For those of us actively conducting research on contemporary Japan, the extent to which Japan captures the public imagination as well as the imagination of our non-Japan-specialist colleagues obviously has a significant impact on our professional lives.
Beyond the widespread political lament about “Japan-passing”, there are more direct impacts on our professional activities in terms of attendance at Japan-related events we organize and probably also in terms of our and our students’ opportunities in granting competitions, etc.
In the context of the question of any decline in interest in Japan, it was very interesting to attend the AAS/ICAS conference and the CIES conference within a short time span and to compare Japan panels at these conferences.
The bottom line is that AAS conference participants continue to divide along country-specialization lines, while a country focus (at least on Japan) seems to be declining at CIES.
In terms of my own scholarly interests, I do not have a preference for either form of organization, and find both very useful.
On the one hand, I very much enjoyed the “Enduring Contexts” exchanges in Montreal that were exclusively focused on Japan, on the other hand, I tend to learn more in terms of arguments/theories/explanations from cross-national contexts such as the panel that Kathryn Ibata-Arens (PoliSci, DePaul Univ) organized for the AAS “Innovations in Education in Asia: Private Sector Growth, Government Reform and Emerging Models of Best Practice?” where I presented on “The Impact of Private-Sector Innovations on Public Primary and Secondary Education in Japan”. The AAS has been promoting these cross-area panels for some years now and most participants would agree that intellectually and in terms of moving research along, this is the more desirable form of organization. However, in my experience, attendance at these panels remains anemic while panels with a specific country/region focus continue to see strong attendance.
I realize that the latter phenomenon (strong country panel attendance) may be a function of the size of the Japan-crowd within AAS, and that the former phenomenon (weak attendance at interarea panels) may be due to the small number of Asian regionalists or intra-Asia comparativists among AAS attendants. Nevertheless, that seems to continue to be the reality at AAS meetings.
The situation at CIES seems to be the opposite. Attendance at Japan panels, including the one I presented on, is relatively weak, perhaps signaling a decline in the number of Japan specialists, while cross-national comparative panels, like the one I served on as a discussant for papers on shadow education in Cambodia, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, saw strong participation, though this may have been due to Mark Bray’s prominence.
Again, for my needs, I depend on both of these contexts. While it is very important for my understanding of juku to have information on and a good understanding of yutori education, for example, as it was a topic of discussion among the “Enduring Contexts” participants, it is also essential for me to have an opportunity for interaction with researchers who a) are investigating supplementary education in other countries/cases, and b) are looking at supplementary education on a more global scale through a comparative lens.
I thought that the discussions at CIES were very productive, so to the extent that I’m able to do so, would hope to attend more of these conferences in coming years, in part to have opportunities for discussions with supplementary education comparativists, but I will also continue to attend AAS, though perhaps more for interactions with the Japan-specialist crowd (in addition to the Japan Studies Association of Canada meetings, of course).