EAJRS (the European Association of Japanese Resource Specialists) is an organisation of mainly librarians, working in Japanese Studies libraries in Europe. (For more information on EAJRS, please refer to the EAJRS website). Every September, EAJRS organises an annual conference that is held in a European city. Unfortunately, last year’s conference was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This year’s conference was held at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Science in St. Petersburg, Russia, in a first attempt to create a hybrid of online and on-site conference.
The number of Russian participants in EAJRS conferences in previous years has been very low, though it has been increasing gradually. Thus, only a small number of presentations from Russia were given at EAJRS conferences, which made it difficult to know the state of Japanese Studies in Russia. As the venue for this year’s conference was St. Petersburg, most of the on-site participants were Russian residents and there were also more Russians living outside of Russia among the online participants. Many of the papers were given by Russians or researchers on the history of Japanese-Russian relations. The participants were able to learn about topics that had not been much discussed at previous EAJRS conferences. This represented the richness of Japanese Studies in Russia and revealed the abundance of research materials available in the country. In the pre-war period, Japanese Studies in Russia was considered to be at the highest level in the world and completely unrivalled by any other country.
The EAJRS conferences enable the participants to gain some understanding of the level of Japanese Studies in the host country. The milieu of Japanese Studies varies greatly from country to country although they all are located in Europe. In 2018, the conference was held in Kaunas, Lithuania. In Lithuania, almost no materials for Japanese Studies written in Lithuanian were available, therefore they had to rely on materials written in Japanese and/or English. Consequently, the first step was to produce a Lithuanian-Japanese online dictionary. In 2019, Sofia University in Bulgaria was chosen to be the conference venue. The Faculty of Japanese Studies was established more than 30 years ago, and Japanese Studies research and its research materials have been accumulating year by year. Due to the fact that Bulgaria was an ally of Japan in the Tripartite Pact during at the beginning of WWII, a large collection of official documents relating to Japan remains in the country.
Next year, the EAJRS conference will be held in Lisbon, Portugal. Japan has a long and special relationship with Portugal. The first Europeans to set foot on Japanese soil in 1543 were the Portuguese. Christianity in Japan originated with Portuguese Jesuit missionaries during the Nanban trade period (1557-1639). Moreover, the Tenshō Embassy started their European tour from Lisbon in 1584. When the EAJRS conference was held in Lisbon in 2008, the participants were able to see documents written on paper that had been stuck on the remains of folding screens thought to have been sent to Portugal from Japan during the 1580s. In 2014, an exciting development was the discovery made in Portugal of another Japanese folding screen pasted with numerous pieces of paper of the Nanban trade period. We are hoping that the EAJRS conference in Lisbon next year will provide more stimulating and fruitful progress.
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