Two life-changing encounters that brought me into the world of Japanese literature.
I was born in the UK, and it was really a chance encounter that sparked my interest in Japan. It all began about one week before my interview to enter university when a friend and I stopped by a bar and I happened to get absorbed in a conversation with a Japanese person there.* It was just a casual 30-minute conversation, but to me, whose knowledge of Japan at the time was limited to "Fujiyama" and "samurai," hearing about a distant land for the first time piqued my interest in a way I cannot put into words. So, although I had planned to study French and German at university, I quickly switched to Japanese Studies.
From that point on, I immersed myself in all things Japanese, and when I was trying to decide on a theme for my doctoral thesis, something caught my eye in a list of Japanese authors I happened to come across: ten of the 20 authors on the list were connected, in one way or another, with Christianity. With less than 1% of Japanese adhering to Christianity in a country that overwhelmingly identifies with Buddhism and Shinto, I remember being very surprised that half of these authors were interested in Christianity. I focused primarily on four of those authors, and today I analyze and research the works of one of them in particular, Shusaku Endo.
* In the UK, it is legal to drink alcohol at 18.
Shusaku Endo's thoughts on religion in his works
What is distinctive about my research is that, rather than evaluating works from a literary perspective, I focus more on an examination of works as reflecting the social conditions of the time. In particular, one of my main focuses has been to look at how an author's faith is reflected in his or her works.
Shusaku Endo became a Christian due to his mother's influence, but, from the outset, he had a relatively tolerant religious outlook. That is why he actively encouraged religious scholars to engage in interfaith dialogue. This outlook is clearly expressed in one of his most well-known works, Deep River. The book is about a group of six Japanese people with different backgrounds who journey together to the Ganges River in India. Each one embarks on the trip for different reasons, but, during the course of their respective journeys, each succeeds in overcoming personal difficulties and ends up undergoing a spiritual experience that may be seen as a form of enlightenment. The story can be seen as hinting at the possibilities for inter-religious dialogue suggesting that, even though the various world religions may differ superficially, the quest for faith itself is shared.
On the other hand, Endo has stated that he felt that he faced a dilemma between two aspects of his identity--that of being Japanese and of being Christian. Indeed, he told me once that he tried several times to renounce the Christian way of life (which had been chosen for him by his mother).
You can catch glimpses of that dilemma in The Girl I Left Behind, the story of Mitsu, a young woman from the countryside who comes to Tokyo. There she meets and falls for a man named Yoshioka; but, having been mistakenly diagnosed with leprosy, she ends up devoting her life to caring for her new friends in the hospital - before losing her life in an accident. It is written in the style of notes written by Yoshioka who is consumed with remorse and guilt upon learning of her death.
Endo himself has said that the book could also be called "The Jesus I Left Behind." He stated in several lectures that the state of mind of Yoshioka, who chooses to leave Mitsu for another woman, is analogous to his own wavering in his Christian faith. Endo never did abandon the teachings of Jesus, but the book vividly illustrates how the conflict he sensed between his Christian faith and his ethnic identity as Japanese never left him.
Interdisciplinary study and the importance of encountering diverse cultures
ICU advocates liberal arts and, by and large, the faculty is engaged in interdisciplinary research. I am no exception: using Japanese literature with a particular focus on Shusaku Endo, I examine the religious views and social conditions that underpin various works of literature. Taking a comprehensive view of things in this way is fascinating to me.
In my native UK, most universities require you to choose your major when you first enter, as do many Japanese universities. As such, I plunged into the world of Japanese Studies at 18 following that life-changing encounter. Seeing that I have remained on that same path for my entire career, I think it turned out to be the right choice; but it seems to me that deciding one's field of specialization in one's teens is too young. I discovered liberal arts in Japan and was impressed by its merits. ICU provides a wonderful environment where students first gain knowledge in a wide range of fields and from there are able to go into more depth in their chosen field of specialization. And as multilingual communication is an integral part of life here, students are able to improve their ability to interact with a diverse range of cultures. As the concept of national borders continues to fade in modern society, I believe that those with bicultural or multicultural understanding will be highly sought after in the global arena.
If you want to experience a diverse range of cultures, come study at ICU.
Prof. Mark Williams
Vice President for International Academic Exchange (Specialization: Japanese literature)
Mark Williams got his start in Japanese Studies at the University of Oxford, and went on to graduate school at the University of California to continue research in East Asian and Japanese Studies. After completing his doctoral program in 1991, he worked in education and research in the field of Japanese Studies at universities around the world. Williams has held his current position since September 2017.
