Kyoto, the cultural heart of Japan, served as the seat of the nation’s political and religious life for many centuries. Kyoto University — founded following Japan’s reopening to the world in the late 19th Century — grew out of this environment, imbuing its academic life with deep currents of intellectualism and social awareness. These traditions continue to inspire the institution’s scholars today, and to gain some insight into the breadth and depth of inquiry being undertaken here, we spoke to researchers from a wide range of disciplines — in the main room looking out on the garden of Seifusô, the university’s seminar and reception house — about the rich melding of minds that takes place constantly on this campus.
(moderator), Professor at the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies
(Islamic studies, Middle East area studies, Comparative politics and international politics)
Kosugi arrived at Kyoto University nearly 20 years ago, soon after the founding of the Center for African Area Studies. He analyzes the realities of the Islamic revival movement so as to understand the dynamism of the contemporary Islamic world. Although Islamic Studies was not originally an academic discipline at Kyoto University, Kosugi began his work here by conducting field surveys of texts and other materials, and thanks to his hard work, the university now possesses the largest collection of Arabic and Urdu writings in Japan.
“Arabic is written from right to left, so it’s a bit difficult for Japanese to understand. In Japanese, everything hinges on the end the sentence, where the verbs are. Well in Arabic, the verb comes at the beginning, so it requires - a different way of thinking! —And therein lies its appeal.”
Kyoko Inagaki, Dean, Head of Research, and Professor at the Graduate School of Education
(Sociology of education, Historical sociology of student culture, Sociology of culture)
Inagaki’s research focuses on the question: How has education shaped the structure of Japanese societal relations and culture?
Looking back at the history of education in Japan, Inagaki probes its ‘geneology’. One such focus is the difference between the development of boys’ and girls’ training.
She also analyzes the history and relationships between masters and pupils, or shitei-kankei, in Japan. Through autobiographies and personal profiles of renowned individuals, she sees dramatic differences between people of varying fields, whether it be in the performing arts, business, or academics.
”Sociology of Education studies many academic disciplines including sociology, history, economics, philosophy, and of course education. By taking interdisciplinary approaches to answer our research questions, we push the boundaries of the respective fields of academia. Our department may be small, but we are rich in our range of our methodologies.”.
Hiroshi Abe, Professor at the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies
(Ontology, History of metaphysics, Environmental philosophy, the Kyoto School)
Abe studies Western and German philosophy, with a focus on ontology, logic, and environmental philosophy.
Ontology — the nature of ‘being’ — has been a subject of Abe’s research for some time. He also examines logic with relation to the history of ontology, and based on the works of Kitaro Nishida and the Kyoto School, looks into the alternative, non-Western logic that has enticed generations of previous thinkers. Other foci are environmental philosophy, and questions on the survival of humanity into the future. But before positing the ‘how’, he thinks of the ‘why’.
“Extreme questions such as ‘Is humanity worth preserving?’ are fascinating in their own right, but they are also necessary to consider if we are actually going to survive.”
In 2017 Abe was awarded the Philipp Franz von Siebold Prize by the President of Germany — the most highly-regarded German award for a Japanese scholar — for his outstanding achievements in the field of environmental philosophy, including bridging Eastern and Western perspectives.
Yutaka Yamauchi, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Management
(Organization theory, Ethnography, Ethnomethodology)
Yamauchi studies ‘service science’ in the Service and Hospitality Program at the Graduate School of Management. The idea for this area of inquiry came about around 2004, when IBM began referring to ‘Service Science’, a natural reflection of the service industry’s rapid growth as a share of GDP worldwide.
Yamauchi was the first to bring this analysis to the sushi bar, a quintessentially Japanese institution that does not follow traditional service models. Fascinated with the trade’s unique brand of ‘unfriendly’ service, he has analyzed the interactions between chef and customer, among many other areas combining traditional notions with modern society.
“Conventional thought on service tells us that there is a clear division between service provider and customer. But the fact is, service is something that both the service provider and the customer create together. I’m taking this point into consideration in my research, and I aim to reconstruct the theory of service with it.”
Björn-Ole Kamm, Senior Lecturer at the Graduate School of Letters
(Cultural ordering, Cyber-ethnography, Role-playing, Uses and gratifications of Japanese popular media)
Transcultural studies — an interdisciplinary subject — spans Buddhist studies, History of thought, Cultural economics, and Visual media and Sociology. Kamm, who came to Kyoto by way of Heidelberg University, looks into subjects such as communication on the internet; cultural interactions between Japan and Germany; and media stereotypes in Japanese society.
One such area he examines is social recluses, or hikikomori. Kamm analyzes media stereotypes iof hikikomori and finds ways to promote his work outside of academia. One such activity is an experiential game based on the experiences of these shut-ins.
