Dear members of EAJRS, dear friends,

1. Opening 2020 or 2021?

We are opening the 2020 EAJRS conference today with a one-year delay. As a result, I do not know whether we have to follow the precedent of the Tokyo Olympic Games, and insist on still calling this year’s conference the 2020 conference, or simply the 2021 conference. Since we have little merchandising interests to consider, let us opt for the latter alternative. At any rate and, thankfully, we are still in Saint-Petersburg. 

2. Sofia

Due to the two year gap, this conference is only the second of the Reiwa era, after the Sofia conference, where we took the opportunity to ‘rethink’ resources for Japanese Studies. We recall with fondness our local hosts, the dynamic team of the department of Japanese Studies of Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. All participants were moved by their enthusiasm and hospitality. 

3. Hybrid format

Last year, of course, it was totally impossible to consider a conference and that's why they postponed it by a year. We had of course hoped that next time we would be able to hold it under normal circumstances, but unfortunately that is still not the case. Even though we are very happy and proud to be able to open this conference, it is actually still under severe constraints imposed upon us by the pandemic. Indeed, we are holding our conference on a mixed basis, partly online partly in physical attendance, a format that will certainly not be as satisfying as a normal conference. For several reasons, most of the physical participants are from the Russian Federation, while most of the non-Russian participants, including myself, regrettably only participate online. I say ‘only online,’ because of course, nothing can replace the physical presence. I hope nevertheless and I am nevertheless convinced that technology will support us sufficiently, so as to suggest some kind of semblance of physical attendance, so that we still have the impression that we are holding this conference as a community. The pandemic still constrains us in the way we are holding this conference. These days the  Japanese Association for Digital Humanities (JADH) has held its 11th annual conference, hosted virtually by the Historiographical Institute, The University of Tokyo,  on September 6-8, 2021, around 9am to 6pm in Japanese Standard Time. The pandemic has affected  researchers in various ways, but the digital environment has also alleviated some of the hardships. Overall the contribution to DH has been positive, since much of the digital research environment was in place before the pandemic.

4. The special strains on the local organisers

The mixed format has had important consequences for the local organizers. For example, they had to reconsider the size of the halls, since the number of physical participants is a lot less than usual, they had to look for alternative places that were smaller and also less expensive. Secondly, this has also meant that the local organizers have had to invest an enormous amount of time and energy in arranging and preparing the electronic equipment and the digital software necessary for holding an online conference, for which we will be using the Zoom platform this time. 

I take the opportunity to express my deep gratitude and appreciation to the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Faculty of Asian and African Studies of Saint Petersburg University, for acting as organizer and host. My special thanks are due to professors Prof. Irina F. Popova (Director of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts) and Prof. Alexander V. Philippov (Department of Japanese Studies, St. Petersburg University), and, more in particular, Mr. Vasilii Shchepkin, researcher of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, the Russian Academy of Sciences. Without much support from EAJRS they have had to tackle all the problems and take on all preparations needed to make the conference possible on a mixed basis. My colleague, Mr Arjan van der Werf, secretary of the EAJRS, has done his utmost to keep in touch with Vasilii in the course of the preparations, and although we have not been able to give all the support we would have liked to give, nevertheless I have the impression that everything has turned out nicely. The only regret we can express at this point is really that we are not all present in Saint Petersburg. I personally had been looking forward to the organization of the conference in Saint Petersburg for many years, and it is with great regret that I am not able to participate in person because of the pandemic.

5. This year’s topic

This year we have chosen Materiality and virtuality in Japanese studies resources 日本資料における実質性・仮想性as the overall topic of the conference. The term materiality is, I think, a very important one. Over the last few years, we have noticed an increasing interest in the material aspects of the resources. Indeed, the material, the support is something that informs text and image in a defining way. There is no such thing as a text or image sub specie aeternitatis (Latin for "under the aspect of eternity"), a universally and eternally unchanging text or image, without any reference to or dependence upon the material aspects impinging on them. The text and image, as they physically present themselves to us, in other words, the form in which they present themselves, the material design, is a constituent element defining the transmission of the virtual message it carries. It is perhaps digitalization, which possibly is likely to conjure up the notion of a text or image devoid of any material support, that has conversely made us more aware the materiality of the resources. 

6. Yasue Akio

Our interest in the material aspects of the resources is in no small measure attributable to the presence in our midst of Professor Akio Yasue, and it is therefore with great regret that I have to open this conference in his absence. As you no doubt have read in the short obituary I devoted to him on the website, he passed away on January 29, 2021, succumbing to the incurable illness he had been battling with since last year. The driving force behind the Conservation/Preservation Working Group project. He was in fact the one who more than anyone else, has put the restoration and conservation of resources on the agenda, and reinforced a general trend to also understand and incorporate the material aspects of resources in our approach. The European Association of Japanese Resource Specialists (EAJRS) and, in particular, its Conservation/Preservation of Japanese Antiquarian Materials Working Group are deeply indebted to him.

