What Makes Tokyo College Great–A Short Report from Haruo Shirane - Tokyo College

What Makes Tokyo College Great–A Short Report from Haruo Shirane


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I would like to say that my time at Tokyo College was by far the most exciting and productive of all the research appointments in my career. My field is premodern Japanese literature and culture, with interests in environmental studies and popular culture. Until now, I had interacted with scholars in Japanese literature, religion, history, and art history, but this was the first time that I was in a truly international, deeply interdisciplinary environment with English as the common language with shared interests across many countries. Tokyo College enabled me to meet a wide range of scholars from around the world in such diverse fields as hydro-engineering to cultural anthropology to architecture—to mention only the most immediate. I also consulted with a prominent environment scholar (Takeuchi Kazuhiko) in the Institute for Future Initiatives and with scholars in a number of different fields. I also led a reading group with professors of Japanese literature and culture at the University of Tokyo.

Of particular interest was the Sustainability and Society Writer’s Group, led by Trent Brown, where I was able to give a paper on “Animals, Disaster, and Environment,” with particular reference to satoyama, one of the Japan’s traditional agricultural environments, and to get exciting feedback from scholars across a range of disciplines and countries, allowing me to gain a broad comparative and theoretical perspective. I subsequently gave a public presentation on this topic at Tokyo College that was professionally edited with simultaneous translation and that has been seen by many people both in Japan and abroad. My commentator was Fukunaga Mayumi, a specialist in environmental studies at the University of Tokyo, who opened up new frontiers for me. As a result of  Tokyo College’s youtube page, I was invited to speak at other institutions such as the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (Chikyūken) in Kyoto, where I got feedback from a range of environmental scientists and cultural anthropologists. This ever-expanding circle significantly deepened the range of my research and also disseminated my ideas.

Of the many things that I loved about Tokyo College, the best was getting to know the brilliant postdoctoral researchers who were engaged in cutting-edge fields. One of them was Jesse Rafeiro, with whom I worked on environmental philosophy and the non-human. A group of us had the opportunity for an overnight visit to a satoyama in Tateyama, Chiba, a lab run by Okabe Akiko, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Tokyo.  This was one of many exciting field trips that I took while at Tokyo College. The combination of leading scholars and young postdocs was highly energizing. Last but not least, I want to thank the staff, especially Ms. Inagaki and Ms. Niwa, who aided me a number of my research projects and presentations. Rarely do you see such a wonderful combination of stimulus and support.

Haruo Shirane (Columbia University, Honorary Member of the Japan Academy)

Project professor at Tokyo College for six months from November 1, 2022 to April 30, 2023 and as Visiting Professor for the month of May, 2023.


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