“The basic tenant of transcultural studies is that a particular culture is never confined to one ethnicity, language, or space cut off from others by borders. Rather, it is the opposite — the result of a range of different people’s actions and ideas interacting with each other.”
Kamm also coordinates KyotoU’s new Joint Degree Master of Arts Program in Transcultural Studies in collaboration with Heidelberg University. It is Japan's first joint degree program in the humanities.
Kosugi: Thank you all for coming. I’m Yasushi Kosugi from the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, and I am today’s moderator.
My graduate program may be the University’s least known grad school. [laughs] Now, normally when you talk about area studies, people have the image of a social science-based approach. However, here at Kyoto, we integrate the humanities with the natural sciences, in a way that’s rare anywhere in the world. We hold many lecturers in different disciplines, and for example conduct research with soil scientists to better understand agriculture practices. Then there is interdisciplinary research with nanotech and medicine specialists. We’re even involved in the space program here. My own work delves into leading edge Islamic political thought; the current reconstruction of Islamic law and social systems; international organizations of the Islamic world; and the spread of Islamic economics.
Kamm: That’s amazing. And isn’t our current president a gorilla researcher? He must have been involved in the program as well.
Kosugi: Yes, exactly! Primate researchers are thriving in our African Area Studies department. It is a very — you could say — ‘Kyoto University style’ of integrating the humanities and sciences.
And now we are strongly pushing the international quality of the departments as well. In Japan, when you talk about “international studies”, people primarily focus on the West at first. We study these cultures too, but only when you involve Asia and Africa does the outlook become truly global. I think this idea comes from the academic focus of post-War Japan. America was the leading player in the period, and therefore a strong tendency to see the world through their lens developed. But Japan then began to focus on things like international cooperation and world peace. That’s what shifted Japan’s academic focus into Southeast Asia and Africa. Our department is now and will continue to be a global hub for academics.
Inagaki: Thank you Kosugi-san. I am Kyoko Inagaki of the Faculty and Graduate School of Education, where I am the Dean and Head of Research.
I believe the Faculty of Education is the University’s smallest. There are only about 60 freshmen. Compared to other departments, the entire faculty could fill one course. So it is very tightly knit. It originally branched off from the Educational Methods section of the Department of Philosophy in the Faculty of Letters. But even though we’re small, we have lecturers from many fields including History of Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, and Public Administration. That diversity is reflected in our research.
My own field of sociology of education often causes people to ask: “What is that?” I get this so often that I sometimes end up wondering myself! But to put it simply, we study issues such as: “how has education shaped the structure of Japanese society and societal relations?”; or “does education underpin the structure of Japanese society and its social environment?”
For example, in the 1960s education had an image of being an exceptionally normative field, whereby people were trying to figure out what an educational ‘ideal’ should look like, and how we should go about raising ‘good kids’. In sociology of education, we want to know what kind of functions these ideals play on the ground and in society. The ’60s and ’70s were an age of excessive academic meritocracy, and discussion about academic background and disparities was, if anything, forbidden or not talked of openly.
A major concern of mine is the genealogy of education: how it developed in pre- and post-War Japan. A widely-held view is that the education system was built for boys, centered on the pre-War model. But there was another culture in Japan that was different, and has come down uninterrupted from the past, but not studied thoroughly: education for girls. It was built with girls’ relationships in mind.
Kosugi: That’s very interesting! What did you find?
Inagaki: A particular difference is that such education focused on etiquette, manners, and traditions. So instead of contributing to the overall ‘culture’ of Japan, girls’ education sustained the ‘civilization’ of Japan. There is much more to study, and I hope to eventually grasp the genealogical roots of these forms of education.
Another topic I am following is the relationship between master and pupil, or shitei-kankei. Today, it sounds almost archaic, describing something that has ceased to exist. I initially got interested in it through reading autobiographies, such as in the Nikkei Shimbun monthly column “My CV” —or Watashi no Rirekisho, which has been in print since 1956 and is a great source of information on the histories and careers of famous people. In it, prominent figures in academia, the arts, business and so on write and reflect on their careers. I focus on what each has to say about the relationship between master and pupil. As quantifiable data, I calculate the number of lines, referring to their teacher, then break it down based on occupation, alma mater, and other factors. It’s quite surprising how differently people in various fields express themselves when talking about these relationships. I think this whole master-pupil relationship existed until about the 1980s. By looking at the mechanisms involved, I think I can get some kind of insight into education and the structure of Japanese society.
Kosugi: Wow— I have lots of questions, but for now let’s continue to Dr Abe.
