TODAY -

Remembering those classes on Japanese studies

Maisnam Chanu Liklainu *

Glimpses of Japan :: November 2010
Glimpses of Japan :: November 2010 :: Pix - Rajkumari Sunita



The sheer wave of nostalgia hits me when I see images on Japan Today the heavy blooming cherry blossom (sakura) petals cascading from the swaying trees. How it would be nice to stand under a canopy of the sakura trees enjoying the gentle breeze and how soothing it would be!

The name sakura conjures up the image of an impeccably clean Japan, it doesnít really matter to me how the tree originated in China and flourished in Japan. What matters is that it is a symbol of a new stage of life, hope, humility, enlightenment and wisdom. The tree remains a sacred important cultural symbol in Japan.

I remember my association with this country as a student. It was the class of 2004, we joined the School of International Studies (SIS), a few of us took up this course on East Asian Studies of all the courses available. For a researcher on Japan, there is no charm if we donít get the Okita Memorial fellowship. In the SIS, I saw researchers who worked hard like beavers to get this scholarship.

Many of us will relate to me when I mention about reading the Japan Times and the Asahi Shimbun as a student of Japanese Studies. We all read these papers at one point of time for reference and to update ourselves. Whatever happened in Japan was of great interest to us as we were closely following the latest political developments in Japan.

We wrote term papers on the Yasukuni shrine controversy, the textbook episode, comfort women, ageing population and the list goes on. When Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Shrine and when China and Korea protested, it generated debates. Article 9 was one topic we took keen interest in those years and it is still relevant.

I quote the Wikipedia on Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. It says, ďAspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.Ē

Shinzo Abe is in the news for his assertion to get the countryís pacifist constitution revised. There are skeptics fearing that Japan is on the return to the path of militarism. Whether the fear is justified or not but it has been a subject of scrutiny. Majority of the Japanese find it so refreshing to see their leader who has this assertive side, but also has a realistic view of Asia and the changing world order.

They want to do away with Japanís heavy dependence on US. Times have changed and itís time Japan closes all the US bases, strengthen its armed forces and develop its own weapons. Some have echoed the view that revising the constitution and an independent and militarized Japan would equal an imperialistic Japan. The discourse continues.

I also remember our research methodology teacher who had always been the right person to guide us on Japan as he had emphasized the need to be critical . We were taught to be critical but respect the area and the people. Many of us dreamt of becoming an East Asian area specialist. One can become an East Asia specialist, Sub-Saharan area specialist, American area specialist or a European area specialist depending on the area of our specialization.

When there is a paradigm shift in international politics, area specialists emerge to discuss and analyze about the respective region. Area study came after the World War II. As a result of disappointment of other disciplines and excessive Eurocentrism in discipline studies, area study became popular. Everyone was studying Europe and people wanted to know and explore more areas.

So a career to know diversified and it became career-oriented. It became increasing relevant in the cold war context and in the culture of the third world.The need to know the people so that they become consumers. Consumer, culture, commerce, transport - it was a top down approach. Globalization had a huge impact, borders have become fuzzy and security is being strengthened.

The political and economic structures have become more powerful and the need for area specialists have been felt. For the first-time visitors, they person would not know how people in other countries would behave so we need specialists. With the emergence of area specialists from the area itself and as an outsider there are some problems which we donít usually have.

The researcher can be obsessed with factors such as ethnocentrism. This explains why our Research Methodology teacher emphasized the need to be critical but respect the area and people. I remember the number of book reviews we did, the class began with the purpose of study. The critical appraisal of study done before was discussed in depth.

Our teacher stressed on clarity, what are we going to correct, why to observe so and so, how to record, analyze and how to infer. We were told that delimiting the scope of study was also important mentioning the time frame, the resources availability of data and limitations of study and that there should be the objective of study.

The course on East Asia had groomed us, taught us to be critical, taught a language to flaunt besides learning its history, economy and its politics. I learnt phrases like nihow, anseyo and ohayu gojaimash and skipped awkward phrases. We were able to spot the difference between kanji and katakana and began to know why the kanji script is heavily influenced by the Chinese script.

The course had exposed us to a different and exciting world. I would urge my friends to go for this course if you want to explore the unfamiliar and the unexpected.


* Maisnam Chanu Liklainu wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
This article was posted on June 17, 2015.


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