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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Japan in Asia

Research focus January 1997 - September 2004


Since the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the blocks on either side of the Iron Curtain, the global political and economic development has been characterized by a strong trend towards globalization on the one hand and moves towards regionalization and an ever increasing regionalism on the other. In East Asia in particular, defined here as the region embracing the countries of Northeast as well as Southeast Asia, a comprehensive region building process has been observed.

This development reveals itself not only in a strengthening of the common political institutions but also through an increasing cultural cohesion. Since the early 1990s, the countries of the region have demonstrated a willingness to enter ever closer forms of cooperation in multilateral organizations such as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) or the highly contentious East Asian Economic Council (EAEC) which only features countries from the region.

At the same time, there has been a marked trend towards the development of a shared regional identity on the level of the social and political discourse. This development is reflected by discussions about Asianism and pan-Asianism and the ongoing debate about so-called Asian values, a concept passionately advocated by some Southeast Asian leaders. The idea of a code of values shared by all East Asian nations has sparked a major row, both internationally and within the region itself. This has served to demonstrate that politicians, businessmen, intellectuals and other leaders often conduct entirely separate discussions about their region and regional identity, consequently developing and cultivating different definitions and understandings of the phenomena involved.

These debates about regional identities seem to be driven by the same processes which led to the creation of imagined communities, the nuclei for the eventual development of nation states (as Benedict Anderson demonstrated). The first indications of moves towards a stronger integration of East Asia which have a historical foundation in traditional pan-Asianism have, meanwhile, generated a certain amount of counter-pressure. The resistance movements are under the influence of an equally growing trend towards nationalism and intensified ethnic conflict in the countries of East Asia and constitute a barrier for the process of regional integration.

Japan follows these developments with a great deal of interest, but is at the same time itself a major player. At least since the early 1990s, Japan’s interest in its neighbours has significantly grown, and the country focuses its search for new ideas in politics, economics, academic life and even popular culture increasingly on Asia.

On the basis of these developments, academic researchers and social scientists who have specialized on Japan have put forward the following questions and issues: What role did Japanese imperialism play in the creation of the Asian nation states? In what way did the confrontation with Japanese imperialism influence the development of national awareness in the various Asian countries? How does the modern-day Japanese state deal with its history, in particular with its colonial past and the history of the Second World War; and what bearing does this have on the relationship between Japan and her Asian neighbours? What are the historic traditions of the regionalism debate in Japan, and what role did Asianism (Ajia-shugi) play as a predecessor of the current regionalist movement in Asia? What similarities and differences exist between the current legal developments in East Asia with respect to the increasing migration within Asia and particularly to Japan? It would also be interesting to analyse the discussion about Japan's legal steps to "internationalize" her society (kokusaika).

A further issue is the way in which "Asian" identity has been reflected in recent literary texts and academic or cultural essays. What if any is the connection between the picture the Japanese had of themselves in the 1990s - their understanding of Japan as an "Asian" nation - and the "return to Japan" movement (Nihon kaiki) which had a substantial influence on the vernacular culture and above all literature in the 1920s? Another issue of interest is the question what role the products of Japanese popular culture have been playing in the process of regionalization, and how, conversely, what contribution the popular cultures from other Asian countries have made to the "Asianification" of Japan.

The process of political integration in the region and the creation of new structures of regional cooperation provide the analysis with another angle. The role of Japan in the newly established multilateral organizations of the region and the possibility of Japan renewing its leadership ambitions in East Asia are of particular interest here. With a view to the shift in the regional balance of power which has occurred since the end of the Cold War, it will also be of interest to explore whether Japan intends to follow a new or at least modified foreign and security policy agenda, loosening its ties with the US in favour of a more active participation in regional security structures such as the ARF.

With a view to the (since the late 1980s) constantly increasing density of the trade and investment network comprising Japan and its Asian neighbours, the question why Japan seems very reluctant to enter regional economic associations such as the EU or NAFTA needs to be addressed. Another issue is the apparent contradiction between the predominant position of the Japanese industry and the weakness of the country's financial sector. The question will need to be addressed what implications this has for the different levels of economic politics in Asia.