Abe: I am Hiroshi Abe of the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, specializing in Philosophy. I concentrate on Western philosophy, and in particular German philosophy. I’m especially interested in 20th Century German philosophy and the work of Martin Heidegger and Hans Jonas. How these connect with environmental studies is that Jonas was a known pioneer in environmental ethics. Broken down by topic I work on: ontology, logic, and environmental philosophy.
Ontology is related to metaphysics. In nature, we have various methods to identify things. The verb ‘to be’ comes into question as an issue, as there are so many ways it can be used. In Japanese we use the words iru for animated beings and aru for inanimate objects. But usage also changes based on context, and it becomes problematic for ontology and metaphysics. The issue of how we identify ‘being’ is something I have been thinking about for some time.
The second issue — logic — probably has the deepest connection with Kyoto University. Since I teach education under the common curriculum, I’ve thought about it partly from an educator’s perspective, and I’m actually doing formal logic in a contemporary style in a somewhat half-mathematical form. However, my interest in logic is also motivated by the Kyoto School, or Kyôto Gakuha, beginning with Kitaro Nishida. He was the focus of that first generation of thinkers concerning themselves with the logic we deal with every day. He left the work “Concerning My Logic” unfinished at his death. I’m interested in the possibility of an alternative, non-Western logic that Nishida and these thinkers were discussing, and if it would collide with the standard logic of our times.
In environmental philosophy, Hans Jonas is the focus of my research, where I’m thinking about ‘how-to’ questions along the lines of: how is humanity to be preserved so as to survive into the future? The first question, when you get down to it, is whether or not humanity is worth preserving. Would it not be better if we became extinct? Naturally, it sounds like an extreme idea, but the question is: why should humanity survive for the sake of survival? If we are indeed practically to survive, how can we theoretically justify our survival?
This is why I’m interested in positing the ‘why’ before the ‘how’. In this regard, there have been a number of publications on “future-oriented responsibility”, such as our responsibility for future generations — which has to be thought of under environmental philosophy. However, I think that in fact a past-oriented responsibility toward the generations gone before plays a great role in the future-oriented responsibility. Let's take ancestor worship in Japan and other cultures as an example. It’s interesting to me that this traditional thinking links generations yet to come to those who have gone before, in a kind of mutual dependence. Because, according to my interpretation of this view, today's people are responsible to past generations, and also responsible for future people. So, I see that the reason why we’re no longer able to think about our descendants is that we’ve forgotten about our ancestors. That’s where I’m coming from recently.
Kosugi: Thank you very much Dr Abe. Now Dr Yamauchi, if you will.
Yamauchi: My name is Yutaka Yamauchi. I originally graduated from the Faculty of Engineering’s Department of Information Science. I was in computer science through my Master’s, then switching to management for my PhD in the United States. I worked over there for a while, but came back to this university about seven years ago. I joined Graduate School of Management. It’s still a small school with about twenty faculty members or so, but has been going strong for ten years. We have something called the Service & Hospitality Program, originally set up when I came back to Japan.
I conduct research on the services. From about 2004, service started getting a lot of attention in academia and industry. The service sector is a major component of any country’s economy. It makes up 70% of GDP in Japan, for instance. Given this situation, the Japanese education ministry helped establish the Service Value Creation Program. After joining this program, I started thinking what to study. Since I had been abroad for several years, I wanted to study something unique to Japan. That’s when I got the idea of sushi bars. I videotaped interactions between sushi chefs and customers. I set up six or seven camcorders and was able to capture entire interactions.
Now why a sushi bar? Conventional service theory emphasizes the act of making the customer happy: to increase the level of customer satisfaction. But you don’t see that at a sushi bar, where service is difficult to comprehend! Often there’s no menu, you don’t know how much you have to pay until after you eat, and the chef is intimidating. People get nervous when they go there. It goes against most conventions of ‘good service’. I am de-ciphering this type of service situation through my research, and based on the data I am reworking the theory of service. My initial thesis is that service can be characterized as a struggle. Both customer and provider seek to present who they are, not simply the provider accepting the customer’s order and delivering it.
Finally, under the Leading Graduate Schools program, I’ve been involved with the idea for a design school here for the last five years or so, and thinking about service within that context. Service design has taken off as a concept in Europe, where the designer shapes a service including the customer’s whole journey as opposed to designing a single product, so I want to think more about design in that relationship as well.
Kosugi: And lastly, we have Dr Kamm.
Kamm: Hello everybody, I am Björn-Ole Kamm, a senior lecturer at the Graduate School of Letters. A new major in cultural studies just began at Kyoto University last month, and I’m working as the coordinator of this international Joint Degree Master of Arts Program in Transcultural Studies, a collaboration between Kyoto University and Heidelberg University, Germany. This is Japan’s first joint-degree Master’s course in the humanities. In it, students study here for half a year, then at the partner school for a year, then back here for another half year to write a single Master’s thesis in English. They then receive a single degree, awarded jointly by both schools. I’ve been working here since March 2015, and from that point until we got approval, I was doing the groundwork to set up the course, and negotiating together with my colleagues between the education ministry and Heidelberg University.
