Efforts by Japan experts in Britain to boost Japanese studies in the country will bear fruit this September with the opening of the National Institute of Japanese Studies in the new White Rose East Asia Center.
“The subject is strategically important for our country,” Glenn Hook, a professor at the University of Sheffield’s School of East Asian Studies, said in a recent interview with The Japan Times in Tokyo. “We’ve often lost good students who decided to go overseas for postgraduate programs.”
NIJS is part of WREAC together with the National Institute of Chinese Studies. The center will get £4 million from the government over the next five years. After it opens in September, WREAC will be managed jointly by the University of Sheffield and the University of Leeds.
Hook, who is the author of several books, including “Militarization and Demilitarization in Contemporary Japan,” played a key role in getting the government funding to establish the institute.
The professor first became interested in Japan when studying the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their effects on international politics. He later studied at Osaka University of Foreign Studies and Chuo University.
He said Japanese studies in the U.K. have changed in recent years. Japanese studies reached their peak in popularity in Britain in the mid-1980s, with the robust economy in Japan leading Japanese companies to give money to academic institutions.
Japanese pop culture, including animation and video games, has lead to an interest in more traditional culture as well.
The University of Sheffield has 50 British students registered for its undergraduate Japanese studies course every year. However, at the postgraduate level, the majority of students are from overseas.
“What has tended to happen is that students finish their B.A. and go straight to the business world, because there wasn’t enough funding to pursue an M.A. or Ph.D.,” Hook said.
As money from Japanese companies has dried up, many universities began shutting down their East Asian studies departments, saying they were not cost efficient. Most recently, Durham University decided to close its department in 2007.
The £4 million for WREAC is a part of a £25 million British government-initiative to fund regional studies. The money is from the Higher Education Funding Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Scottish Funding Council.
The £25 million program is the the first time the British government has awarded academic funding through open competition.
Thirteen proposals from university groups were shortlisted for a final interview, and five groups were awarded the government funding in the end.
The initiative will also fund the British Interuniversity China Center, the University of Edinburgh’s center of research for Arabic-speaking countries, University College London’s center for East European and former Soviet Union language-based area studies, and a research center focused on Eastern Europe at the University of Glasgow.
Speaking about how the government gave combined funding to NICS and the British Interuniversity China Center, Hook said that while China has grown in importance, Japanese studies have not lost their significance.
“Japan is still the second-largest economy in the world and an extremely important partner to the U.K.,” Hook said, noting the two nations share similar views. “People should recognize the continuing importance of Japan in the world.
“We were very keen to have a strong governance structure involving international advisory boards, and also include representatives of the community,” Hook said of the funding proposal for NIJS. He also said the University of Sheffield, founded in the early 1960s, had the advantage of having “trained Ph.D. students for many years.”
About four new students will be welcomed annually to WREAC. Applicants, restricted to European Union citizens, must have expertise in their areas of study as well applicable language abilities.
Participants in the program will be able to take advantage of the center’s links with more than 30 universities in China and Japan, including the University of Tokyo.
“We’ve always lacked the ability to enable the students to continue their studies, but the new funding will be a great opportunity,” Hook said.
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