My IntegrationGPJS Staff Interviews

※Interviewed on October 30, 2018.
He is currently a research professor at Daito Bunka University.

Rising to the challenge of creating
a new form of Japanese Studies,
with the strength of diversity.

Graduate School of International Cultural Studies,

ONO Naoyuki

Generating a cycle of knowledge from Creative Japanese Studies research results

Since July 2015, Tohoku University has been working on the initiative of “research which has an impact on society”. This forms a research base from which to solve serious issues, with a view to creating “a sustainable and spiritually rich society”. There are seven group themes which Tohoku University contributes in the search for solutions. One of these is “creating a country which is held in high regard by the world”. Within this, there is a project called Creative Japanese Studies, of which I am the leader.

In Creative Japanese Studies, we believe that the many problems which are happening around the world, such as the escalation of confrontation and wars, the growing trend of expelling others, and the destruction of the environment, basically arise from a collision of values. To solve these problems, it is necessary to create new values. The aim of Creative Japanese Studies is to devise new value from Japan’s cultural ground, and promote it to others.

The project name contains the subtitle “exploration of the creative value of Japanese culture to which the world can relate”. The most important part of this is “to which the world can relate”. We want the people of the world to relate to the new value promoted from Japan as something which is good. Through this, people around the world will become spiritually rich. This grand idea lies at the heart of this project.

For the university, research and education are inseparable. In Creative Japanese Studies, we progress with the latest research, and return the results to the place of education. The recipient of this can be said to be the newly created International Graduate Program in Japanese Studies. We do not bring conventional Japanese Studies to this program, rather, we bring new creative value through Creative Japanese Studies. By doing so, a cycle of knowledge is created between both parties. This is another aim of ours.

Promoting Japan’s unique cultural value of “consideration” to the world
Promoting Japan’s unique cultural value of “consideration” to the world

In Creative Japanese Studies, we have already conducted a lot of research and achieved results. I, personally, am involved in research in Japanese culture from the perspective of Japanese language. Communication in the Japanese language is based on discernment and consideration. Japanese has honorific expressions. There is no other language in which honorifics have developed to the extent of those in Japanese. Furthermore, the English word “I” changes in Japanese depending on the relationship between the speaker and listener. For example, it can be watashi, boku, or ore. These examples are connected to discernment and consideration. Discussions with Chinese and Korean researchers have shown that the concept of consideration does not exist in either of their languages. It is a concept peculiar to the Japanese language.

In European languages, there is “I” and “You”, and the relationship emerges from this opposition. In contrast, in the Japanese language, human relations are formed on the basis of cooperation and harmony. I think that we can show this Japanese cultural value of consideration, which we have found through analysis of the language, and promote it as a cultural value which the world would benefit from understanding.

In addition, there are other researchers who belong to the Faculty of Arts and Letters, the Graduate School of International Cultural Studies and the Center for Northeast Asian Studies. They are pursuing Creative Japanese Studies research from each of their own specialist fields and perspectives. There are various kinds of research. These include research about “contemporary Japanese space and movement”, which presents a solution to the immigrant and refugee problem, “research into the Tohoku region’s history based on resource investigation”, which promotes Tohoku culture to the world, and “between Japan and ‘Nippon’ - trials of new methodology”, which considers Japanese Studies methods as studies in sensibility. Details can be found in the collection of research and results, which is available for viewing. It is a useful resource to aid understanding of education and research in the International Graduate Program in Japanese Studies.

A defining characteristic of Japanese Studies research at Tohoku University is diversity.
A defining characteristic of Japanese Studies research at Tohoku University is diversity.

Currently, there are twelve domestic organizations, which have a Japanese Studies program, participating in a consortium. This is centered on the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken). When compared with other organizations involved in Japanese Studies, our research at Tohoku University stands out for its diversity.

The field of Japanese Studies is primarily interdisciplinary. However, there is no other program like the Japanese Studies program at Tohoku University. Here, research departments in the fields of literature, law, economics and education meet together with the Graduate School of International Cultural Studies, to which I belong, and the Center for Northeast Asian Studies. In the future, I would like science-based researchers to participate so we can turn the spotlight onto Japanese people’s way of thinking, and mentality, which forms the background of the manufacturing spirit and natural science research. I would then like this to be promoted to the world.

The International Graduate Program in Japanese Studies is a program in which researchers from diverse fields gather. That is why we can research fields as Japanese Studies which are not present in other universities, and broaden our horizons. In other words, we can accept students regardless of the field from which they wish to approach Japanese Studies.

In the field of Linguistics, which is my specialty, the targets for Japanese Studies research are considering what kind of language Japanese is in the first place, and what kind of Japanese culture is behind the Japanese language. During research, we exceed the conventional boundaries of Linguistics. For example, if we wish to include a historical perspective, we can, because we have a researcher in that field. I think that is a great attraction of the International Graduate Program in Japanese Studies. Also, in our curriculum, over six months of overseas training is guaranteed. The overseas graduate schools which accept the students are those which have a strong affiliation with this program. As faculty members, we expect great achievements.

Approaching the Japanese way of looking at and thinking about things with “Japan” as methodology
Approaching the Japanese way of looking at and thinking about things with “Japan” as methodology

My specialty in the field of Linguistics is Semantics. In Japanese, there are polysemes which have a variety of meanings, and the language has interesting phenomena regarding ways to communicate them and gain understanding from the listener.

Recently, I have been researching tautology, such as words like onna no ko onna no ko shita. This refers to someone who shows excessively girlish characteristics, with the repetition of the word onna no ko, meaning “girl”, emphasizing the meaning. In Japanese, there are many words which are created through repetition, such as yamayama (mountains), hirobiro (wide) and kasanegasane (repeatedly). These are fixed phrases, and cannot be created freely. On the other hand, words like onna no ko onna no ko shita can be created freely. Other examples are Osaka Osaka shita machi nami, which means a very Osaka-like townscape, and kohi kohi shita kohi, which emphasizes the characteristics of coffee. I am interested in the reasons why such a thing is possible.

When exploring the background of such expressions, the ways in which Japanese people look at things, think and understand become apparent. In the International Graduate Program in Japanese Studies, I would like to incorporate this perspective into research and education, and foster human resources capable of approaching the Japanese way of seeing and thinking about things, while integrating “Japan” as methodology.

  • Professor in the Graduate School of International Cultural Studies, Tohoku University. Holds a Doctorate in Literature. After graduating from the Master’s program at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, Graduate School in 1984, he progressed to the Doctoral program at Kobe University. He was Assistant Professor at Naruto University of Education, and at Yamagata University before being appointed to his current position in 2022.
  • Main research guidance themes: Semantics, Pragmatics, Comparative study of English and Japanese
  • Profile, Graduate School of International Cultural Studies