Transcultural studies is an interdisciplinary subject, spanning Buddhist studies, history of thought, cultural economics, visual media, and sociology. The research generally focuses on the dynamics of cultural exchange between Asia and Europe. The basic stance of Transcultural Studies is that a culture is never confined to one race, one language, or one space cut off from others by borders. Culture is the outcome of a whole range of different people’s actions and ideas. ‘Trans’ here is the same as in ‘trans-Pacific’ and ‘trans-Atlantic’. Our focus isn’t exactly on culture as such, but rather on the points of connection between cultures, the encounters and flows between them.
Kosugi: So almost like what we are doing now.
Kamm: Yes, exactly! I’ve been teaching transcultural theory since 2013, but my original major was Japan studies and media studies. I study communication on the internet, cultural interactions between Japan and Germany, and stereotypes concerning media use in Japanese society. Now I’m mainly thinking about methodology, and about how to get my findings out to the public. I’m doing quite a lot of different things: research on social recluses, or hikikomori, and media stereotypes of them, as well as interviewing people who’ve had this experience. Together with former recluses I’ve designed an experiential role-playing game based on their experiences. I’ve conducted this educational game seven times, in Japan and overseas, including twice here on the Yoshida Campus. Every time the atmosphere was fantastic. I’m still going through the results, but I can say that many participants could afterwards identify with the dilemma of hikikomori.
Masters and Pupils
Kosugi: Dr Inagaki, you were saying that the master-pupil dynamic only lasted until the 1980s?
Inagaki: It hasn’t completely died out, but it has certainly atrophied. I’m inclined to think that some organizations have taken on what you might call a ‘Western’ model — implementing a kind of master-pupil relationship — where it has remained. So while we can still see it, the institution has been fading. In class, when I will talk about the master-pupil relationship, I see that it doesn’t resonate with students. To be honest, I have had very little experience with it myself.
Kosugi: Is this atrophy specific to Japan? There are many types of teachers in different industries. If not in formal education, can you find it elsewhere? I cover West Asia and I get the impression that it still exists in that region.
Inagaki: There is certainly the master-pupil relationship outside of Japan as well, but the properties and functions are different and unique to each culture. So I get the feeling that Japan has its unique qualities, but I can’t yet make general comparisons.
Kosugi: This gets me thinking about the philosopher Nishida’s courses and the relationship he had with his students. The culture and bond between the master and pupil was strong here during his time. Nishida’s pupils were as close as brothers. In fact, we have the terms otôto-deshi and ani-deshi — younger brother pupil and older brother pupil. But I suppose that is fading away as well. Dr Abe, what is the view from your department?
Abe: Back in the day, it’s true that Nishida, along with other first generation teachers in post-War Kyoto University, had strong bonds between master and pupil. One key factor was the proximity of the school to the professor’s residence. Back then everyone lived relatively close to campus. Students could drop by the professor’s house at any time, which you can pick up from the pupils’ writings. You could call them ‘pupils’, or even ‘disciples’ or ‘apprentices’ in a traditional sense. These interactions were strong even before Nishida. They would have get-togethers once a month, and many students would attend to talk and discuss. However, that didn’t continue. One reason is that professors started living further away from the school. The environment of a master-pupil relationship that you see in literature such as Natsume Sôseki’s Kokoro does not exist anymore. Even I live outside of Kyoto’s city limits.
Inagaki: In the context of Sôseki’s Kokoro or Nishida’s career at the university and the evolution of the Kyoto School, the master-pupil relationship appears to have been very strong, as reflected by the many references in the writings of students and faculty in the humanities here. Lateral networks were strong too — the connections between pupils. Kyoto University’s numbers actually outpace that of University of Tokyo student networks, which demonstrates the strength of this relationship here. Looking at their writings, this activity appears to have peaked around the 1970s.
And while I’ve found that one-on-one master-pupil relationships are universal, strong pupil-to-pupil relationships are unique to Japan. What’s more, there was a distinctive hierarchy among them. All of Nishida and Sôseki’s pupils each thought of themselves as their professor’s true protégés. It built a sense of camaraderie, respect, and competitiveness. And with those lines drawn, newer pupils would strive to perform as well or better than their ‘brothers’. This had both good and bad sides to it.
Kosugi: There is really a familial sense among pupils. It is deeply engrained in our culture. I find that when students from overseas first arrive in Japan, one of the first things they learn is the idea of sempai-kôhai — upper-classmen and junior-classmen — and that you can rely on sempai for help.
