It was a pleasure to hear Mrs Ushioda reminisce on her five decades in Dublin. Having grown up in somewhat similar circumstances, it brought back personal memories of Japanese life in Denmark and Germany in my own childhood in the 1970s and 1980s. To listen to her, in her own word, please follow this link to “Caring for Japanese Art at the Chester Beatty Museum”.
Mrs Ushioda recently published an English translation of her memoirs recounting the story of her move to Dublin from Tokyo in 1960 and her subsequent work as curator of Sir Chester Beatty’s collection. Among her many other achievements during more than five decades in Dublin, she founded the Japanese Saturday School that my children attend, and which is a highlight of their week.
It was particularly poignant to hear Mrs Ushioda’s recollections of her and her husband’s role as unofficial ambassadors and the excitement of receiving Japanese reading materials and food in the post, which parallels the experience of my own family. Unlike Ireland, Japan did have an embassy in Denmark in my early childhood, and some foodstuffs could be bought in Hamburg and Copenhagen. So, while it was less of an outpost than Dublin in the 1960s, in the 1970s my family also became a port of call for visiting Japanese businesspeople, students and academics yearning for familiar home cooking, advice and conversation.
Listening to Mrs Ushioda also brought back a more recent memory of Miki-sensei, my children’s judo coach in Tokyo. Having been one of the “invisible allies” (Morris-Suzuki 2012) of unofficial Japanese combatants in the Korean War, Miki-sensei is of a similar age to Mrs Ushioda. In the 1960s, he spent a year teaching judo in Dublin, but she had no recollection of him.
In addition to the fascinating tales of her curatorial work and the motivation and urgency behind it (a spate of art thefts across Europe), the story of her Japanese-speaking neighbour in Monkstown, the former Anglican missionary William Gray, was an interesting reminder of a much earlier age of Japanese-Irish interaction. A summary of it is available from the Irish Times. What was also personally interesting to note is that Mrs Gray attended the Catholic Sacred Heart School, which is next to my children’s school in Tokyo. Many of the teachers at Sacred Heart in those days were Irish nuns, and to this day there is a Celtic cross on the rooftop, which was visible from our balcony in Shirokanedai. The school will celebrate its 110th anniversary on 1st April this year.
For a few photos from the public lecture on 6th November, please visit Trinity Centre For Asian Studies on Facebook. The slides have been uploaded to academia.edu and a podcast of the lecture should become available to listen to soon. A link to it will be posted here and on academia.edu. In the meantime, this is a brief account by the Trinity Centre for Asian Studies:
Our thanks to this evening’s guest lecturer, philosopher Dr Kenn Nakata Steffensen from UCD, for an informative and wide-ranging talk on historical usage and translations of the terms Far East and East Asia in the context of Japan and Europe. This event formed part of a series of activities taking place in Trinity College Dublin in 2017 celebrating 60 years of Japan-Ireland diplomatic relations. We are grateful to the Embassy of Japan in Ireland for their endorsement of this evening’s lecture.
I will be back at TCD on the 1st December to speak about Japanese-English translation of philosophy at the international symposium on Japanese Studies in a Global Context. I will address the same theme, with slightly different emphases, at the “Frontiers of Phenomenology” conference at University College Dublin on the 14th December.
From “Far East” to “East Asia” in Global English Academic and Societal Discourse: German and Japanese “hidden sources”
Public lecture at Trinity Asian Studies Centre, Dublin 6th November 2017
The dominant use in English of the words “East Asia” as a collective designation for Greater China, the two Koreas, Japan, and sometimes Vietnam is a relatively recent outgrowth of cold war era US scholarship. The previously dominant term “Far East” reflects a Eurocentric worldview, which was politically problematic in Japan and expedient for lesser 19th century European powers and post-war America to avoid. Through the influence of Karl Ritter, the German-speaking world and Scandinavia, like Japan, tended to conceive of the region as “East Asia”, whereas Britain and France thought, spoke and wrote in terms of “Far East”. “East Asia” was thus a counter-hegemonic concept developed on the margins of the colonial world order, which arguably entered post-war Anglograph scholarship through Japanese. Just as Heidegger hinted that his philosophy had Japanese “hidden sources”, the proliferating East Asia discourses today conceptually originated as part of Japan’s modernisation process and rise as the first non-Western great power. It was a disruptive resignification attaching new and positive meanings to the European idea of Asia, rejecting the externally ascribed and objectivating identity of “Far East”, asserting subjectivity and agency. This presentation traces the genealogy of the contemporary idea of East Asia through Karl Ritter’s Ost-Asien, his student Élisée Reclus’ politicised use of Asie orientale, the migration of the Japanese ideas of East Asia (Tō-A 東亜 from the 1880s and Higashi Ajia 東アジア after 1945) from meteorology and geography to political discourse, and from there to the dreaming spires of Harvard.