The internationalization of graduate education is at the heart of the Japan Gateway Program. We are inviting members of faculty and staff who have been active in promoting the implementation of Top Global Courses in six different fields to speak on topics including their own research project, what they hope to accomplish through this project, and the globalization of education and research.
Our first issue features Professor Motoki Akitsu from the Graduate School of Agriculture, an active contributor in the area of social sciences and humanities.
Q1: To begin, please tell us a little about the themes of your current research.
I’ve been carrying out research related to rural societies. My main research interest to date has been the transformation of rural society as a result of modernization, economic development, the development of infrastructure, and other factors. In terms of overseas involvement, I’ve carried out field surveys in rural villages in several countries, including South Korea, Tanzania, Hungary, Thailand, and China in order to compare rural villages in Japan with those in other countries. These constitute the background to my participation in a globally connected project like this one.
In addition, finding solutions for contemporary problems faced by rural villages means that we need to think about not only the villages themselves, but the entire social fabric that encompasses rural society. Accordingly, through the lens of “food,” I’ve also recently been studying “interpersonal relationships mediated by food” and “food ethics” as important themes for encouraging urban residents, also, to think about the rural society and the environment they obtain their food from. In connection with these themes, I’ve also undertaken studies of the situation in North America and Europe.
Q2: What are your main initiatives and aims in relation to the Japan Gateway Program?
For many developed countries, food-related issues and those confronting rural society are broadly similar. Particularly, as the circumstances faced by Germany and other European nations resemble those in Japan, studying and thinking about conditions in these countries will be helpful in a very direct way when considering solutions to Japan’s own rural and food issues. From this perspective, we are working in partnership with the University of Göttingen in Germany, the Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands, and other universities/institutions. I believe that making an international comparison of rural and food-related conditions within the framework of this project will lead to the training of a new generation of researchers capable of viewing these issues from a broader perspective. I should also mention that in March 2016, we will be jointly holding a workshop on family farming with the French Institute Agropolis International and Germany’s University of Göttingen.
Moreover, in Asia, in response to the problem of the exodus of young people from rural areas, Chulalongkorn University in Thailand has launched a new initiative that seeks to recruit university students from rural areas and send them back as graduates. Believing such an initiative to have aspects that Japan could also learn from, we have entered into a partnership to hold joint workshops and other events.
We are also looking into starting to provide joint guidance for doctoral students in conjunction with these partner universities, which will include endorsing such an initiative with the issuance of joint certificates. Our goal is to eventually expand this to include guidance at the master’s level as well.
Looking back, I never had any formal overseas training experience in education or research myself, which has been the source of some difficulty – notably the fact that except for some conference-level English, my own English-language proficiency leaves much to be desired. I believe that it is extremely important to offer our students opportunities to gain genuine international exposure during their time at Kyoto University. I’d like young people to take every advantage of such opportunities, and to develop their global potential by gaining first-hand knowledge of research conditions overseas.
Q3: Do you feel there is any interest in Japan from overseas?
I feel that interest in Japanese food is on the rise. More researchers are coming to Japan from Europe and North America with an interest in approaching the study of Japanese food from an anthropological or sociological perspective.
We are also planning to move ahead with an undergraduate-level exchange program in partnership with the University of Kentucky in the U.S., and there appears to be a growing interest in Asia among other American universities as well.
Q4: What future challenges do you expect as this project moves forward?
The Social Sciences and Humanities section of this project involves the three graduate schools of Economics, Agriculture, and Letters. In my own field of research, in particular, we are forging partnerships with overseas universities and institutions in conjunction with the Graduate School of Economics.
As things currently stand, however, there remain a variety of institutional barriers when trying to collaborate outside the boundaries of graduate schools. In this sense, I think it would be better if we could become more flexible in future.
Also, in attracting international students at the undergraduate and master’s level, whether or not any desirable classes or programs are offered in English is becoming extremely important. Because the Graduate School of Agriculture already offers courses (established under the Global 30 Project) that make it possible for students to graduate by only taking classes in English, many classes have already been provided in English. In addition, the East Asia Course in the Graduate School of Economics also offers many classes in English. How we might work to integrate these existing resources into the framework of the current project is likely to pose a challenge moving forward.