Dr Yamauchi, what have you found in the service industry?
Yamauchi: Master-pupil relationships are strong in the services, albeit undergoing change. I don’t think today’s young students hold their sempai in as much reverence as before. You hear about craftspeople taking on apprentices even now, but all over the world that is diminishing. In Kyoto I spoke with an artisan who had learned his trade the old way, as an apprentice. But when I asked “who was your master?” he said “you wouldn’t know him.” In the past, a craft worker would be anonymous, but now they are becoming artists and putting their names out on their works. I see a transition from craft to art contributing to this.
Sushi bars have apprenticeships as well. And recently, I’ve started looking at bars, because they have a similar system.
Kamm: Really? Even bartenders take on apprentices?
Yamauchi: Yes, ambitious bartenders receive training in places like Ginza, Tokyo, for ten years. What I find absolutely fascinating is that while this master-pupil interaction is romanticized in academic literature, if you talk to actual apprentices, most of them really really hate their masters. They respect them of course, but they all say they don’t want to end up being like their masters. They want to become independent and make something in a completely different style. However, when they themselves become masters and take on apprentices, they don’t treat them any better.
Inagaki: This reminds me of other aspects of Japanese culture, like compassion. All of these come with their inverse. Compassion can slide into favoritism. Expressing understanding for someone’s feelings can degenerate into mere flattery. A fine balance needs to be struck in a relationship; it’s something unstable, not completely structured — which is why wild swings from love to hate happen in an instant. And this also happens between masters and pupils. The pupil will be constantly aware that the relationship is something to be transcended, lest they be forever an imitator. There is great incentive in respecting the master, but the pupil can’t help feeling hatred. The masters, meanwhile, want their dear apprentices to stay on forever, even while knowing that if they don’t let them go, they haven’t done their job as a master. That’s why when pupils starts to hate their masters, it’s a sign that they’ve become good at what they do.
Kosugi: Dr Yamauchi, do you think of us educators as being in the service industry?
Yamauchi: The whole world is moving to that direction, treating education as a service, which is an economic exchange. Students submitting lecture evaluations tell us to “give us a bit more of that,” or “how about more classes in English?” and so forth. We need to listen to these customer voices. So in a sense yes. But I don’t think we should view ourselves in that way. Again, I view service as the process in which participants come to acquire new selves. In services, they are first negated and struggle to prove themselves. Service is not about unilaterally pleasing customers. We should take it upon ourselves to provide a more Kyoto University-centered education. Something that is more in tune with the school spirit.
Inagaki: That’s the dilemma isn’t it? While being aware of the service aspect, the whole thing has a tendency to swell out of proportion, so it’s easier to just lump everything under ‘service’ in a broad sense. The thing is, the master-pupil relationship may have a role to play in education. But ‘service’ in that form is somehow fundamentally different from Dr Yamauchi’s service, because when teaching a class the emphasis is on learning. And learning as service isn’t really learning, but just being guided to learn.
Yamauchi: Yes, indeed. The basic theory of service involves value co-creation. Customers and service providers participate in the service and jointly co-produce services. If we accept this, customers are implicated in the service; they cannot keep a safe distance from it. It matters who they are. When students learn in the classroom, they do not simply accept information. They need to present who they are. Learning unfolds through this dialectic process. This is true for any service as long as it is value co-creation. When you analyze service objectively, you notice that the more expensive the service is, the less service you receive, just as in sushi bars. The service should be more difficult to understand, and making it easy for students is not the answer.
Kosugi: Dr Kamm, what comparative perspective do you see between Germany and Japan?
Kamm: I can only talk from personal experience, but I find it hard to say whether such relationships exist either in Germany or in Kyoto in the organizational sense. But certainly, you have students who you’ve taught who have moved on to other universities and become lecturers there, and the relationship still continues thereafter. They may choose the same research themes, or we may collaborate. So, the network is still there and very beneficial. We have students who were taught in Kyoto who are now over in France and working as lecturers there. And this helps us connect with different world-renowned universities. That kind of thing certainly does happen a lot.
Kosugi: I was recently at a conference in Malaysia, where there is a Kyoto University alumni chapter called ‘MyKyoto’ with about 300 members. I was really impressed with their network. Looking at our university today, I often see that students from overseas are the ones who are the closest with their professors. That partially stems from being in a foreign land and have trouble with the language, and so the professors are happy to help them. This forms a good bond. Japanese students only have to worry about their work and research. I think that makes foreign students strong proponents for networking, and for engagement in a kind of traditional master-pupil relationship.