Note: As the Vice President for International Academic Exchange, Williams does not teach classes.
I want to support environmentally friendly economic activities with a perspective that encompasses the entire world.
My area of specialization within chemistry is air pollution, and I am currently researching causative agents of photochemical oxidants--nitrogen oxides and reactive nitrogen oxides in particular. Molecular nitrogen and molecular oxygen themselves are not highly reactive, but we have learned that when the air is heated by power plants and automobile engines, their chemical bonds rearrange to form nitrogen oxide.
Looking at the environment in Japan, the air has become much cleaner compared to 20 or 30 years ago. However, the air that drifts over from the Asian mainland clearly exhibits the effects of various kinds of development.
Developed countries such as Japan which developed without being restricted by major regulations cannot halt the progress of developing countries for the reason that they are negatively impacting the environment. Instead of trying to make them stop their economic activities, what we need to do is demonstrate how they can develop and advance their economies in a more environmentally friendly way through efforts such as providing technology, while protecting industry in our own country. Atmospheric scientists conduct research day after day with the hope that their scientifically based proposals--such as showing what measures would be more effective and suggesting regulations that are limited to a certain time--will contribute to deciding international policy.
Working with researchers around the globe -- the most fascinating part of research often lies at the "borders"
When conducting research, there are many opportunities to interact with researchers in other countries, such as international conferences. The data we can obtain varies greatly depending on conditions such as climate, how a city was developed, population density, and the lifestyle of the residents. So when we are not able to go and take measurements in another country ourselves, we use data gathered from the researchers in that country.
And this does not only apply to joint research with other countries--no research can be conducted alone. There are around 1,000 different types of substances in the atmosphere, so it is impossible for me to analyze every substance that nitrogen oxides react to. Usually researchers specializing in different substances come together, and conduct joint research. A major fieldwork project might consist of 10 to 20 groups researching together.
In recent years, the word "interdisciplinary" has gained widespread use in the fields of education and research. In 2016, I joined rice cultivation experts in a study* on rice paddies which earned an award from the Japan Society for Atmospheric Environment. From the experts I gathered information on topics such as water management methods and the relationship between nutrients and growth. To me, producing new discoveries in collaboration with researchers from different fields is one of the most thrilling parts of research activities.
*Measurements of Nitrous Acid (HONO) Direct Emission from Rice Paddy Soil and Its Contribution to Atmospheric HONO Concentration
I want students to discover what interests them through experiencing and studying a wide range of fields.
Liberal arts, one of the main focuses of ICU, is truly the embodiment of interdisciplinary study. Before deciding your major in your second year, you will be able to experience a wide variety of academic fields--which is ideal for people whose interests go in many different directions when they graduate high school.
About 90% of the students taking the general education course I teach, "The Chemical Basis of Nature," are humanities majors. When they enter the workforce, it would be a waste if they got lost whenever someone brought up something chemistry related on the job when working in product development or legislation for example. I conduct lessons using familiar topics to peek their interest with the hope that they will be able to understand the subject when it comes up on the job.
In order to provide students with more meaningful classes, instructors must also continue to grow and dedicate themselves to studying on a day-to-day basis. This summer I participated in two workshops on teaching methods, which are part of the Top Global University Project. One of the workshops taught active learning techniques, which I immediately incorporated into my classes. The response from students has been great. I hope that through active learning, they will gain something that will help them in their future endeavors, if even but a little.*
The other was on teaching classes in English.** Because students' proficiency levels in English differ, when giving lessons in English you need to proceed while gauging how much they understand. One method I have often used to gauge understanding is doing group work, but the down side to this has been that the lessons progress slower than that of a lecture format. In the workshop I learned several techniques to resolve this problem, and plan to make use of them in future classes.
As a university open to the world, ICU's faculty and students come from diverse backgrounds. We have created an environment both in and outside the classroom that will broaden your horizons, so I encourage students to take on a variety of challenges, discover what they like, and find their own path.
* Science Pedagogy Workshop hosted by Global Liberal Arts Alliance
**Oxford EMI Association English Medium Instruction Summer Course
Chika Minejima, Associate Professor
(Majors: Chemistry and environmental studies)
After completing her master's program at Tohoku University, Chika Minejima obtained a doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley in 2008. She continued researching at research institutes and universities after returning to Japan, and joined the faculty of ICU in 2014. Since 2016 she has served as the major advisor for the chemistry major.
