Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

International Cultural Exchange in the Post-Covid-19 World and the New Trends in Japanese Studies
HARA Hideki / Director, Americas Section, Department of Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange, The Japan Foundation

December 1, 2020
The COVID-19 crisis has placed Japan’s international cultural exchange at a critical crossroads. Cultural exchange, which presupposes people’s cross-border movement, has come to a virtually halt. ‘Alone Together - Reimagining International Exchange in post-COVID Japan’, Japan Foundation’s new online video series, has been put together as part of our ad hoc response to this difficult situation, but turned out to be a successful initiative in terms not only of its popularity, but also of the insights it has presented on international cultural exchange.

In this video series, several Japan Foundation Fellows (early- or mid-career researchers on Japan invited by the Foundation on a scale of 150 individuals each year), who stayed in Japan in the middle of the crisis, either by choice or force of circumstances, share their personal experience and thoughts on the impact of this crisis on their own research and, more generally, on the Japanese society. One of the first things we realized was that almost all of the Fellows we interviewed happened to be cultural anthropologists. This was not necessarily a big surprise as we all know anthropologists have a natural propensity to remain in the “field” no matter what, but it was still impressive as it certainly outlines a general trend of the study on Japan lately - shifting focus from politics and economy to social norms and lifestyle. It would be short-sighted, however, to interpret this shift as another sign of ‘Japan passing’, or the diminution of Japan’s presence in the world. It would be fair to say that the politics and economy of Japan are already so closely intertwined in the international community that analysis and understanding in the global context have become prerequisite. Rather, it should be understood as an increased desire on the part of the researchers to delve deeper into what goes on underneath–the ways people think, behave, and relate to each other.

Our first featured Fellow in the series, an American researcher, has been tracking the ever-changing ethnographic fabrics of Kabukicho, an entertainment district in Shinjuku, Tokyo, based on his extensive interviews with the ‘locals’ with a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. (https://youtu.be/JzJpQ63BsVA)As fascinating as his discoveries are, he admits behind the camera that his research topic was initially received with puzzlement from his Japanese colleagues as the district may not be the most ‘authentically Japanese’ location. It is noteworthy, however, that multicultural coexistence has become a topic of international academic discourse on Japan after a long history of its being mislabeled as a homogeneous nation. Unlike decades ago, it may be that overseas researchers can address with less bias the question of what being Japanese means. Moreover, these efforts to comprehend Tokyo as it stands could unlock the future potential of Japanese studies as a cross-disciplinary research field that engages a wide variety of specialists on, say, immigration, human rights, and urban studies on a global scale.

Reinterpretation of Japan as a ‘normal,’ rather than special, nation can yield a practical merit for the country’s diplomacy as well. Many people still remember the long lines of the tsunami survivors patiently waiting for their share of shelter food after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. The globally televised episode was received with a sense of awe and deep admiration from other nations, as it was reported within Japan. In some countries, however, there were skeptical reports that described the scene of people queuing up with smiles on their face even in time of crisis as a sign of their robotic, blind obedience, devoid of emotions, to authorities. It was the Japan specialists in those countries then who, through their Op-Ed columns and TV appearances, refuted the stereotyping by arguing that people were just as devastated and panicked as anybody in a similar situation, but were trying to maintain their composure and not cry out loud, out of empathy for those who found themselves in much more tragic situations.

These days some pundits in Japan are visibly seen to be appealing to popular feelings by touting Japanese exceptionalism on a host of issues. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that there are Japan experts overseas who focus on the universal traits that Japan shares with other countries and conduct researches that would help dispel the misunderstandings and prejudices that exist in the international community about Japan and the Japanese society.

Hideki Hara is Director of Americas Section in the Department of Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange of The Japan Foundation.

The English-Speaking Union of Japan

原 秀樹 / 国際交流基金日本研究知的交流部米州チーム長

2020年 12月 1日
新型コロナウィルスの蔓延により、日本の国際文化交流は大きな岐路に立たされている。そもそも国際文化交流は人々が国境を越えて交流してこそ成り立つものであるのに、それがほぼ全面的にストップしてしまったからだ。この状況下で国際交流基金(The Japan Foundation)が始めたオンライン配信シリーズ【ポストコロナ日本における「分断」と「交流」】は半ば苦肉の策として生まれた企画ではあったが、予想以上の反響を得たばかりか、今後の国際文化交流を考える上で重要な気付きを与えてくれた。





一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > International Cultural Exchange in the Post-Covid-19 World and the New Trends in Japanese Studies