Kamm: Speaking of foreign students, many of them actually come to Japan wanting a sempai or kôhai during their time here. One reason is that they have seen this in anime and other popular Japanese media. They almost have an aspiration to call somebody a sempai —or to be called one.
Abe: That is very interesting because I have seen that dynamic being deconstructed. I once heard that lecturers in the Faculty of Science, for example, do not address anybody as sensei, not even eminent senior professors. The aim is to establish an un-hierarchical system, if you will. Everyone is a scholar. The students may be beginners, but they are scholars too. To me, this approach to establish a level playing field is simultaneously ‘competitive’ and ‘co-creative’. It generates a sense of camaraderie. Eliminating the hierarchy and having everyone stand on the same level is quite unorthodox in Japan, but also very typical of Kyoto University. And hearing what you say about foreign students, the dynamic seems to be more fluid than I realized.
Kamm: Perhaps it is more about the label and less about the dynamics. Modern students do want a relationship based on mutual respect. They may still be master and pupil — or sempai and kôhai — but knowing that each one’s work and ideas are respected is very beneficial to the students’ work mentality and feeling of motivation.
Round about Kyoto
Kosugi: We’re surrounded by the ambiance of Kyoto while doing our research here. What are the positive aspects?
Inagaki: I’ve been here since I was a student. Just for two years, though, I was in Tokyo, and there I was struck that everyone had to catch the last train home, around midnight. And so everyone had to leave, even in the middle of a very good debate or discussion. Here we’d all go out just off campus for what we called a “Hyakumanben chat”. We’d tell each other, “we’ll just go out for a bit,” and every single time we’d end up drinking and talking until morning, even with people from completely different fields. I’d listen to people talk, and then write it down in my notebook. By morning I’d be brimming with fresh ideas. You can’t find that in Tokyo.
I think that is a factor that has contributed to Kyoto’s reputation and atmosphere of intellectual and academic freedom. Students and professors have the freedom to pursue ideas or probe the minds of people outside their disciplines and gain different perspectives or new ideas.
Kosugi: It’s the same when we have conferences. If they happen in Tokyo, everyone’s worried about catching the last train. But when people come to Kyoto, it’s just a question about people getting back to their hotels. So after the academic proceedings are done, people are free to hang around afterwards without worrying about the time. You might go to two or three places in one night.
Abe: I have been here since my undergrad days at the Faculty of Letters, so I have always thought that it goes without saying to drink and debate until the morning. And even if you generally end up forgetting much of what you said, you come away with at least the feeling that you can carry an argument, and so I went through college and graduate school in this milieu. As a student you find a place — or places — which are cheap and close to the school and just talk. That is the charm of Kyoto, and studying in this city. Even now, I still go out on occasion and enjoy the same kind of thing.
Another thing that’s attractive about this place is that you can find a variety of very new or long-established restaurants and inns. Generally they are small and privately owned, and you can easily avoid large franchise chains. That kind of individualism — striving to make something good — is something I enjoy very much. I feel the strong spirit of craftsmanship when walking around the town. That somehow gives you the sense that you are not alone, we are all striving to make something good within our own niche. It’s not so much an ‘ambiance’ that you mentioned, Dr Kosugi — but rather, shall we say, an ‘atmosphere’? At any rate, you can feel the historical quality to Kyoto — perhaps a thing we could call the culture of the commons.
Yamauchi: When people ask me where I’m from, I always find it hard to come up with an answer. If it’s someone from Kyoto asking, I can’t tell them that I’m from Kyoto. I’m actually born and raised in Uji to the south, but within Kyoto prefecture. But if the person is not from Kyoto, then I say I’m from Kyoto. Now I live in the middle of Kyoto, and people who’ve been there since way back — true Kyoto natives — say, “I’m from Kyoto.” But then the discussion moves on to “how many generations have you been here?” and that becomes the next level of authenticity of Kyoto pride.
Therefore most people call themselves ‘Kyotoites’ without actually believing that they’re the real thing themselves. There really is that kind of self-abnegation at work, and I feel that it makes people keep a certain distance from everything. Everyone is kind of performing a certain persona. So for example, in Kyoto you’ll often see a situation where an elderly next-door neighbor lady says, “Your little boy’s really coming along with his piano practice, isn’t he?” Anywhere else, you’d just feign modesty, saying “Oh no, not at all.” But you can’t do that in Kyoto.
Another thing I find interesting about Kyoto is that even though it looks really exclusive, most people call themselves ‘Kyotoites’ without actually believing that they’re the real thing themselves. There really is that kind of self-abnegation at work, and I feel that it makes people keep a certain distance from everything. So for example, in Kyoto you’ll often see a situation where an elderly next-door neighbor lady says, “Your little boy’s really coming along with his piano practice, isn’t he?” Anywhere else, you’d just feign modesty, saying “Oh no, not at all.” But you can’t do that in Kyoto.
