By Söderberg, Marie
Director of the Institute, The European Institute of Japanese Studies at Stockholm School of Economics
March 02, 2015

I was particularly lucky to be invited to Japan in November when several events connected to my research interests occurred at the same time. Being a Professor and also the Director of the European Institute of Japanese Studies(EIJS), EU-Japan relations is an important topic that I have been working on for several years. A lot of this work has been done together with the European Japan Advanced Research Network (EJARN) network (http://www.hhs.se/en/Research/Institutes/EIJS/ejarn/) consisting of a little more than 20 high level European scholars that all speak the language (Japanese) and publish in peer reviewed journals. Besides academic work, EJARN has come forward with various policy proposals and is trying to get Japan back on the European scene where many of the Asia studies institutes in reality have become China studies Institutes. This symposium, Japan and Europe: Creating Together a Better Future - Rule Based and Prosperous, arranged by the Japan Forum of International Relations(JFIR) in cooperation with Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) was a good occasion to pursue this work further and to meet for frank discussions with Japanese colleagues. For a rule based, prosperous and better future, we really need more EU-Japan cooperation! As for my own research interests, these have for many years been very much focused on Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) and this week in November there was also a Symposium arranged by JICA commemorating the 60ths Anniversary of Japan's ODA. This was a full day event to which I had been invited as a panelist. It was really a good event for meeting and debating with both old friends and new ones about Japanese foreign aid. There were many big names like Akihiko Tanaka, President of JICA, whom I know since his time as a professor at Tokyo University when he spent part of a sabbatical doing research in Sweden; Madame Sadako Ogata, former President of JICA but also my former teacher at Sophia University during the early 1980s; Hiroshi Kato, deputy director of JICA and for a long time head of JICA research institute as well as one of Japan's most knowledgeable researchers on Japanese ODA; Professor Yasutami Shimomura whom I have also cooperated with on several occasions. But there were not only big names but also younger scholars like the PhD candidates Raymond Yamamoto, from the German Institute of Japanese Studies, and Carla Bringas who is a PhD candidate at Osaka University. The three of us are just about to put up a research group on Japanese foreign aid at Osaka University where I have been appointed a Special Research Professor.

What more, November is a very nice month to visit Japan. We had clear blue skies every day during my visit. Organization was perfect. I had an assistance and guide of my own as well as a driver that picked me up at Narita. As a Swedish University professor, I am certainly not used to travel and work as easy as this... New Otani is also a nice place to stay and I took turns having my breakfast either in the Japanese restaurant in the main building or at the top of the tower building where I could see Mount Fuji. Besides the two symposiums, I had quite a busy schedule with a number of interviews. I learned a lot. This was a mixture of people from academics, the bureaucracy as well as the business society. Just to mention a few of them I met Professor Shinichi Kitaoka, professor emeritus from Tokyo University, who has been leading the committee that worked with the reinterpretation of the Japanese constitution. At the moment I am writing a paper about the revision of the Japanese ODA Charter and I got a chance to interview Mr Ken Okaniwa, Assistant Director General of the International cooperation Bureau at MOFA and I also go to meet Sadako Ogata for a personal interview. EIJS is arranging a conference on the Economic Partnership/Free Trade Agreement (EPA/FTA) in Stockholm in March and I could now prepare myself through interviews with Mr Akaishi, Deputy Director General at the Trade Policy Bureau of METI and Mr Ito Deputy Director General of Economic Bureau of MOFA. I also had meetings with Mr Yonekura, former head of Keidanren as well as Mr Kinbara, Director of the International Affairs Bureau at Keidanren.

In between these busy meetings, there was also time for cultural activities. The week started with tea ceremony at Hamarikyu garden. I also had the pleasure of visiting Meiji Jingu Intercultural Research Institute and was given a guided tour of the paintings in their museum. I spent my last day in Nagasaki and visited Dejima, a place so much connected with the history of Japanese- European relations but where I had never visited so far. I was surprised to find Dejima far from the water as it has always been pictured by the water in old maps. This was due to the land reclamation that has been done in the area. Dejima is a really interesting place which attracts many tourist. It is now undergoing restoration and will surely attract even more tourists in the future. Strolling around in Clover garden where the foreigners lived in the old days, I felt like I was taken back into history and could imagine the Nagasaki life at the end of the 19th century.

Food was delicious all through my visit. Special thanks to Mr Mikami, Deputy Director of the European Affairs Bureau and my old friend Hitomi Saito, now in charge of relations with Sweden for a nice lunch and the same to Jonathan Hatwell, an old acquaintance from Brussels who has now become Minister and Deputy Head of Delegation of the European Union to Japan. Japanese food is really something extra that is supposed to be good for health. I came home very satisfied but a few kilos heavier than usual.

Read More
Post your comments