8th Biennial International Conference JSA-ASEAN at Chiang Mai, Thailand

Reports on the 8th JSA-ASEAN in December 2023 (1)

Shigeto Sonoda

It was in January 2023 that we announced the launch of new program called “JF-GJS Fellowship program.” Global Japan Studies (GJS) program was renewed into Global Asian Studies (GAS) in 2022, but we wanted to keep the core activities of GJS program under the big banner of GAS program. To do so, we decided to collaborate with the Japan Foundation (JF) to create a new program in which we’ll promote “a fruitful dialogue between Japan studies in Asia and Asian studies in Japan”. In January 2023, we selected three Fellows from the list of applicants for the JF’s Japanese Studies Fellows in 2022, but from 2023 onward, we started to call for application by ourselves. To get more applications, we needed to approach to potential candidates for this new fellowship program, and this is the reason why we joined the 8th JSA-ASEAN conference where a lot of young scholars on Japanese studies will join from ASEAN countries.


    On the first day of the conference, we joined the graduate student workshop to see what sort of research interest young scholars in ASEAN have. In the afternoon of the second day, we hosted a special panel named “Visualizing and Reassessing ASEAN-Japan Relations: Challenges of UTokyo’s JF-GJS Initiative.” Our explanation of the panel was as follows:

Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (hereafter IASA) at the University of Tokyo, which had managed Global Japan Studies (hereafter GJS) program from 2014 to 2022, launched a new program called JF-GJS Initiative in collaboration with the Japan Foundation (hereafter JF) under the big banner of Global Asian Studies (GAS) in 2022 to promote dialogue between Japan studies in Asia and Asian studies in Japan. In response to this, IASA started to call for application for JF-GJS Fellowship Program in September 2023, to promote researches on the theme of “Japan in Asia, Asia in Japan” from humanities and/or social sciences perspectives. This panel, composed of three presentations by the staffs of GAS program, wishes to showcase concrete research examples on the topic of “Japan in Asia, Asia in Japan,” focusing on the ASEAN-Japan relations so that the participants will be able to understand what JF-GJS Initiative is aiming at.

Due to unexpectedly short lunch break, we couldn’t have a large audience, but I believe we could show our cutting-edge researches at the University of Tokyo in front of Japanese studies experts in ASEAN.


    On the second and third day, each of our delegate members joined the sessions as we liked. There must be a lot of opinions on the quality of presentation, but what expressed me most was that most of the contents of the presentation were heavily embedded in the context of ASEAN or South Asia whether the speakers were aware of it or not. In other words, Japanese studies in ASEAN (and South Asia) are not studies to “know others” but studies to “know others and us at the same time.”

In the session “Cultural Studies” in the afternoon of second day, for example, one Indian scholar chased a Japanese performer of Indian dances to understand why Indian music and dances are attracting some Japanese fans. Another Malaysian scholar questioned the cause and impact of increasing popularity of Japanese-style matsuri in Malaysia. Another Filipino scholar introduced long-lasting academic exchange program with Japanese universities and explained why this program can enjoy sustainability.

Some readers of this essay might feel that the three topics above cannot be categorized as (pure) Japanese studies, but I believe this is where the uniqueness of Japanese studies in ASEAN (and South Asia) lies in.

Prof. Kitti Prasirtsuk of Tammasat University, who delivered a talk on the history of Japanese studies in Thailand at GJS Lecture Series in December 2019, mentioned the unique standpoint of “Japan studies outside Japan” at the special panel in the morning of the second day of the conference. I totally agree with his observation. There must be great areas where a lot of dialogues are needed between “Japan studies in ASEAN” and “ASEAN studies in Japan” to deepen our mutual understandings of what lie between Japan studies and ASEAN studies.

Reports on the 8th JSA-ASEAN in December 2023 (2)

Pattajit Tangsinmunkong

The 8th Biennial International Conference of the Japanese Studies Association of Southeast Asia, held in Chiang Mai, Thailand from December 20-22, 2023, was a momentous occasion coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Japan-ASEAN relations.

As part of the Global Asia Studies program, Professor Sonoda Shigeto from the Institute of Advanced Studies on Asia, Villota Allenson (Ph.D. candidate from the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies), and I organized a special panel titled “Visualizing and Reassessing ASEAN-Japan Relations: Challenges of Utokyo’s JF-GJS Initiative.” I also participated in a diverse range of activities, including the post-graduate workshop on “Doing Field Research in Japan.” Additionally, I attended panels covering the history of Japan and French Indochina, the institutionalization of comfort women statues in the Philippines and abroad, and the development of Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA). These panels not only contributed valuable insights but also sparked discussions among scholars in various fields engaged in Japan-ASEAN related research. These are my observations.

Host’s Initiatives:

Initially, I found it highly commendable that the host, the Faculty of Political Sciences at Chiang Mai University, made efforts to incorporate various activities, including a graduate workshop with cultural elements. These activities not only provided insights into current focal points but also facilitated conversations among scholars engaged in Japan-ASEAN related research across different fields. However, I am of the opinion that the depth of conversation among scholars and the audience’s comprehension could be further enhanced by introducing a discussant or host for each panel.

Unit of Analysis and Language Limitations:

A prevailing trend observed was that research predominantly centered around Japan +1 country, usually the presenter’s home country. While this may be influenced by time constraints during presentations, it is crucial to acknowledge the inherent limitation imposed by language proficiency. The extent to which an individual can comprehend and delve into diverse linguistic landscapes undeniably influences the scope of their research.

