Workshop Report: Internationalisation Interrupted

On the 1st & 2nd July, 18 scholars from around the world came together virtually for a two-day workshop exploring Japan’s recent internationalisation efforts, the role of the Olympics, and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, organised by myself and Dr Duncan Breeze. The workshop was planned because I had found that there were very few academic events being organised around the Olympics, particularly given the scale and importance of the event, and none on this particular issue.

Originally envisaged as an in-person event, set to be the first SISJAC had seen in over a year, more paper submissions came from abroad than the UK. A hybrid model was considered, with those who could travelling to SISJAC to participate in person, while others participating online, but after “Freedom Day” was delayed, it was decided that the event move entirely online.

The uncertainty surrounding how the workshop would or could be held is reflective of the challenges that have been faced during the past 18 months. For events as large as the Olympics and Paralympics, however, the pandemic has placed organisers under pressures and presented issues infinitely more complex than a small workshop. Holding a major global event during an international crisis was never going to be easy and was strongly criticised by some internationally, within Japan, and by athletes themselves. Meanwhile, supporters of the events argued that if they could be held safely, then they were just what people needed after a year of lockdowns.

At the time the workshop was being held, there was still some doubt as to whether the Olympics would go ahead or, if they did, what form they would take. Participants’ research was still ongoing and there was a sense of excitement about this area of research and how every day brought new developments.

The workshop began with a keynote session by Dr Helen Macnaughtan from SOAS, University of London, who spoke on women at the Tokyo Olympics, including the famous “Witches of the Orient”. Due to her research on sports, Helen has been in high demand of late, and even contributed to our recent Online Summer Programme in Japanese Cultural Studies 2021, so we are grateful to her for joining us for the two days.

Across the two days, papers were split into thematic panels which spoke to the diversity and salience of the research theme. Topics ranged from contemporary Japanese identity, disability in Japan, media narratives, heritage, international relations, and security. In the end, it was a good thing that this workshop was virtual as participants beamed in from the UK, Japan, the USA, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Thailand, highlighting the salience and global interest of this theme. Papers were grouped thematically around Japanese identity, media representation, urban strategies and environmentalism.

In addition to our speakers, holding the event online also meant that it could be opened up to virtual auditors. 50 people registered to attend the workshop and across the two days at any given point there were around 20 auditors. This resulted in lots of discussion during panel Q&As and notable attendees included a journalist who had arrived in Japan to report on the Olympics, was in quarantine, and was able to share with us her experiences on the ground. Our final session was a roundtable discussion, where we considered the long-term impacts of Covid on internationalisation, prompting a lot of discussion and the desire to reconvene in the future.

We hope to bring a selection of articles to publication in a special journal issue in the near future, while in the longer term a sequel event is being planned for next summer that will allow us to reflect on the Olympics, its impacts, and to revisit our hypotheses from the workshop.

Dr Christopher J. Hayes
Research Associate, Sainsbury Institute

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