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

Development of Japanese Studies in the Nordic Countries
TANAMI Tatsuya / Vice-Chairman, Scandinavia-Japan Sasakawa Foundation (Special Advisor, The Nippon Foundation)

January 12, 2023
The Scandinavia-Japan Sasakawa Foundation (SJSF) was established in Stockholm, Sweden, with funding from the Nippon Foundation in 1984, with the aim to promote academic, scientific, and cultural exchanges between Japan and the Nordic countries. Since 2019, it has been conducting a project, “Development of Contemporary Japanese Studies in the Nordic Countries” in five countries, namely, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, to enhance Japanese studies at the universities in the five countries.

Many people in the Nordic countries are keenly interested in Japan and a large number of people there study the Japanese language. Among high school and university students, Japan’s popular culture such as manga and anime are highly popular. Japanese advanced research on science and technology in such fields as AI and robotics also attracts many students. In spite of all these, Japan’s presence is still very weak and Japan seems to be underestimated. This may be partly because of the relative decline in Japan’s political and economic presence on the global scene in recent years. However, the Nordic countries and Japan share the same value orientations that cherish peace-building, democracy, rule of law, environmental protection, etc., and there is much that the Nordic countries can learn from Japan, which has grappled since early on with challenges common to developed countries, on how to address issues such as aging and low birthrate. It is hoped that more information and knowledge on Japan will be disseminated and shared in the Nordic societies. For that, the promotion of Japanese studies and language teaching at universities plays a crucial role.

What prompted the SJSF to initiate this new program focusing on Japanese studies was the survey report conducted by the Nippon Foundation in 2016 on the status of Japanese studies at Nordic universities. According to the survey, courses and programs in Japanese studies were offered at some twenty of the more than one hundred universities and higher educational facilities in the Nordic region. At several universities, there was a focus on language studies, but at the larger universities, where programs were offered for MA and Ph.D. in Japanese studies, language was only a complementary, albeit necessary part of larger humanities and social science subjects, such as East Asian or intercultural studies.

However, at that time, the survey revealed that the administrative and financial difficulties of the universities had resulted in the lowering of the priority of the Japanese studies courses. It has been made difficult to maintain the courses, which were verging on a crisis such as the closure of existing courses or the reduction in the number of Japanese language classes. The number of students who desired to attend Japanese studies courses was actually greater than those who were interested in Chinese or Korean studies. However, the number of classes that the universities could offer in Japanese studies was at times lower than that for Chinese or Korean studies. A general tendency seemed to be that the universities, from the viewpoint of management, felt a need to offer more courses related to China and Korea than to Japan due to the perceived global presence of China and Korea whose governments gave financial support to the establishment and maintenance of these courses. This still seems largely to be the case despite the recent tendency of distancing away from China.

Under such critical circumstances, the recommendations made by the survey report indicated that the area most in need of financial support was the fostering of the next generation of first-rate specialists on Japan. In the Nordic countries, tuition is free for BA and MA students and there is no need to assist them financially. However, it is important to have a sufficient number of courses and programs in Japanese studies for them to acquire the requisite knowledge of Japan. For that, more courses must be established with qualified teachers. And in order to have such qualified teachers, more opportunities must be provided for researchers to pursue Ph.D. courses.

In response to these recommendations, the project initiated by the SJSF and the Nippon Foundation offered, 1) the creation of Japanese studies lectureships, 2) the provision of research grants for Ph.D. students’ field research in Japan, and 3) the financing of the networking meetings of the Japan scholars and researchers in the Nordic countries. The more teachers who can teach Japanese study courses are employed, the more learning opportunities there will be for the students. As the teachers teach BA and MA students and do their own research at the same time, more fruits will be borne in both the education and research of Japanese studies.

In response to the call for applications launched in 2018, as many as nine universities have established new lectureships in Japanese studies. The Japanese Studies program at these universities has developed well despite the pandemic years, and in the six academic semesters since July 2019, the nine appointed Sasakawa lecturers have taught 109 courses, taught more than 3,512 students, and supervised over 81 student theses/projects. Some 20 Research Grant scholarships have been awarded since 2019 to 17 individual applicants.

Motivated by this initial support from the foundations, the nine universities have promised to maintain the lectureships with their own fund after the initial five-year commitment of the grant is over. As a result of this development, the 2021 survey conducted by SJSF showed a steady increase in BA and MA students in Japanese studies. This great achievement was made possible not only by financial support from outside sources but also by the dedicated efforts made by the faculty and administrators of the universities. They are pushing the university management forward toward new directions for Japanese studies to flourish. Another successful result of this project is the increase in the exchanges of both information and individual researchers among the universities. A new community of Japan scholars and researchers has come into existence and is being strengthened.

This example of the Nordic countries is just one example. A similar project has been put in place by the Nippon Foundation and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation in the UK. In order for Japanese studies to grow and for Japan to be better understood in the world, more support and cooperation from Japanese society are called for. Naïve as it may sound, the better understanding the people in the world have of Japan, the more contribution they can make to Japan’s security. It is necessary to have more specialists on Japan in the world. They do not necessarily have to be pro-Japan (“shinnichiha”). We need those who are knowledgeable about Japan (“chinichiha”) and are capable of thinking critically about Japan. To fill this need, more positive efforts will continue to be necessary to promote Japanese studies in the world.

Tatsuya Tanami is Vice-Chairman, Scandinavia-Japan Sasakawa Foundation(Special Advisor, The Nippon Foundation).
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

田南 立也 /  スカンジナビア・ニッポン・ササカワ財団副理事長 (日本財団特別顧問)

2023年 1月 12日
スカンジナビア・ニッポン・ササカワ財団は、1984年に日本財団からの助成金によって北欧諸国と日本との間の学術・文化交流の推進を目的にスエーデンに設立された助成財団で、2019年からは北欧諸国(デンマーク、フィンランド、アイスランド、ノルウェー、スウェーデン)の大学における日本研究をより強力に推進するために「北欧諸国における現代日本研究の推進プロジェクト(Development of Study of Contemporary Japan in the Nordic Countries)」を実施している。

北欧の人々の日本に対する関心の度合いは高く、日本語を学ぶ人口も多い。特に高校生や大学生などの間で、マンガ、アニメなどの日本のポピュラーカルチャーに人気がある。また日本のAIやロボットなど進んだ科学技術分野の研究にも関心が高い。それでも日本の存在感は一般的には薄く、日本は過小評価されているといってもよい。国際政治、経済の分野で相対的な日本のプレゼンスの後退も影響しているようだ。北欧諸国と日本は平和構築、民主主義、法の支配(Rule of Law)、環境問題への対応などで共通する問題意識を共有し、高齢化、少子化など、課題先進国である日本から北欧諸国が学べることも多くあろう。もっと日本についての情報や知識が北欧社会に広がることが望まれる。その意味で大学などにおける日本語教育や日本研究の推進は大きな力となる。








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) > Development of Japanese Studies in the Nordic Countries