Kamm: She’s telling you to keep it down, right?
Yamauchi: Exactly. You have to say “I’m sorry about the racket.” I think what’s actually going on is that everyone is engaging in a linguistic game — a kind of performance. The lady is showing that she is no making any complaint, too sophisticated to do that. In turn, you have to show that you are sensitive enough to understand the subtlety. In that sense, you can say that people are ‘playing’ the parts of Kyotoites rather than ‘being’ them. The way people keep their distance is quite fascinating.
Kyoto University is known for people doing things outside the mainstream, and so my research topic now is niche enough to reflect that. We are all oddballs here at Kyoto University, but oddballs never think of themselves as being odd, which is a healthy mentality. Kyoto fuels that drive. We keep distance from everything, particularly the mainstream discourse.
Kamm: I fully agree. Compared to Tokyo, everything here is very close, and it’s possible to talk all night. And even though Kyoto is constantly awash with tourists, I feel that they’re made pretty welcome here. In my case, once I joined the local residents’ association in the area where I now live, I got an incredible amount of support from the neighborhood. Thanks to them, I was able to take part in festival parades. I think it’s great to be able to work in a place with an atmosphere that offers you experiences like that. I recommend students to take part in the festivities here at the University, as part of their experience of living in Japan. Kyoto is the ‘center’ of Japan in a sense, but at the same time it is not. So, you get a real feeling of freedom of thought and academia, both in the University and in the city. In regard to my own research, there are a lot of locations here in Kyoto where I can conduct my work, starting with the International Research Center for Japanese Studies. The Kyoto International Manga Museum is another place here where I pursue my research.
Kosugi: I must also agree wholeheartedly. When you think about our school’s tradition of academic freedom, it really does arise from this kind of ambience. Kyoto is and was an incredible metropolis, but at the same time it’s no longer the capital city. To put it another way, Kyoto can do things without being impacted by things like government and policy. As seen from abroad, Kyoto certainly has this image of being the ancient capital, but at the same time it has to continue operating at the cutting edge to retain its metropolitan status. It’s often said that this was the very first city in Japan to have streetcars. This was during the Meiji period. Having the University here has been a very good thing for Kyoto by keeping it on the cutting edge of modern society. It’s this fusion of tradition and progress that gives the city a unique feel. People take the view that the old and new are incompatible, but I think it is the opposite. It’s more difficult not do that here. Listening to what everyone has to say I got the sense that you have the best of both worlds here because of the University.
I would have to admit though that recently the tradition of academic freedom appears to be fluid and possibly needs to be updated, or at least made easier to interpret. Sometimes even those of us working as lecturers have trouble unpacking what that means now. Are face-to-face interactions more valuable? Are we required to expand out into different fields of research? I think it is good that we continue to ask these questions.
So to continue talking about the appeal of Kyoto University itself, Dr Kamm, how have overseas researchers or exchange students experienced the University?
Kamm: Continuing what I was saying before, this incredible atmosphere works very well for students and researchers from abroad. Off campus and outside of academia, they can experience festivals and Japanese traditions. I think this is a wonderful place.
In 2005 I was an exchange student at Ritsumeikan University here in Kyoto. I had a chance to join in a festival along with my fellow exchange students. We carried a portable shrine on our shoulders and had a very meaningful life experience.
Abe: I am happy to hear of your positive memories. Your research on transcultural studies has reminded me about another aspect of Kyoto University that I feel can make it more appealing and beneficial.
As many know, Europe is the ‘home’ and model of the modern university. It was inevitable that Japanese universities would take up that model at the start of the modern era, during the Meiji period. More specifically, looking at how ‘second’ languages have been chosen at universities, even to this day we focus on Western languages. I feel that there are other languages closer to home, like Korean, Chinese, and Russian, that are just as important to study. In other words, I think it is very important to have people studying a range of languages and cultures close to home, and become multilingual, at least to an extent. I think that can make Kyoto University more appealing to people. We certainly cannot call a thing that has yet to be made appealing, but taking that first step and deviating from the norm is where KyotoU excels. So via this intercultural — or transcultural — idea of cooperating with Western academic pursuits and Asian academics, I hope, should diversify our intellectual traditions. I’d like to see Kyoto University become a forum in which people from truly diverse intellectual traditions converge from various countries, each bringing their own distinctive contributions to the discussion.
This sort of input would certainly be a benefit to my work studying environmental issues from a philosophical perspective. Diverse intellectual traditions are necessary to tackle the multiple issues raised by environmental problems. That is to say, environmental issues cannot be resolved by one single tradition alone.
