Welcome to the 30th EAJRS Conference


Rethinking resources for Japanese studies


organized by Department of Japanese Studies at Sofia University "Saint Kliment Ohridski"

18-21 September 2019

Your Excellency Ambassador Masato Watanabe, Vice-rector Prof. Reneta Bozhankova, dear participants, ladies and gentlemen,
Before I start my welcome speech, let me take the opportunity to congratulate Your Excellency and all who are involved in the various events, with the celebrations of the ‘2019 Japan-Bulgaria Triple Anniversary’.

Among the 29 venues we have been welcomed in so far, this is indeed one of the grandest. The hall we are in is called aula magna. It is part of the Rectorate, a building of a grand scale. If it reflects in any way the power of the rector at this university, then the man or woman in that seat must be very powerful indeed.

Yesterday in this same room was held a conference titled The role of sustainable innovative tourism in promoting inclusive growth and trade & economic cooperation. The title contains quite a mouthful of good things. Sustainable, innovative, inclusive, all combined with growth and trade and cooperation.

Our conference is certainly less ambitious, although sustainability is something that applies to us as well. And inclusive is something we try to be as well, for we try to include all Japanese Studies across the globe, and cooperation is equally something we have been promoting throughout our existence.

If we are able to organize this year’s conference in Sofia, it is first and foremost thanks to the willingness and cooperation of an enthusiastic team at the Japanese Studies department of this university, a department that has a history of thirty years, and is the only full-blown centre of Japanese Studies in Bulgaria. As many other institutions, the department sets high hopes on the access to and use of digital resources in its effort to catch up with the institutions who have a longer history. Issues related to digitalization, global access, and the wide range of e-publications are to them of overriding concern.

Last year at Kaunas we heard a presentation by Stella Zhivkova, in which they indeed dealt with the use of new technologies in disseminating elements of Japanese culture in Bulgaria and their role in the study of Japanese language and culture at the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski. Today, Gergana Petkova, Stella Zhivkova, Vyara Nikolova, and Tsvetomira Ivanova, will give the kick off with a presentation on Japanese studies in Bulgaria: rethinking needs, sources, and aims. They will be followed by Martin Milchev Dimitrov, equally from Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" with a presentation on Historical Research in the Foreign Ministry Archives of Japan, Russia and Bulgaria. We are thus immersed from the beginning in a localized setting of Japanese Studies Resources. In that sense we are connecting seamlessly with last year’s conference, which had as its general theme Glocalizing Japanese Studies Resources.

Globalization in the humanities, including in Japanese Studies, is taking place at an ever increasing speed. The digital world offers convenient platforms for sharing research resources in various formats and layers. It is now possible to collect high-definition images on the web and use them for research, thanks to the IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework). Some Japanese institutions, notably the National Diet Library and the National Institute for Japanese Literature, have already adopted the framework. As this framework is being increasingly adopted across the globe, we will eventually be able to use digitized Japanese research materials, wherever they are physically preserved, in a similar and horizontally integrated manner. For text data, the Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines, which have been developed in Europe and the United States, are now also being applied to Japanese materials. We are witnessing an increasing integration of Japanese materials around the globe into a set of international frameworks

Meanwhile The National Diet Library Digital Collections, the Web Archiving Project, National Archives of Japan Digital Archive, the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records, the "Database of Pre-modern Japanese Works" launched by the NIJL-NW Project at the National Institute of Japanese Literature (NIJL) in 2017, the "Integrated Studies of Cultural and Research Resources" project promoted by the National Museum of Japanese History, and the "Historical and Cultural Preservation Network" project promoted by the National Institutes for Humanities are so many embodiments of the Japanese efforts to digitize resources in Japan, with an eye to eventually integrating them in the growing internationally integrated network.

More than 100.000 titles were commercially printed during the Edo period. Still, the number of these books that have been transcribed and published in movable type during the twentieth and twenty-first century is allegedly still no more than 10.000 titles. Fortunately, many of these 100.000 books have been digitized, or are in the course of being digitized, by scanning or digital photography and made available to the public through the web. Image data for tens of thousands of books are accessible to the public in the databases of some of the vendors and institutions who participate in this conference or who have done so in the past. An example is e.g. the Digitized Collection of Pre-modern Japanese Works in the NIJL-NW project. Another notable example is the database of the Art Research Center, of Ritsumeikan University, which is for instance also utilized by the Cambridge University Library staff. In their ongoing project to use digital imaging and metadata of the Japanese collection, Cambridge staff are joining data from earlier cataloguing projects to digital photographs created by Ritsumeikan University staff and their own staff.