The Research Project "Japan in Asia" at the DIJ

The research project Japan in Asia at the DIJ, which was started in 1997, critically analysed the emergence of different regions in Asia and investigates - with an interdisciplinary approach - the role of Japan in this process. With a view to the restricted manpower resources of the DIJ and the high fluctuation of academic and research staff (itself a result of the large number of short-term employment contracts), only a few topics of particular relevance could be selected from the aforementioned shortlist of interesting issues. As a secondary point, it was also decided to explore and analyse any discernible tendency of Japanese academics to dismiss and abandon "Western" patterns in favour of "Asian" or "Japanese" models in their development of research projects and concepts.

Since 2000, the Department for Humanities at the University of Osaka (Prof. Dr. Mishima Ken'ichi) and the University of Erlangen (Prof. Dr. Michael Lackner) have been jointly conducting a research project about discussions of Asian cultural uniqueness. Several symposia were already organized, and a volume with the results from the conferences will be published in autumn 2003. The previous symposia addressed the following issues: How are discourses of cultural uniqueness structured? How is the content conveyed from the academic level to the every-day discourse in politics and the media, both historically and at present? What organizations engage in the pursuit of cultural self-assertion or have been established with this particular objective? What importance does the double audience phenomenon have, the tendency of some intellectuals to tailor their views to their different (domestic and international) audiences?

History (Sven Saaler, 1999-): The analysis of the historic predecessors of Asian regionalism is a promising instrument to approach the regional integration process in East Asia, its various forms and problems. The project concentrates on the ideology and movement of Asianism or pan-Asianism which, having originated in the Meiji period (1868-1912), but is characterized by a high degree of continuity throughout the history of modern Japan and lately seems to have enjoyed some kind of a renaissance. The ideology of Asianism, however, is also inextricably linked with the revisionist "historical interpretation of the liberation of Asia" (Ajia kaihō shikan) which is a powerful obstacle to any rapprochement with China and Korea, being driven as it were more by a neo-nationalist than by a regionalist agenda. These aspects have provided the centrepiece of several DIJ events.

Political Science (Isa Ducke, 2001-): As much as questions of regional integration in Asia and the role Japan is striving to play in this process (the subject of volume 10 of the Japanese studies), it is the historical dimension of the topic "Japan in Asia" which is of interest to political scientists. The past is particularly relevant - and the need to deal with it particularly urgent - in respect of Japan's relations with China and Korea, which is why the DIJ has already dedicated several events to this issue. Isa Ducke has mainly focused on the Japanese-Korean relationship, including its dimension on the level of the ordinary citizen. With a view to North Korea, security issues are also of obvious relevance, but the DIJ is currently not dealing with them as a matter of priority.

Social, Economical and Technological History (Matthias Koch, 2001-): Energy is the basic resource of all industrialized nations. Japan is the leading producer of nuclear energy in Asia. Whereas the expansion of the nuclear industry has slowed down in most other areas in the world, Asia is the one region where a large number of countries seem to have embarked on fairly ambitious long-term and medium-term programmes to build and operate nuclear power stations. These countries include - apart from Japan - North and South Korea, China, Taiwan, India and Pakistan. Nuclear energy provides its user states with both a civil and a military option. This well-known fact has provided the background for a fair number of international crises, from "Koreagate" (1978) and the nuclear tests in India and Pakistan (1998) via the war in Iraq (2003) to the latest round of diplomatic exchanges about the North Korean nuclear and rocket programme. The project analyses past and present developments in the Japanese energy policy and nuclear diplomacy in order to enable the forecasting of future trends and developments.

Stage one of the research project "Japan in Asia" at the DIJ focused on the question of an Asian identity (Gebhardt, 1997-1998) and the existence of an unmistakably Asian version of the modern age (Fuess, 1997-1998) as well as on the role of Japan in the political and economic integration processes of the region (Blechinger, 1997-2002, and Legewie, 1997-2001). Since late 1998, this brief was extended by the analysis of historiographical and legal aspects of the Japanese influence on the creation of Asian regional identities (Liscutin, 1998-2001, and Nawrocki, 1998-2000).

