This is an English translation of an article originally published by The Asahi Shimbun.
Stanford University Professor of Sociology Kiyoteru Tsutsui is a recipient of the Suntory Prize for Arts and Sciences and the Ishibashi Tanzan Prize for his book Human Rights and the State (Iwanami Shinsho, 2022). Although he has published many works in English, this was his first publication in Japanese. After earning a master's degree at Kyoto University, he moved to the United States. Before Stanford, he served as a professor at the University of Michigan. “I wanted to make a difference in the United States first,” he says. “I had not thought about publishing in Japanese.”
However, since he joined Stanford in 2020 and has undertaken the role of director of the Japan Program at the University's Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC), Tsutsui has become increasingly aware of the importance of Japanese studies and publishing in Japanese. He recognizes the decline of Japanese studies and the necessity of revitalizing the field and connecting Japan and the United States. Tsutsui is currently the only professor of Japanese studies at APARC. In the 1990s, there were three or four faculty experts in Japanese studies at the center.
With the popularity of Japanese anime, manga, video games, and other forms of Japanese culture, the number of Japanese-language students in the United States is not decreasing," notes Tsutsui. However, “the departure from Japan in the social sciences is severe.” The reason for this, according to Tsutsui, is that area studies are declining, and there is an increasing emphasis on theories and models. “But Chinese studies are growing, and the subjects of German, French, and other area studies maintain interest.” In 2019, a session titled "The Death of Japanese Studies" was held at the North American Association for Asian Studies, attracting much attention.
Tsutsui worries that the declining interest in Japanese studies could negatively impact public opinion and policymaking toward Japan in the United States. For example, during the Japan-U.S. trade friction of the 1980s, the Japan-U.S. relationship was hardly a focus of Japanese studies scholars in the United States.
Tsutsui works to advance U.S.-Japan dialogue, promote Japanese studies research, and clear up misunderstandings about Japanese affairs. Last year, he launched the Stanford Japan Barometer (SJB), a periodic public opinion survey on political, economic, and social issues concerning contemporary Japan — a project he started in hopes of fostering young researchers’ interest in Japan.
“We have already researched gender and policy and the Taiwan contingency and security,” he says. “In the future, we will continue to cover a wide range of topics in Japanese politics, economy, and society, including techno-media, artificial intelligence, Japan’s declining birthrate, and its Constitution.” Unlike a typical public opinion survey, SJB focuses on types of questions that move people’s opinions. Therefore, SJB asks questions on different issues with different assumptions, comparing people’s responses.
In the case of the questions on same-sex marriage, the respondents randomly received one of eight explanations, such as “In Japanese society, it is a tradition to see marriage as a heterosexual relationship” and “In Japanese society, there is a tradition of toleration towards same-sex relationships stemming back from the Sengoku Period.” The study examined the difference between respondents who received no explanation and those provided with arguments supportive of same-sex marriages. “Our results showed that respondents tend to become more supportive of same-sex marriage when presented with an argument that not allowing same-sex marriage is unfair from the point of view of human rights and gender equality,” Tsutsui explains.
“I hope that many young scholars will eventually participate in the project and that it will provide an opportunity for the next generation of outstanding researchers to enter Japanese studies and increase their opportunities to work abroad.”