Changing social conditions, and unchanging values
My area of specialization is cultural anthropology. In particular, I research population problems of countries. I started this research when I was studying abroad in the US after graduating from university in Japan. I found out about the discipline of demography from a professor I was studying under. The declining birthrate and increasing aged population has been an issue in Japan for some time, but demography actually involves a wide range of disciplines. It is a truly interdisciplinary field that includes economics, statistics, and even fields like biology and geography. And it not only focuses on a macro perspective, but also explores how the overall population structure of a nation interrelates with the lives of people in the communities.
The first region I researched was Thailand, where I focused on how demographics and the make-up of families relate to each other. Since the 1990s Thailand's declining Total Fertility Rate (TFR) * has reached the replacement level**, which has brought about the problems of an aging population. In the course of my research I found that one of the main factors behind the low TFR was Thailand's unique views and values. Since Thailand's pension system is still developing, it is common for children to take care of their parents, and it is often the youngest female child that remains at home and lives with them. The reason behind this is that because Thai people are traditionally Buddhist and believe in reincarnation, many think that by accumulating a large amount of virtue in this life, they will be reincarnated into a person of higher status in the next. There is a tradition in the country in which men become ordained as monks for a short period of time as a rite of passage to adulthood. It is believed that by dedicating themselves to spiritual practice they can accumulate virtue. However, women cannot become ordained. By researching the lives of the local people, I found that the idea persists that women take care of their parents and pay them back for raising them as a way to accumulate virtue. This showed that one of the reasons for the decline in TFR was that the traditional Thai view results in women remaining with their parents, thus increasing the number of women who do not marry even if they are dating someone.
Even when social conditions change, there are aspects of people's lives that do not. I think one of the most interesting parts of cultural anthropology is investigating the values and views ingrained in communities in the course of research.
* Total Fertility Rate (TFR): The estimated number of children born per woman in her lifetime, calculated by adding the fertility rate for each single-year age group of women 15 to 49 years old.
** Replacement level (fertility): The amount of fertility needed to keep the population the same as the previous generation over the long term. The replacement level in Japan in 2015 was 2.07.
The uniquely Japanese form of happiness behind its low fertility rate
Currently I am examining Japan's declining birthrate and increasing aged population. Biologically, the appropriate childbearing age for women is nearly the same worldwide. And the biological ability of Japanese women to become pregnant is not lower than those in other countries. Then, why is the fertility rate lower? Many argue from an economic perspective, pointing out factors such as the cost of raising a child, but I do not think that that is the only reason.
I focused on the frequency of sexual relations of Japanese married couples. According to data from the Nihon University Population Research Institute, this frequency is clearly lower than other countries. According to its estimation of fecundity (i.e., the ability to become pregnant), in order to become pregnant within one year, the estimated frequency of sexual intercourse is about once per week. However, this frequency is not reached among many Japanese married couples, giving rise to the impression in other countries that Japanese marriages are "loveless." When research on this phenomenon was presented abroad, as you can see from the foreign newspaper article entitled "Marriage without bliss," people outside Japan seem to have interpreted the Japanese marriages as such.
But of course most Japanese couples do not feel they are in a "marriage without bliss." In a group interview I conducted, almost everyone responded that they felt very close as a family. I found, however, there are differences between Japan and other countries in the concept and expression of intimacy. In the West physical relations are emphasized, while in Japan there is a strong tendency to focus on emotional connections as expressed in responses such as "When I don't feel uncomfortable even when we are in the same room and not speaking" or "When I can talk about negative subjects I can't tell anyone else."
Research that further stimulates intellectual curiosity. Imagination is the driving force to take on challenges.
So far I have only done a small-scale interview survey on expressions of intimacy, but I plan to expand the scope of the survey in the future. Researchers from other countries have expressed interest in the survey, so I hope to expand the scope to the US and to Thailand's neighboring country of Laos. If I can gather and compare information from three countries--Japan, Laos, and the US--I believe it will provide very interesting data.
Of course, it may reveal unexpected results. But even so, I would enjoy engaging in research. When I started demography, I was not thinking about doing surveys on how intimacy is expressed. I arrived at this path as a result of moving forward and imagining, but not knowing, what the answer might be.
In the same way, I want students to have intellectual curiosity and value imagination in their studies. For example, the "hypothesis" which you formulate for an experiment is what you would call "imagination" in everyday language. I want students to cultivate their imagination by engaging in dialogue with many people and accumulating a variety of experiences. Of course, the more challenges you take on the more mistakes you will make, but that is also essential for growth. The broader your experiences, the more realistic your hypotheses will be: there is nothing wasted in life. Look at everything as an opportunity for growth, and continue taking on new challenges.
