An interview with Prof. Kojima Tsuyoshi (professor of the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology of the University of Tokyo)

Interviewer : Yijiang Zhong

Prof. Kojima Tsuyoshi (professor of the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology of the University of Tokyo)

Could you tell us about yourself and your research?

This is Kojima Tsuyoshi of the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology of the University of Tokyo. My field of research is Chinese intellectual history with a focus on the history of Confucianism in particular neo-Confucianism. I am interested in examining how neo-Confucianism spread not only in China but also in Korea, Viet Nam and Japan, and how neo-Confucianisms in these regions differ from each other. I am a Japanese and Confucianism is an important issue for Japan. Self-reflexively, I think behind my choice of study of Confucianism among different schools of Chinese thought lays the fact of myself being a Japanese.

How is your research different from those of other scholars?

Japanese scholars of Confucianism have so far done research that includes Japanese and Korean Confucianism. In this context, my interest lies in what kind of historical role that which is called Confucianism played and how this Confucianism differs from that of China. More specifically, in the case of Japan, Confucianism was not in the mainstream up to the so-called Meiji Restoration or the mid-nineteenth century. Japan was a Buddhist country. This is very different from China and Korea. Why was there such a difference? It is rather after the Meiji Restoration that Confucian morality was disseminated through education throughout the nation. Scholars have shown how Confucian thought was made to function in the post-Meiji Restoration period. However, except for Prof Watanabe Hiroshi of Japanese intellectual history and several others, most scholars have considered Confucianism within the framework of modern history of Japan. In comparison, I look at pre-Meiji Restoration periods and conduct comparative studies of reception of Confucianism in Japan and its unfolding in China.

Could you share your opinions on the current state of Japan Studies (broadly defined) in the University of Tokyo?

I will start from the establishment of the University of Tokyo. The University was established in 1877 for the purpose of realizing Japan's modernization through introducing modern scientific knowledge from the West. The Tokugawa bakufu operated an official school called Shōheizaka gakumonjo during the Edo period but the content of education was mainly Confucianism. While succeeding that tradition, the University of Tokyo was established by breaking off from the traditional content and setting the goal of introducing Western knowledge to Japan. From the beginning, studies that concerned Japan as a subject were not mainstream. Certainly, in the Faculty of Letters research units for study of literature of Japan, linguistic study of the Japanese language, and study of history of Japan were established but they adopted Western style of scholarship and differed greatly from that of the Tokugawa period. This has since been the feature of the University of Tokyo and of many universities of Japan. That is to say, the self-awareness that we are studying Japan itself within the tradition and culture of one’s own has been relatively weak. Another dimension of the history of the University of Tokyo is with regard to the problem of the unfortunate history up to the mid twentieth century. During that time, research units called Studies of Japanese Spirit and Studies of Japanese Thought were established in the Faculty of Letters and they were abolished after the end of World War II. Needless to say, in the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology of the Faculty of Letters there are many scholars working on Japan, but there seems little self-understanding among them that that is a field of research across disciplinary boundaries and participated by us all. I have many excellent scholar-colleagues who study Japan but I don’t think there have been collaborative research between these scholars and social scientists at the University of Tokyo. How to change this situation is a problem the University faces now.

Could you share your opinions on Japan studies overseas?

I am not a Japan specialist so can’t say I know much about Japan studies overseas. Let me say a few words as a scholar outside the field. Japan studies in Japan is conducted in Japanese. When people come to Japan from overseas to conduct research on Japan, they also use Japanese. But outside Japan researches are conducted in English, Chinese and so on. These studies have unique understandings about Japan. Are there effective collaborations and connections between these researches and Japan studies within Japan? If not, how can the connections be made? In other words, there exists the problem that excellent works written in Japanese by Japanese scholars are not being read by researchers overseas. Without being read, these researches are non-existent for people overseas.

Could you be more specific about this problem?

