Konichiwa! Japan scholars visit York for international conference

Japan scholars from around the world converged on York University’s Keele campus last week to participate in a four-day conference, which ran from Aug. 16 to 19. The meeting, hosted by the Japan Studies Association of Canada (JSAC), had a unique York influence as it was chaired by York Japanese studies Professor Norio Ota.

Above: JSAC conference participants listen to opening remarks delivered by York Professor Norio Ota

Ota, the coordinator of the Japanese studies section in the Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics in York’s Faculty of Arts, is also a director of JSAC. He brought the conference to York to show off the University’s international connections and prowess in Japanese studies and to provide an opportunity for students enrolled in Japanese studies to experience an international academic conference.

Right: Norio Ota

During the four days, conference participants attended sessions organized under the central theme "Japan and Its Eventuality: Pushing the Envelope Further". Scholars, researchers and graduate students, some from as far away as Australia and Japan, presented papers at the event. The conference also included the dedication of an upcoming festschrift which is being created to honour JSAC’s founder, the late Klaus Pringsheimm, and it offered a celebration of the 20th anniversary of JSAC. (For more on the festschrift and Pringsheim, see the Aug. 10 issue of YFile.)

On Thursday, Aug. 16, more than 100 conference participants gathered with members of the York community at Michelangelo’s Restaurant in the Atkinson Building for a celebration dinner which featured traditional Japanese cuisine. The conference participants were also treated to a performance by musician Debbie Danbrook, a master of the shakuhachi, an ancient Japanese bamboo flute.

Left: From left, Consul-General of Japan Koichi Kawakami; Professor Norio Ota; Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, York associate vice-president academic learning initiatives; Robert Drummond, dean, York Faculty of Arts; and JSAC President Fumika Ikawa-Smith

In his opening remarks to conference participants at the dinner, a delighted Ota spoke about how his "little conference had grown and blossomed into a major international event with delegates attending from the far reaches of the world". The conference and its many student participants highlighted the growth and popularity of Japanese studies at York. Ota outlined how the University’s Japanese program has been steadily growing since its inception in the 1960s, mirroring the growth of Japan as one of the major economic powers in the world. "York offers a comprehensive four-year Japanese language program designed to provide students in various fields with a working knowledge of the language and useful information concerning Japanese people, society and culture," said Ota, adding that this year, more than 400 students are registered in the program.

Representing Sheila Embleton, York vice-president academic, Professor Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt associate vice-president academic learning initiatives, brought the official University welcome to the conference participants. In her remarks, Fisher-Stitt outlined the importance of internationalization at York. "York aims to be the leading institution in Canada for international activities," said Fisher-Stitt. "York’s academic plan enshrines a long-standing commitment to internationalization in the context that actually extends beyond our own university boundaries."

She outlined how York University values its connections to Japan, its culture and language and included a brief description of the many international internship opportunities available to York students, as well as the partnerships with Japanese universities which includes the collaborative work conducted by York researchers with researchers based in Japan.

Other speakers included the president of the Japanese Studies Association of Canada, Fumika Ikawa-Smith (right), a retired anthropology professor at McGill University. "I am really overwhelmed by the large contingent here and the overwhelming support we have received from public and private sector organizations," said Ikawa-Smith. "In its first day, the conference has already offered a very stimulating platform for discussion of a number of important points and I look forward to the rest of the conference."

Bringing greetings to the conference participants were Consul-General of Japan Koichi Kawakami and Tatsuo Nakayama, president & CEO of the conference’s main corporate sponsor Mitsui & Co. (Canada) Ltd. Both speakers stressed the importance of expanding Japanese studies in Canada.

The dinner concluded with a performance by Danbrook on the ancient Japanese bamboo flute. She is the first professional female player to specialize in the unique healing abilities of the traditional Japanese flute, which is used by monks in a spiritual practice called suizen, or blowing Zen. It was historically also played by the samurai class of Japanese aristocracy.

Right: Musician Debbie Danbrook plays a traditional Japanese meditative piece on the shakuhachi

The JSAC conference received support from the Japan Foundation, the Consulate General of Japan (Toronto), Mitsui & Co. (Canada) Ltd., York University, Japanese Association of Canadian Studies, Japanese Association of Australia, European Association of Japanese Studies, and many other organizations.

For more information on Japanese studies at York University, visit http://buna.yorku.ca/japanese/.