Kosugi: Thank you for your insights, Dr Abe! Dr Inagaki, can you comment on the intrinsic appeal of Kyoto University?
Inagaki: In general, visitors to Japan — including lecturers from overseas universities — all want to come to Kyoto. The city has a reputation to live up to, and as a result plays host to a diverse intellectual and artistic climate. In terms of Kyoto University, this intellectual diversity is reflected in our tradition of ‘academic freedom’. I talked about this before, but new ideas can and will arise when you interact with people outside of your academic discipline. And somehow, I feel that all along that’s been our core tradition. When we get students and visitors coming to campus from all over the world, we gain access to a wider range of ideas and values. So I feel strongly that it would be tremendously beneficial if KyotoU develops further as a kind of forum — an intercultural forum. I mean, in the sense that it doesn’t just offer something interesting for foreign students — it makes things more interesting for everyone, and broadens our range of interests. Since the number of students from overseas is increasing, these opportunities are becoming more readily available.
It occurred to me recently when I was thinking about my work and role here at the University, that when it comes to things like university reform and international competitiveness, we end up turning to the West as a model. And I started thinking to myself, how long do we have to keep on being the ones playing catch-up? Rather than having things go in that direction, the humanities and social sciences can benefit from the creation of a domestic standard — by which I mean, a new ‘intercultural domestic’ standard.
Kosugi: Thank you. Dr Yamauchi?
Yamauchi: Yes. When I think about the merits of Kyoto University, I agree with the foregoing comments. When looking at my current work —I’m involved in the management studies— this is another area which until now has followed Western theory. There was a time when that seemed like the right approach. But now I think culture is going to be an increasingly important issue for management studies. Capitalism has reached the limits of its progress. Whatever gets widely circulated in the market loses value. People may get excited about new products only for a short period of time.
So where do we find value in a world like this? It has to come from somewhere outside capitalism, something that has not been circulated in the market. What would that be? Culture. Culture is organized to refuse capitalist logic. Artists do not appear to care about money, for instance. You cannot put a price tag on culture. People want authenticity by identifying with culture. So we can see that the people who are purveyors of culture are those who can lead society in the future.
For example, I mentioned that I’m studying bars. The fact is, bars in Japan are very distinct. There’s nothing like them in the West except at high-end hotels. Small counter-only bars in towns — with the bartender in a bow tie, making cocktails, paying attention to everything including the temperature of the water — is something you see very often in Japan, but rarely elsewhere. So now, these Japanese bartenders are heading overseas, opening bars abroad, and doing very well. They are selling their skills and the authenticity of Japanese bartending. Lots of them are heading to China and Singapore. Japanese culture will change over time, but there is a new economy emerging in this culture. So now we have foreign students coming to Japan with the chance to experience things here, and that is wonderful. The location of Kyoto — and Kyoto University’s crucial position in Japanese culture — is sure to result in some highly unique scholars for the future.
Kosugi: At the end of the day, in the humanities and social sciences it’s all about people, isn’t it? People and culture. Now that the number of foreign students is steadily increasing, I’m convinced that having different cultures and different people collide in an educational forum will be immensely enriching for all. And one more thing — which I think is the brilliance of Kyoto University — is that, although the humanities and social sciences are thriving here, many people know the school as a champion of the natural sciences. Many of Japan’s Nobel laureates have come out of this university. That in itself is stimulating. The reason why the humanities are so strong here is because the sciences are strong. We have a friendly academic rivalry between us, and they spur each other on. In the end, our fields are complementary. When we contemplate the challenges facing humanity, the sciences make an attempt at finding a solution. Then in turn these new discoveries come back to us, and we then see how these impact culture and all of humanity. KyotoU is known for its cutting edge iPS cell research, but isn’t that precisely the kind of science that raises the question of what it means to be human? Our Kyoto University offers precisely that sort of stimulation in abundance.
I think that’s a good place to wrap up. I appreciate every panelist for taking the time to contribute to this intellectually stimulating conversation. Let us get back to enjoying and promoting our academic freedom!
KyotoU achieves DNU status
In June 2017, Kyoto university was one of the first three national universities — together with Tokyo and Tohoku — to achieve ‘Designated National University’ status, a new initiative of the education ministry MEXT to reform university management, attract top-tier faculty, and lead the nation’s efforts in higher education and scientific achievement. In July, President Juichi Yamagiwa (right) received an official certificate of the designation from the MEXT minister.
One pillar of the university’s proposal is the promotion of globally-oriented studies of the humanities. In an era driven by achievements in technology development and the natural sciences, understanding humanity’s role and future on the planet is even more important than ever. Situated in Japan’s ancient capital, Kyoto University is uniquely positioned to lend the heritage of the city’s culture and traditions to this urgent global discourse.