As a China specialist I can only talk about China in a concrete sense. In the case of Chinese scholars of Japan, their understanding of Japan lags behind and they do not understand the problems that have already been identified and represented in new ways in Japan. What used to be common knowledge in Japan forty or fifty years ago are still being quoted by many Chinese scholars. This has to do with the lack of exploratory and pioneering research on the part of these Chinese scholars but it also results from the failure of Japanese scholars in communicating their research with foreign scholars. I think what is happening to Chinese scholars applies to scholars in other foreign countries. As a global problem of humanities research, this is really regrettable.

One way to change the situation is language. We should translate good scholarship in Japan into English, Chinese and other languages so as to make them known overseas, rather than simply asking people to read our works written in Japanese. At the same time we can proactively go abroad and present our researches in ways accessible to people in other countries. There are many international academic conventions nowadays and we can speak at these conventions. When appropriate, we can write in and have our works translated into English, Chinese or other languages so that speakers of these languages can read our works.

Another method is to share problem consciousness. Japan studies in Japan progressed so far by pursuing our own problems and this is clear from the history of the establishment of the University of Tokyo. That is to say, the main purpose has been introducing Western scholarship to Japan and make it our own. But in the age of globalization, while continuing to take seriously the problems specific to Japan, we need to share research problems and identify together what the global issues are and what scholarship especially humanities in Japan can provide to researchers overseas with regard to those issues. Otherwise, scholars overseas won’t be able to understand for what purpose we write even if we solve the language problem.

Talking about sharing problem consciousness, the history problem comes into mind. What is your opinion on how we can share history?

This is an important and difficult problem. And I thing it concerns historical consciousness as well. First, it is necessary to study the history of Japan within Japan and place individual events of the past in that history. This operation is important insofar as it is conducted by Japanese for the sake of Japan. This is a basic prerequisite. But it is problematic to self-righteously say that this operation can continue without making people overseas understand it. This is especially the case with regard to the unfortunate history of East Asia. About this unfortunate history, Japanese conducted research to show that so-and-so is what really happened and long held viewpoints are actually skewed and so on. They show that it is possible to be academically honest. But this is a discourse that may make sense only to Japanese. Of course, I do not think the historical consciousness of Chinese and Korean scholars are completely correct either. In the case of China, there is an understanding as to what role Japan played in this “unfortunate history”. This historical consciousness conflicts seriously with above-mentioned history scholarship in Japan. I think conflict itself is a good thing but whether we can share problems depends on thorough discussions on what the problems are from each other’s point of view. It will be indeed “unfortunate” if we achieve nothing but exchanging words like “This is what we think. Your views are mistaken.” Historical consciousness is not something that we can easily share with others. Neither can we be readily satisfied with historical consciousness of the other side even after discussions and mutual understanding. However, I think it is necessary for us to conduct reasonable, dispassionate, and honest conversations about why the other side has that particular historical consciousness and why that historical consciousness appear so unconvincing to us.

What is your advice on the construction of the Global Japan Studies network?

Most of the people who conduct research on Japan at the University of Tokyo do not necessarily identify themselves as Japan specialists. Humanities scholars working on Japan may self-consciously identify themselves as such but in social sciences and natural sciences, many people tend to think that their object of study and fieldwork just happens to be Japan, or they are researching on problems and issues that are occurring in Japan because they are Japanese. For example, there are many scholars working on the post-March 11th earthquake reconstruction. They do not always think they are doing “Japan studies” but rather engineering, agricultural or sociological studies. But from a global point of view, these studies focus on the theme of “Japan’s reconstruction” and are considered Japan studies. It is important to get these scholars who do not always self-identify as Japan specialists involved, and expand the network that integrates various studies on or pertaining to Japan in the University. Then we can consolidate the academic resources in the University of Tokyo and present results of Japan studies thus achieved to people overseas in an easy-to-understand style. We will be able to show that researches on our own country of Japan are horizontally connected at the University of Tokyo. This is something possible only in Japan and it is the global mission of the University of Tokyo.