To transcend these limitations and cultivate a deeper understanding of the regions, the integration of mixed methods, combining both quantitative and qualitative approaches, as well as collaborative research initiatives involving scholars from various countries, becomes not only advantageous but imperative. Particularly in the examination of perceptions, leveraging new media platforms such as YouTube, with its auto-generated subtitles, offers a promising avenue. This innovation can empower researchers to surmount language barriers, enabling a more comprehensive exploration of their research subjects.

Challenges for Non-Native Speakers:

Finally, there are always challenges for non-native speakers to present their presentation in English to non-native audiences with different academic background. These challenges is irrefutably the consequence of the anglophone hegemony and internal imbalance of power within Asia, and this will continue to be a trend. these challenges prompt me to envision a scenario where there could be even more discoveries and meaningful conversations if presenters and audiences were able to communicate in the language that is most comfortable for them.

In summary, I’ve come to recognize the need for further efforts to advance Global Asia Initiatives. Beyond the significance of trans-regional and trans-disciplinary dialogues, exploring the potential of new media and discovering innovative research methods seems to be a promising avenue forward.

Reports on the 8th JSA-ASEAN in December 2023 (3)

Alleson D. Villota II

The 8th Biennial International Conference of the JSA-ASEAN  and the Graduate Student Workshop was held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, from December 20 – 22, 2023. This was my third time to participate in the conference and my first time to join was as a participant of the Graduate Student Workshop.

The first day of the biennial event was delegated for the Graduate Student Workshop where twelve early career (12) graduate student participants from different Southeast Asian countries listened to the lectures of scholars and experts in the field of Japanese studies. The workshop started with a self-introduction that allowed the observers and participants alike to know their field of expertise and research interests.

The second day of the academic event marked the official start of the conference. The event was graced by the Dean of the Faculty of Political Science and Publication Administration Dr. Pailin Phujeenaphan and the Vice President of Chiang Mai University, Dr. Tanyanuparb Anantana. Representative from the Chiang Mai Consular Office His Excellency Higuchi Keiichi and Executive Vice President of the Japan Foundation, Dr. Sato Yuri conveyed congratulatory remarks for the successful staging of this conference.

Student performers from Chiang Mai University performed an intermission of Lanna traditional dance, followed by a short coffee break. In the next session, Professor Sato Jin of the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia delivered his compelling keynote lecture on the topic of intermediaries as catalysts for international cooperation.

The morning session was capped off by a roundtable discussion on the Japanization and localization process in Thailand. The experts that formed the panel were Professor Kitti Prasirtsuk from Thammasat University, Professor Fujioka Takamasa from Meiji Business School, CEO of G-Yu Creative Co., Ltd., Ms. Yuparet Eakturapakul, and Professor Emeritus Tanet Charoenmuang of the Faculty of Political Science and Public Administration, Chiang Mai University.

After a very short lunch break, our special panel headed by Professor Sonoda Shigeto, “Visualizing and Reassessing ASEAN-Japan Relations: Challenges of UTokyo’s JF-GJS Initiative,” initiated the afternoon session.  Assistant Professor Tangsinmunkong Pattajit of the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia discussed the historical changes and continuities of Thai perceptions of Japan through her archival research work. On the other hand, I presented my ongoing research, an expansion of my dissertation project at the ITASIA Program. I talked about the representations of Japan through discourses and images from the digital margins. Specifically, I examined the audio-visual images and digital discourses produced from the user-generated content of technical trainees from three Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. In my presentation, I argued that alternative representations of Japan (images and discourses) are produced and consumed in digital spaces, on the most popular video-sharing platform, YouTube. One of the important key takeaways in this research is how migrant-worker-YouTubers conjure Japan as a labor-exporting country that is far from being desirable but still worth the risk. And while there are variations and similarities on how the Southeast Asian migrant worker-vloggers conjure Japan, these alternative representations constitute subversive narratives that contest how they themselves are conjured within the spaces of their host country.

The first day of the conference culminated in a dinner banquet where I had a chance to talk with several scholars based in Japan and Southeast Asia who are also doing research on labor migration and technical trainees.

On the second day of the conference, I attended the session on culture. One of the presenters examined two Philippine adaptations/appropriations of Japanese pop culture artifacts, Voltes V and super sentai series. Using the lens of hybridity, Professor Alona Guevarra argued the significance of examining these cultural transformations and exchange between the Filipino consumers and Japanese pop culture, and in a way, the complex relationship between cultures. I watched these two Philippine-made films, and it brought a sense of nostalgia.

Although there were some impromptu revisions to the conference programs, I believe that it was successful overall in meeting its goals of providing a platform and a space for Japanese and Southeast Asian scholars to share their research, collaborate, and build networks. I also realized that the community is small and tightly knit. Most of the participants in this year’s conference were former fellows of several other academic events sponsored by the Japan Foundation. They are now holding important positions in their respective academic institutions. I met several of my batchmates in the 2018 Japan Foundation Summer Institute. Moreover, I was also able to forge networks and friendship with young scholars from other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. We are planning to collaborate in the future since the two of them are also based in Japan. All of them are working on the same research topic but with different disciplinary approaches.


For the conference website: JSA-ASEAN