The Birth of Japanese Studies
at Tohoku University
Throughout its history, the Graduate School/Faculty of Arts and Letters has continued to explicate the characteristics of Japanese culture through wide-ranging comparisons with other cultures from around the world. Since the establishment of the Faculty of Law and Letters (1922), this research has been conducted by many famous researchers, including Jiro ABE, who wrote Santaro no Nikki (The Diary of Santaro), Sekai Bunka to Nihon Bunka (World Culture and Japanese Culture) and Nihon no Bunkateki Sekinin (Japan’s Cultural Responsibility). In 1962, the Japanese Culture Research Institute was established in the Faculty of Arts and Letters. The Institute has a history of multi-faceted research activities regarding the methods of recapturing Japanese culture from the world and its significance. It can be said to be the predecessor of Japanese Studies. It became an international environment, with visits from overseas researchers, including Donald Keene (recipient of the first honorary doctorate of this university, Professor Emeritus of Columbia University, Person of Cultural Merit  and recipient of the Order of Culture ).
The whole of the university was reorganized at one point, with the College of General Education being abolished, the Faculty of Arts and Letters expanded, and with priority placed on the graduate school. Along with this, in 1996, the Institute was integrated incrementally with the newly founded Center for Northeast Asian Studies. In the Global Center of Excellence (GCOE) Program “Gender Equality and Multicultural Conviviality in the Age of Globalization” of the Graduate School of Law, and in this International Graduate Program in Japanese Studies (GPJS), there is the 21st Century COE Program led by Professor Yoshimichi SATO of the Graduate School/Faculty of Arts and Letters, who has an important role, and the GCOE Program “Center for the Study of Social Stratification and Inequality”. Through these, the issues facing contemporary Japan have been researched in an interdisciplinary manner, and the results rated highly internationally. In the tradition created since the start of the Faculty of Law and Letters, we have created a foundation unique to this university. Through the unification of all areas of the arts, and through the cross-over between the Graduate School, research center and other organizations, we have gathered faculty members who share the principle of Japanese Studies, and we promote International Joint Graduate School Programs.
The new Japanese Studies of Tohoku University came to be recognized internationally on October 29th and 30th, 2015 at the international symposium How to Learn? Nippon/Japan as Object, Nippon/Japan as Method. This was held jointly with the University of Florence, and took place at that university. Sixteen universities, including Tohoku, from nine countries participated in the symposium, and thirty-two research projects in four sectors were presented. The Hasekura League Intercultural Studies was formed between these participating universities with the aim of student, teacher and academic exchange.
Previously, agreements were made between individual universities, and exchange was conducted between multiple universities in a linear form; but the outstanding characteristic of this league is the importance placed on the broad network. Before forming the Hasekura League, we visited all the universities to explain the concept, and the sixteen participating universities expressed their anticipation of the synergy it would generate and its potential in a personal and academic network. At the time of its formation, sixteen universities joined the Hasekura League, and the fact that each of them sent a speaker to the symposium shows that they have high expectations of the Japanese Studies proposed by Tohoku University.
As a way to develop following the symposium in Florence, on February 13th and 14th, 2017, we invited speakers from the Hasekura League universities to Sendai for the “Knowledge and Arts on the Move: Transformation of the Self-Aware Image Through East-West Encounters” symposium. The symposium, which was jointly held with the Tohoku Forum for Creativity, comprised three sections. Of these the highlight was The Great Tohoku Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Disaster.
Regarding the Great East Japan Earthquake, there are of course urgent issues surrounding reconstruction; however, it has become clear that there are diverse accompanying problems which remain without having been discussed. There are many contemporary problems which must be worked on with the assistance of those in such fields as sociology, historical studies, religious studies, philosophy, art, art history, literature, law and economics. The event in Sendai led to the holding of a symposium at Ghent University named “3.11: Disaster and Trauma in Experience, Understanding, and Imagination” on March 12th, 2018, followed by a symposium "Fuusato:'Home' at the Nexus of Politics, History, Art, Society, and Self" held at Ca'Foscari University of Venice on November 17-18th, 2018. A profound issue for Japanese Studies is how to characterize the disaster that happened close to Tohoku University, and how to grasp the embedded messages for the future.
Proceedings for the symposiums in Florence , Sendai and Ghent were published by Mimesis, a publishing company in Milan, Italy, with proceedings for the symposium in Venice to be released in 2020. This series of collected volumes, known as the Hasekura League Intercultural Studies Edition, has been attracting global attention.
With the background and performance outlined above, in this program, we build a joint curriculum with staff from affiliated overseas universities. With the intention of educating leaders who have an international outlook and who can work on problems facing contemporary society, we create a new Japanese Studies not found in other universities in Japan, Europe or the United States. Based on this tradition and our results, having Tohoku University fulfil its responsibilities to the global society from the field of Japanese Studies has great significance for this program.