. He could not understand the difference of such values between generations. He understands people who get out of villages have to live an uneasy life bound by money, because people can live in towns with enough money. In the case of farmers, they can live if they have water, air and soil (land). He said “I cannot understand why the young want to live a life in towns, a life which clings to money”. And he, feeling responsible, regretted that the young had left the village because he could not succeed in maintaining the culture of the village or passing down the importance of their history. After we listened to Mr. Kanno’s thoughts, we, as SGRA members, discussed how to restore Iitate and proposed cultural events which might lead to the restoration of the village. Mr. Kanno taught us many things. “In the past, there was a festival which gathered more than 30 thousand people at Yamatumi Shrine. This shrine was built 970 years ago and became a central symbol of Iitate.  According to the historical records of the shrine, a white fox appeared in a dream of Yoriyosi Minamoto (a samurai, 988-1075) and Yamatumi Shrine became a symbol of the cult of the fox. Before the Meiji era, there were a lot of such shrines alongside the Pacific coast. But, after the Meiji era, the number of the shrines in which the fox is enshrined decreased. During festivals at Yamatumi Shrine, “Shishimai”  (Japanese lion dance) used to be performed. However, after a crop failure once the Shishimai performance was stopped.” We had a party on Saturday night, and there we met Mr. Kenta Sato, an assemblyman of Iitate, He said he wants to revive ”Kagura” sacred music and dance. He thought that if festivals or cultural activities such as “ Kagura” were revived and brought back, Iitate would be restored. As his idea was similar to ours, we, Mr. Kato and SGRA members agreed that it would be good if festivals or dances with a connection to folklore or history could be established. A shrine is not only the center of annual events, but it shows relations through blood and local community. As a shrine is, at the same time, the symbol of regionalism, it would be best if we could start a new Iitate event centered around Yamatumi Shrine. The experience of rice-planting this time left a deep impression on me. Eleven years have already passed since I came to Japan, but this was my first experience of rice-planting. The rice-field was muddier than I expected and it was very hard for me to walk in such a muddy field. However, when I touched the soft and rich nourishing soil, a feeling of pleasantness and comfort came over me. Though I have atopy, the soil did not seem to affect my hand and in fact I thought it made it better.  Exercising and breathing outside, touching the soil – these experiences made me once again realize the healing power of nature After rice-planting, we had “SANABURI”, a kind of naorai (feast). Naorai is an event in which people share their offerings after a festival and SANABURI is also a feast after rice-planting in which people pray for a good harvest and give offerings to the God of rice fields and enjoy dinner while exchanging “sake”. When I lied down in my room after coming back to Tokyo on Sunday evening, I had a strange feeling. I still had the feeling of rice-planting in my legs, the feeling of walking in the soft and muddy field after standing on hard pebbled ground. This feeling of rice-planting remains in my body. It is like the feeling I get when I swim during the day – at night I still feel that I was swimming. It made me consider how the way a person moves and works could permeate into their body. I could not easily remove the soil which stuck to my skin or the reverse side of my nails, not even by washing with soap. I thought it strange how I usually do not touch the soil  and recalled what a real estate agent had told me. When I shared a room in Tokyo a few years ago, he told me that the small front yard of our house would be covered with concrete soon, using the word “clean” to describe this. I felt strong antipathy toward the word “clean” for “concrete”. Is it truly clean up to cover soil with concrete?This may be usual for people who live in cities now.   Nowadays, people are departing from touching soil. It may be true that it is unnecessary for people to touch soil. But, is this the only experience that we have lost?Is there anything else besides soil what we have forgotten? As I have lived in the city for a long time, my body has become accustomed to city life. The smell of city life has sunk into our bodies. As Mr. Kanno said, I also feel guilty of my life which I live for money and consumption. I hope the young rice seedlings which I planted will grow without problem. I am filled with both worry and anticipation. I look forward to visiting Iitate again.  SGRA Kawaraban 582 in Japanese (Original)  (Lindsay Ray Morrison /  Assistant Professor, Faculty of Humanities, Musashi University)  Translated by Kazuo KawamuraEnglish checked by Sonja Dale
  • Mailisha ”Fukushima Study Tour : Collaboration Circle”

     I joined the SGRA Fukushima Study Tour for the first time on May 25,2018.Every year, since 2012, SGRA (Atsumi International Foundation) has been continuing to organize study tours to Iitate Village in Fukushima, which is an area affected by the nuclear power station accident. Before I left Tokyo, I had read opinion pieces and impressions written by other SGRA members who had visited Iitate, and I thought that Iitate would still be in harsh conditions.  We visited Iitate under the guidance of Mr. Yoichi Tao, President of the “Resurrection of Fukushima”. One year has already passed since Iitate inhabitants began to return to the village.Frankly speaking, I had a feeling that this beautiful “SATOYAMA “ (village-vicinity mountains) are on the verge of extinction.  And, it was my strong impression on the first day that the “Resurrection of Fukushima” is trying to solve some very difficult problems.  Generally speaking, in rural areas in Japan, people are worrying about depopulation and aging.  In areas affect by the nuclear power accident, such fears are escalated.   During the tour, I was surprised by how many people were going in and out of the area frequently. I saw a lot of people who came from other areas. On Saturday, a miracle occurred in a depopulated area in which most of the inhabitants were senior citizens. Many people of different ages and from different fields visited the activity base of “Resurrection of Fukushima” located in the area called Sasu for rice-planting the next day.  I got the strong impression that the power to change the future is born in places where many people get together. In the Sasu area, collaboration for development of decontamination works and growing tests of farm products by villagers, specialists and volunteers started three months after the accident. Together with other participants, villagers have been growing rice throughout the year, starting from planting seeds, rice-planting and harvesting. A circle of collaboration has formed through connecting people, and is growing ever wider. People get together every Saturday and Sunday at the activity base of “Resurrection of Fukushima” . We met volunteers from the Saitama Prefectural Konosu-High School and university students of circles from the University of Tokyo. Creative activities which collaborate with universities are being developed. I thought the resurrection of farmland  or activation of rural community from a villager’s perspective would be possible through collaborations with the University of Tokyo or Meiji University.     These “circles” which create connections or links with people are now creating new possibilities for the succession of histories and cultures, and are not limited to environmental preservation. There are a few examples of this. Cooperation in the restoration project of the painting of a wolf on the ceiling of the hall of worship in Yamatumi-shrine in Iitate village, the preservation and practical usage of schoolhouses which have been built in the Meiji era, and a project for the succession of Miso--paste etc.. I had a feeling that such sustained exchanges and collaborations would contribute to establish a system of “Resurrection (of homeland)”.I, as a foreigner, was encouraged very much by this development of social activities and the establishment of social value by various bodies. Iitate is known as one of the most beautiful villages in Japan. I have encountered an unbelievably beautiful scene in Iitate - “collaboration circles” which are encouraged and promoted by creating connections.I was deeply impressed by the links of people here.I would like to come to this beautiful village again.  SGRA Kawaraban 580 in Japanese (Original)  (Mailisha / Professor, Faculty of International Studies, Showa Women’s’ University)   Translated by Kazuo KawamuraEnglish checked by Sonja Dale
  • Page 1 of 212