Born in 1945, Mr. Akio Yasue graduated from International Christian University in 1969, and began working at the National Diet Library in the same year. He was consecutively director of the Kansai-kan (Kansai Library) Project Office in the Administrative Department, Director-General of the Kansai-kan, the Director-General of the Administrative Department, and Deputy Director General of the National Diet Library in 2004. His specialty was library and archives management. After his retirement from NDL, he served as Vice President of the Business Archives Association and held a position as part-time lecturer in the Graduate Course of Archival Science at the Gakushûin University. Thanks to his knowledge and know-how he continued rendering invaluable services to the world of books and archives up to the end of last year.

His involvement with the EAJRS started in Leuven, at the 2014 Leuven conference, where he delivered a lecture in the session I happened to chair on “Preservation of Japanese old books in Europe : Survey Results and Some Remarks.” 

At its annual conference in 2014, EAJRS set up at his proposal a working group for the conservation and restoration of early Japanese books (Japanese antiquarian materials) in European collections. As one of the working group’s core members he investigated the conditions of conservation and advised on the needs for preservation and restoration in many European collections of Japanese materials. He made the results of his findings available in reports, and translated his accumulated expertise and experience into guidelines and know-how for conservation. It is fair to say that he contributed in an outstanding way to the goals and objectives of EAJRS. We are indeed deeply indebted to him.

At the annual EAJRS conference held in Sofia in 2019, Mr. Akio Yasue gave a thought-provoking lecture on reassessing the significance of the Kirishitan-ban for the history of printing in Japan. In concluding he voiced the hope that European librarians, curators and researchers would continue their efforts in the field of research, training activities, digitization schemes, and the search to unlock new historical materials. How little did we realize then that this would be his last intervention at an EAJRS conference.

Taking his appeal to heart, EAJRS is determined to continue pursuing the goals it has set itself, convinced that this is the best way to keep Mr. Akio Yasue’s memory alive.

7. Kuzushiji workshop

The Series of National Institute for Japanese Literature/European Association of Japanese Resource Specialists Kuzushiji workshops has been going on since 2011, and has been held in Oxford, Leuven, Zurich, Bonn, Paris, Norwich, and Paris, the latter one being held in 2019. This year it was held online, from 21-23 April, with Prof. Kazuaki Yamamoto taking care of the sessions related to printed books, and Prof. Naohiro Ôta taking care of those on manuscripts. The main purpose is to gain practical knowledge of, and first-hand experience in, the reading of hiragana-majiribun of the Edo period, using historical documents as text. 

The participants found the training a great confidence-builder and expressed their enthusiastic appreciation.

We are in the course of establishing a more formalized collaborative scheme with the National Institute of Japanese Literature (Kokubungaku kenkyû shiryokan) to put the kuzushiji training sessions on a more permanent basis. 

The Kuzushiji section has been updated with information provided by Akira Hirano, who has been particularly instrumental in our beneficial relationship with NIJL. 

Concurrently, some other initiatives and schemes have been taking place with a view to enhancing the literacy of Japanese cursive calligraphy reading, such as Ritsumeikan University’s Arts Research Center立命館ARC翻刻支援システム講習会・古典籍コンソーシアム「くずし字教育」分科会(第2回)in the framework of 日本古典籍研究国際コンソーシアム.

Prof Tsuda Mayumi (Keio University) has organized an online symposium in conjunction with the next conference of the Japanese Early Modern Literature Asssociation 日本近世文学会under the theme: デジタル時代の和本リテラシー古典文学研究と教育の未来.

8. Funding

The Japan Foundation will not be supporting the conference; events that take place in ‘higher-risk areas’ are not supported according to the regulations. This mainly affects the in-person part of the conference, but due to the lower number of in-person participants, the conference will take place at a smaller and cheaper location.

The Toshiba International Foundation has paid their funding as promised. We are most grateful for their loyal support. 

9. Resource Providers

I take the opportunity to thank the resource providers, both the public or non-profit institutions and the commercial vendors. We thank them for taking all necessary measures to substitute the physical workshop by online equivalents, and I am looking forward to join a few of them. The workshop they organize every year and the updates they provide, constitute a major contribution to the conference and significantly boost the skills of the users of resources. Every year there is much to be learned from them, and I, for one, always enjoy their demonstrations and hands-on guidance. 

10. Saint-Petersburg

Has played a vital role in the development of Modern Asian Studies in Europe. We have already heard several presentations on Klaproth and other scholars linked with Saint-Petersburg. The French sinologist Stanislas Julien (1797-1873), one of the founders of  Buddist Studies in the West, succeeded in deciphering Chinese Buddhist terminology thanks to two books he had been able to borrow from Mr. Séniavine, director of the Asian Department. This year’s conference again includes a few presentations that will highlight the seminal role played by Saint-Petersburg as a center of resources on Asia and the Far East. I am looking forward with great interest to the host of interesting presentations the programme offers.

I hope you enjoy the conference.