How’s a research conducted during six months in Japan?

Daniel Villa Gracia

I would like to thank the Japan Foundation and all the people who have contributed to making this program possible. From the staff of the headquarters in Madrid to the residents of Tajiri Chô, dozens of professionals and volunteers made it possible for the group of researchers that form the "Program for Specialists in Cultural and Academic Fields" to perfect our level of Japanese and develop an investigation about our academic specialty.

 From the arrival at the center of Osaka (located conveniently in front of the Kansai airport), our group developed all the activities in Japanese, using English as little as possible (except in certain printed documents whose compression was essential). Even among the members of the scholarship, (arrived from Korea, China, the United States, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Poland, Mongolia, Germany and Spain) we communicated from the start in Japanese. This allowed a cultural immersion that may seem hard on the first days, but fundamental for the purposes of the program.

 The dynamics of the six months are oriented towards improving the abilities to carry out research in Japan (through bibliographic research, congresses, interviews, visits to centers, libraries, museums, etc.) and to present their results through an oral presentation and a article, both in Japanese. The teaching hours were divided between grammar, kanji and vocabulary classes, presentation, conversation, reading and writing. The rest of the time can be individually devoted to develop the research. It is undeniable that both the classes and the tasks were a challenge for everyone, but the results were satisfactory. Since I landed in October until the parting in April, I could appreciate the progression in fluency when communicating, reading comprehension or writing skills.

 In addition, the tutors and staff of the center helped us develop the research we proposed at the beginning of the program. The support of the library staff was invaluable, since their bibliographic collection is very focused on cultural subjects, and helped us accessing online databases and local, national and university libraries. My research focused on the relationships between manga and anime. In the beginning I was able to consult numerous references in English, and as my level improved I was able to do it with Japanese texts.

 On the other hand, the Japan Foundation funded trips, stays and access to cultural centers related to our specialties. This allowed me to participate in congresses, interview professionals and academics, attend events and visit museums and exhibitions in various parts of the country. In addition to a magnificent experience, it was an unrepeatable opportunity to develop my postdoctoral research.

 The volunteer associations that collaborate with the center offered us numerous cultural activities that applied the experience beyond the class. They allowed us to enjoy festivals and fun and cultural activities of all kinds, such as excursions in the Kansai area, taiko drums, ikebana, tea ceremony or Japanese calligraphy. In addition, during the months we coexist with other groups, such as diplomats, Japanese teachers (national and foreign) or exchange students. Each group came to Japan with a goal, and the exchange of experiences and points of view was fantastic.

 It is an ideal experience for PhD students or postdoctoral students related to social sciences, arts or humanities, with a basic level of Japanese, and are passionate about developing their doctoral thesis or research project in Japan. Although six months may seem at first glance a long period, in my case they were short indeed, and I would have liked to stay a few months to perfect my Japanese level and attend more events and exhibitions. This scholarship has reinforced my interest in the study of Japanese popular culture industry from an academic point of view and the importance of doing field work firsthand.

 Thanks, again, to all the colleagues and professionals who made this unparalleled experience possible.