All this poses the problem of reading handwritten Japanese characters. Efforts to develop systems of machine-driven recognition of handwritten Japanese characters started in earnest during the nineties of the previous century.  This happened in the framework of a general global tendency to tackle the issues of document image analysis and recognition. As a result in recent years we have seen a series of workshops and conferences related to these issues; to name but a few:

  • The Workshop on digital libraries
  • The International Conference on Document Image Analysis for Libraries
  • The International Conference on Document Analysis and Recognition
  • The International Conference on Digital Access to Textual Cultural Heritage
  • The International Workshop on Document Analysis Systems
  • The International Conference on Advanced Imaging (2015), etc.

Until around the year 2009 studies on historical document analysis in Japan were mostly focused on specific documents such as deeds or business contracts, family records and other government documents. It was only from that time on that study of document analysis applied on commercially published books began in earnest. Ritsumeikan University has developed an interactive support system for the transcription of historical books published between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.

Is machine-driven recognition of handwritten Japanese characters? Not quite, for we witness an increasing trend to train scholars in the human reading and decipherment of kuzushiji. In recent years there have indeed been a number of kuzushiji seminars, last February one in Paris. In the past EAJRS has endorsed kuzushiji seminars given by the National Institute of Japanese Literature. At this conference we will also hear a presentation about a related topic, the kuzushiji seminar offered by the Nagoya University (NU), to be conducted at the University of Helsinki (UH) in autumn 2019. Automatic recognition can help in many ways, but it cannot replace the human intervention in reading the original handwritten text.

As has been mentioned repeatedly at previous conferences, funding by the Japan Foundation has been and continues to be a vital prerequisite to the activities and the survival of our association. This time again, the foundation has supported the organization here at Sofia, as well as provided five grants for young, librarians, curators, archivists and other resource specialists working in institutions that offer courses in Japanese Studies and/or hold Japan-related materials, and young scholars who are conducting research on a topic dependent on Japan-related resource materials.

I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the vital role and contribution of the resource providers, both the public or non-profit institutions and the commercial vendors. We thank them for their presence, for organizing the workshop and for their support in general. The workshop they organize every year and the updates they provide, constitute a major contribution to the conference and significantly boost the skills of the users of resources. The ever efficient Hirotatsu Kanō of the London office of Kinokuniya has organized and coordinated these workshops every year. Recently he has been given a new assignment at the New York Office, while at the London Office he has been succeeded by Ms. Kana Kunishige.

The Conservation/Preservation workgroup, established in 2014 within the bosom of the EAJRS, has been continuing its activities, implementing the findings and recommendations which resulted from its surveys. I would like to pay tribute to Akio Yasue and the members of this group for the excellent work they have done thus far. Their website has been moved into the EAJRS website and has thus gained more visibility.

My Leuven colleague Arjan van der Werf, secretary of the association, once again has taken on with great efficiency and accuracy the administrative work that comes with the association’s activities. I would also like to thank the members of the board, who have accepted to chair each one or two sessions.

There remains much to be done to further the cause of EAJRS, and we count on your continued support and dedication.

As you know, it is a yearly concern of the board, to identify prospective institutions for volunteering as venue of the following conference. If anyone feels that his/her institution may be a suitable venue, we will welcome their proposal with open arms. Another matter to think about in the course of this conference.

Let me conclude with the hope that our Sofia Conference will mark another milestone in the history of our association.

We will now start at once the first session. For those among you who are attending the conference for the first time, a few words of explanation.

Presentations are made in Japanese or English. Usually presenters also prepare a power point presentation. Most of the Japanese language presentations are accompanied by power point slides in English, in order to accommodate our varying degrees of proficiency in English or Japanese. Questions may be asked in either English or Japanese, and will be answered in either of these languages.

The first and second sessions will be chaired by Mr. Ichikawa.

Thank you. Have a good conference.