Yoshie Moriki, Senior Associate Professor
(Majors: Anthropology, gender and sexuality studies, and Asian studies)
After graduating from Tokyo Woman's Christian University, Yoshie Moriki obtained master's and doctorate degrees in anthropology and demography from Pennsylvania State University. In 2007 she joined the Nihon University Population Research Institute where she worked for two years, and in April 2009 she joined the faculty of ICU.
The first time I heard the language, I was drawn to its captivating sound.
When I was in elementary school in Hungary, where I was born, I saw Shogun, the miniseries based on the book by James Clavell. It was this that sparked my interest in Japan. But what fascinated me most was the Japanese language. It was the first time I heard Japanese, and I remember being gradually drawn to the sound of the language.
It wasn't until entering university that my interest in Japan turned into research. I started with language, and then expanded the scope of my studies to the history and literature of Asia. During the course of my studies at university, my interest changed from linguistics to history. I realized that the discipline of history is more than just tracing back the data; it is a very humane discipline that attempts to understand the state of mind of the people at the time. From that point on, rather than simply analyzing historical documents, I have engaged in research with the hope of gaining insight into the personalities, states of mind, and interpersonal relationships of the people who appear in the documents. That is why I also look through works of literature of the time--to explore people's state of mind. And sometimes I conduct field work, such as tracing the actual route written in travel journals to investigate the historical evidence about the period and people I am researching. This work is very meaningful--walking through the area I often notice things I would not have seen looking only at the documents, and find new evidence.
An ever-growing spirit of inquiry for the history of other countries
Currently I am researching the history of foreign relations in East Asia in the 15th-17th centuries with a focus on Japan. Specifically, I focus on how Sino-Japanese relations developed in the Muromachi period, and how the social and economic development in the transitional period from the medieval to the early modern era impacted Japan's relations with other countries. While reading various sources, about ten years ago, I came across a collection of historical documents called Nyuminki, a collection of diaries and documents written by Japanese people who went to China during the Ming period.
I originally intended to research the Nara and Heian periods, but unfortunately there was already a huge amount of research on the topic. However, Japanese researchers have just begun to study the Nyuminki, so I found it very interesting. Since then I have been analyzing the Nyuminki and investigating the states of mind of the people who traveled from Japan to China, and the impact the Asian mainland had on the whole of Japan.
Today I focus on China, Japan, and East Asia, but in the future I would like to expand the scope to research how the flow of people from Europe has altered the international environment of East Asia. My argument will mainly address how European culture and systems have affected the relationship between Japan and China. Some argue that Western powers have had a dramatic impact on East Asia, while others say that the effect has been minor due to the unique culture that has been established in East Asia--I want to try to understand the truth.
I want students not only acquire knowledge of history, but also the ability to gain in-depth understanding and assert their views.
As a university that provides liberal arts education, ICU has many students who enter before deciding their area of specialization, and many of the students taking my classes are not history majors. Expanding your knowledge and studying a variety of subjects will enable you to broaden your horizons.
However, it would be unfortunate if that was where it ended. I want students to study a wide range of subjects while constantly thinking about what they will eventually focus on to write their thesis. The scope of studies at ICU is more than just broad. By studying under a professor in a specific field of specialization, you can gain a more in-depth understanding of the field. Don't just drag your feet and devote yourself to learning about diverse array of subjects. It is important to narrow your focus at some point during your four years here.
In my classes I instill in students that they should search all sorts of materials, not just a part of them, and assert their own opinions. History in particular is a discipline in which you verify facts that already occurred. It is not about making up stories based on your own personal interpretation. I want students to try to come up with their own arguments based on carefully reading and understanding multiple sources. This is why a liberal arts education is important: It enables you to not only analyze historical documents, but also examine them considering things such as the lives of the people and social climate at the time. I want students to develop the skills to correlate different pieces of information, and not only acquire knowledge, but also the ability to gain an in-depth understanding and assert their opinions--skills which are fundamental for engaging in discussion.
Olah Csaba, Senior Associate Professor
(Majors: History and Japan studies)
After obtaining a master's in Chinese studies and Japanese studies in Hungary where he was born, Olah Csaba moved to Germany to study Chinese studies at Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich, where he obtained his doctorate. In 2007 he went to study abroad at the University of Tokyo, and in 2014 obtained a doctorate in Japanese history. While at the University of Tokyo he served as a researcher under the JSPS Postdoctoral Fellowship for Foreign Researchers program, and has been at his current position since September 2012.