The research project "Japan in Asia" has been preliminarily scheduled to continue for seven years (1997-2004). The results will be gradually published both in the DIJ's own publications (working papers, miscellanea, yearbook, monographs) and in external journals and books. The attendance of third party conferences and the hosting of international symposia will promote the exchange of information with academics from other institutions who are working in the same field, thus allowing the integration of additional knowledge into the discussions at the DIJ. The enclosed appendix will give you a broad overview over the research already conducted within the context of this project.


January 14, 2004
Symposia and Conferences
Automobilindustrie in Japan und China

January 12, 2004
Die japanische Automobilindustrie – Strategische Herausforderungen und neue Perspektiven

December 13 - December 15, 2003
Symposia and Conferences
Selbstbehauptungsdiskurse in Ostasien - Versuch einer Zwischenbilanz

December 5, 2003
E-Democracy in East Asia? How the Internet Affects Politics and Civil Society in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan

December 12 - December 14, 2002
Symposia and Conferences
The Omnipresence of Discourses of Self-Assertion in East Asia: Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Perspectives

December 11, 2002
Globalisierung und Identitätsstiftung in Ost- und Südostasien (Globalization and Identity Formation in East and Southeast Asia)

November 29 - November 30, 2002
Symposia and Conferences
Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History: Colonialism, Regionalism and Borders

September 25 - September 27, 2002
Symposia and Conferences
Japan und Korea auf dem Weg in eine gemeinsame Zukunft - Aufgaben und Perspektiven (Japan and Korea on the Road to a Joint Future - Tasks and Perspectives)

December 7, 2001
Symposia and Conferences
Regional Monetary Cooperation: Is East Asia Following the European Model?

November 14 - November 17, 2001
Symposia and Conferences
Discourses of Cultural and Political Self-Assertion in East Asia

September 21, 2001
Making History: The Quest for National Identity through History Education

June 29, 2001
Foreign Residents in Japan: Immigration, Integration, and Social Change

January 18 - January 19, 2001
Symposia and Conferences
Japan and China: Economic Relations in Transition

November 30 - December 2, 2000
Symposia and Conferences
Asian Discourses of Cultural and Political Self-Assertion in East Asia

August 31, 2000
China in der WTO: Strategien deutscher und japanischer Firmen im Vergleich (Doing Business in China: A Comparison of Strategies by German and Japanese Firms)

August 30, 2000
Wirtschaftsbeziehungen zwischen Japan und China: Perspektiven für die Zeit nach dem WTO-Beitritt Chinas (Economic Relations between Japan and China: Perspectives for the Period Following China's Entry to the WTO)

June 15, 2000
Economic Relations between Japan and China: Current State and Perspectives

April 13 - April 14, 2000
Symposia and Conferences
Contested Historiography – Feminist Perspectives on World War II

January 28, 2000
Japan-US Security Relations and East Asia

June 17 - June 18, 1999
Symposia and Conferences
Economic Crisis and Transformation in Southeast Asia: Strategic Responses by Japanese and European Firms

May 31, 1999
Social Science Workshop: "Immigration Control? Japanese Law and Policy towards Foreign Residents 1899-1999"

October 8 - October 9, 1998
Symposia and Conferences
Regional Cooperation in Asia: Will Japan stand up toa Leadership Role?

October 17, 1997
Symposia and Conferences
The Japanese Empire in East Asia and its Postwar Legacy

March 12, 1997
Globalization of the Automotive Industry: Japan as Model, Competitor, or Bridgehead in Asia?

February 21, 1997
Die Rückkehr zur "Asiatischen Spiritualität"


Verena Blechinger Verena Blechinger (until January 2002)

Harald Dolles Harald Dolles (until July 2006)
Business Administration

Isa Ducke Isa Ducke (until May 2006)

René Haak René Haak (until October 2005)
Business Administration, Management and Technology

Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit (until September 2004)

Hanns Günther Hilpert Hanns Günther Hilpert (until February 2002)

Matthias Koch Matthias Koch (until February 2008)
Social and Economic History of Japan, Business History, Germany and Japan in Comparative Studies, German-Japanese Relations

Jochen Legewie (until February 2001)
Economics, Economic Geography

Nicola Liscutin (until September 2001)
Japanese Literature

Johann Nawrocki (until September 2000)

Sven Saaler Sven Saaler (until April 2005)
Modern Japanese Political History, History of Foreign Relations