Japanese Studies in Indonesia

Author : Professor Shigeto Sonoda (Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, The University of Tokyo Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies and Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies)

  On October 27, 2016, I participated in a symposium “The Half Century of Japanese Studies in Indonesia: Reflecting the Past, Envisioning the Future,” commemorating the 50th anniversary of The Indonesian Association of Japanese Studies (ASJI) convened at the University of Indonesia as one of keynote speakers.
In my speech, I first explained about the background to the establishment of the Global Japan Studies program at the University of Tokyo as well as the difficulties we are currently facing. Then, I made the observation that there is a high possibility for new research and education emerging from international collaborations in Japanese Studies. Finally, I introduced the summer programs jointly organized with the University of Hong Kong and National Taiwan University as well as examples of studies of Japanese businesses in Indonesia to foreground the point that great potential exists in looking at Japan from outside and from diverse Asian regional perspectives.
The talk after me was by Professor Simon Avenell of Australian National University, who looked back on his studies of postwar social movement in Japan and emphasized that during the anti-pollution movement and consumer movement of the postwar period, there were attempts of search for solidarity with overseas, in particular Asian, activists. He made the point that the perspective of “Japan in Asia” will become increasingly important in future Japanese Studies.
Giving the final talk was Professor Julian Aldrin Pasha of the University of Indonesia. Prof. Pasha mentioned that various lessons can be learned from Japan’s experience of economic growth and subsequent turmoil, and Japanese Studies can offer good textbook lessons for considering economic management of Indonesia. Prof. Pasha referred to the usefulness of Japanese Studies for Indonesia, whereas Prof. Avenell and I emphasized not to view Japan as a singular and purely independent entity. Our difference in views probably reflects more than the difference in intellectual environments where we each are located.
The chair of our keynote speech session was Professor Bachtiar Alam who is the leading scholar in Japanese Studies at the University of Indonesia. I was amaze to hear that Prof. Alam is husband of Ms. Wulansari Sri Ayu, a PhD student of the University of Tokyo who is now joining my postgraduate seminar. But what impressed me most were the general panel sessions in which Indonesian researchers made presentations.
For example, in the “culture” session there were many contemporary presentations on popular culture including kawaii kyara (cute characters), moe (strong affection to anime), and keamen (male care-giver). In “politics” and “economy” sessions, notably questions were raised from the perspective of finding useful lessons for Indonesia, such as the actual situation of Abenomics and “export” of Indonesian care workers to Japan. In addition, there were also many cutting-edge presentations including the one looking at children’s space in urban settings and another which focused on “single fathers” in Japan.
Most intriguing was two presentations retracing the trajectory of Japanese Studies in Indonesia.
The first one, given by Himawan Pratama, examined the topics of graduation thesis in the Japanese Studies program of the University of Indonesia. According to Pratama, topics in earlier period focused on Japanese language and traditional culture, but topics are becoming increasingly diversified. While popular topics change with time, currently there is a strong interest in Japanese popular culture and economic situation.
The second presentation by Nani Sunarni was about institutionalization of Japanese Studies in Indonesia. Similar to Pratama, Sunarni made the observation that Japanese studies in Indonesia are diversifying. She further pointed out that research institutions on Japan are expanding beyond the island of Java and as such it is more and more important for domestic research institutions in Indonesia to share information with each other.
These presentations demonstrate that a certain perspective toward Japan has been historically formulated in the “magnetic field” of Indonesia. Anthropologists Aoki Tamotsu and Funabiki Takeo have critically examined postwar transformations of the discourse about Japan and Japanese (Nihonjin ron). Two presentations by Indonesian scholars, however, suggested that discourse about Japan and Japanese out of Japan is a good research topic. Many presentations in general panel sessions were made in Bahasa Indonesia, which suggests that Japanese Studies in Indonesia have come to be localized, showing its own unique characteristics.
I could find interesting presentation title like “Islam-Otaku Community” in the conference proceedings, but I was unable to go to the presentation. According to the conference proceedings, Japanese cosplay fans have regionally expanded from Jakarta, Sumatra, Makassar, to Malaysia. They created a group called “Islam-Otaku Community” on the website as a platform for their activities. Is the study of “Islam-Otaku Community” a part of Japanese Studies or a part of Southeast Asian Studies? This is a question showcasing the difficulty in drawing clear-cut boundaries between Japanese Studies and Studies on the societies to which local researchers belong.
Connecting this kind of hybrid research on Japan at various parts of the world and weaving new knowledge out of this global intellectual fabric is a quite challenging but significant intellectual attempt. My trip to Indonesia reconfirmed such an idea for me.