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Department of History

Japanese Studies boost at SOAS

Sasakawa Foundation and Nippon Foundation Logos

22 January 2009

The School of African and Oriental Studies at the University of London is among the beneficiaries of a major grant programme by The Nippon Foundation (TNF) and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation (GBSF), which has given new impetus to Japanese Studies in the UK. Only recently, provision for the subject was woefully short of demand.

Described as "one of the largest injections of recurrent external funding that the discipline has ever received," the programme promised in October 2007 a total of £2.5 million for UK universities over a five-year period. Since then, 13 'Sasakawa Lectureships' have been established and the universities of Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Newcastle, East Anglia, Oxford Brookes , Cambridge, Oxford and Birkbeck College, as well as SOAS, are offering new courses in Japanese Studies.

The creation of the lectureships provides many more students with the opportunity to pursue the subject to degree level. The new courses span the social sciences, from Japan's Economy and Management and Modern / Post-war History to Japanese Visual Media.

The new post at SOAS has been taken up by Dr Christopher Gerteis, who has joined the History Department as Sasakawa Lecturer in Contemporary Japanese Political History.

"All incumbents possess impeccable qualifications and this timely injection of young Japanese Studies scholars into our universities will serve to guarantee a greater depth and diversity of scholarship and research at a time when it is most needed," said Stephen McEnally, Chief Executive of the GBSF. "The Lectureship Programme will lay the foundations for a new generation of scholars to come through the system".
The Earl of St Andrews, the GBSF's Chairman, said that the lectureship programme was established with the aim of 'making a difference' in one of the most crucial areas of activity within the UK-Japan relationship.

"Japan matters because it is the second most powerful economy in the world; it is a major overseas investment and trade partner of the UK. It is a member of the G8 core states of global governance," he said. "It is therefore of crucial importance to our policy-makers, business leaders, scholars - and especially to the successor generation and to our future leaders. They must all be given the tools to better understand Japan's culture, its society and its language. Our programme is helping to do that."

Japanese has become a vulnerable subject because it is expensive to teach, with many universities cutting back or closing departments over the last decade in favour of courses which bring in more revenue. This threatened to diminish a generation of Japan specialists, and endanger the close partnerships that the UK and Japan have enjoyed in trade and investment, cultural and scientific exchange and in a number of multilateral contexts.

Reflecting the current dearth in this country of young home-grown scholars in Japanese Studies resulting from the recent funding crisis, the majority of the Sasakawa Lecturers come from across Europe, from the States and from Japan. Only three are UK nationals. Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, remarked, "The many viewpoints that the Sasakawa Lecturers will bring to their posts will be a major driving force behind research into Japan at universities in the UK. I hope that we will be able to provide further opportunities through this program for Sasakawa Lecturers and other young researchers to exchange information and collaborate on projects concerning Japan".

The Nippon Foundation and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation are celebrating the success of the Sasakawa Lectureship Programme with a major academic conference entitled "Japan Matters: Redefining Power, Politics and Culture in the Age of Globalisation" at Birkbeck College, London, on Friday 23 January.