This site gives an overview of research projects currently carried out at our department. Please click the project titles for further information. If you're interested in past research projects please head over to the archive.
Apl. Prof. Dr. Christian Tagsold has earned a Heisenberg Position of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) under which he will conduct three subprojects over the span of five years. All projects focus on the question of how Japan constructs its own identity through cultural translation processes in exchange with the West.
The project Protection of Historical Buildings of Classical Modernity in Japan takes a look at how buildings from the 1920s onwards have been recently put under preservation orders, and how different architectural styles are redefined as expressions of Japaneseness within this process. During the real estate bubble of the 1980s, many older buildings were replaced by newer, more profitable ones. Initiatives by citizens and architectural historians attempted to save them, and eventually monument protection authorities fought for their preservation. This caused a paradigm shift, as the focus previously lay on supposedly 'authentic' Japanese buildings in rural regions.
The project The Idea of Japanese Closeness to Nature in Cultural Discourses of the Meiji and Taishō Eras analyses the supposed existence of a special kind of harmonious love towards nature in Japan, which is allegedly reflected in refined aesthetics. It is already widely accepted that this assumption can be attributed to nihonjinron, the cultural discourses of Japaneseness. The genesis of this idea, however, has not yet been comprehensively researched.
Finally, the project The Japanese Diaspora Network in Europe After Brexit deals with the consequences of Great Britain's retreat from the EU for Japanese residents living in London, as well as for other diasporas like in Paris and Düsseldorf. Diaspora research has usually been focused on the relation between centre and periphery, which in this case could refer to Tokyo and London. However, this project will take a closer look at the relations between diaspora locations within Europe during the Brexit crisis.
Details on each project (in German) can be found here:
About 8,000 Japanese residents live in and around Düsseldorf, with 5,000 living in the capital itself. Until the 1990s, Düsseldorf had the highest concentration of Japanese residents outside of Japan, and even today is only eclipsed by London and Paris. In contrast to these locations, however, a very visible infrastructure has emerged in Düsseldorf, due to the multitude of Japanese institutions such as businesses, the general consulate, the Japanese Club, schools, and restaurants. Some even refer to the community as 'Little Tokyo'.
Japanese companies began settling in Düsseldorf in the 1950s and 1960s in the wake of a new focus on internationalisation and expansion into Europe. These companies sent over employees, along with their families, to stay abroad for three to five years. About 500 Japanese companies settled in North Rhine-Westphalia, 400 of which set up their offices in Düsseldorf. At the time, NRW was the most economically strong state in Western Germany and was often referred to as the "desk of the Ruhr". The proximity to Duisburg Harbour and the nation's capital Bonn might have also motivated Japanese companies to settle in Düsseldorf. But while numerous plausible theories have been posited, it is still not entirely clear why exactly these companies chose to settle in Düsseldorf and how the process developed over time.
The research project combines research into economic history and diaspora, thereby unifying two approaches that have usually been kept separate. Diaspora research has often neglected the complex interplay between diasporas and economic developments, while economic research, on the other hand, has either focused on a far larger scope or only on a single company, mostly ignoring case studies on individual business locations for foreign companies.
The project shows how economic development and the emergence of a Japanese infrastructure mutually reinforce each other. The companies settled in Düsseldorf, leading to the birth of the diaspora with its institutions and businesses. These structures, in turn, attracted more companies to the city. On the whole, the project will provide a theoretical foundation to better explain new business locations, for example from China or India, in Europe.
The project is funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung for a span of three years. Konstantin Plett is conducting large parts of the research as part of a doctoral thesis.
This project is an empirical and theoretical inquiry into the gendered aesthetics of propaganda in Japanese illustrated magazines that targeted overseas and domestic audiences during the Fifteen-Year War (1931–1945). Propaganda magazines contributed to the making of a fascist imaginary while also sharing in the transcultural trajectories of modernist aesthetics of the time. This project traces the gendered and transcultural iconographies of cutting-edge photographic propaganda magazines and relates them to their contemporary European, Soviet and US-American models and counterparts. Theory-driven research into the gendered and sexualized fantasies of European fascisms and their mediated visual constructions call for corresponding investigations into the gendering of fascism in the Japanese case.
The chosen samples for this investigation are the overseas magazines NIPPON, FRONT and Manshū Gurafu, and the domestic magazines Shashin Shūhō and Hōdō Shashin. Some had particularly high circulation and close government ties while others can be seen as trailblazing modern propaganda methods. The analysis of these magazines revolves around the ways in which visual presentations of gender in particular, but also of race, ethnicity, culture and other categories of differentiation were employed to ‘write’ a multi-faceted and sometimes contradictory fascist ‘script’. Drawing on theories and research both in Japanese and European histories of fascisms, this qualitative media analysis links the relations of a) fascism and modernity, and b) propaganda and visuality, to the ways in which ideologies were visually constructed and transmitted through intersecting categories of differentiation (gender, race, culture).
This project aims to:
- identify media and communication strategies in visual propaganda;
- theorize gendered representations in the course of the escalating war; and
- provide an intersectional discussion of the findings in conjunction with theories of fascism, race, visuality and gender.
Funded by DFG and the East Asia Foundation of Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf
New approaches of Queer Studies are developing in various regions of the world, with a wide range of scholars offering different and intersectional perspectives. In the past few years, theoretical and empirical studies that developed in Asia, Africa or Eastern Europe have been connecting postcolonial theories with ethno-sexual and human rights questions in new ways. “Asia is Burning“, proclaimed Howard Chiang & Alvin K. Wong in 2017 as they discussed their concept of “Queer Asia”. Suggesting a queer paradigm for the region that does not only refer to sexualities but helps to question any categorical national and cultural border lines, they present a perspective that allows us to see transnational aspects of every region and society and their relations with each other. Our aim at the Department of Modern Japanese Studies in Düsseldorf is also to combine questions of genders and sexualities with transnational and transcultural perspectives.
The team of Modern Japanese Studies I organized the Symposium “Queerying Japan” (6-7 July 2018). This symposium in Düsseldorf was the first such scholarly meeting and conference that was dedicated to transnational German-Japanese Queer Studies—a still narrow focus that the organisers aim to open up to encompass other countries in East Asia and Europe. At this event, participants and organisers agreed to form a network that was then coined “Genders & Sexualities: East Asia & Europe Network” (GSN). This will hopefully become one starting point for East Asian Studies to take the issues of sexual minorities seriously, and to grasp the opportunity that the “queerying” paradigm provides for the transcultural, social and political sciences in Europe and East Asia.
In the closed sessions of the Symposium “Queerying Japan”, its participants explored future opportunities for networking and research. The following themes and clusters were taken up as research topics that would yield valuable insights into the state and politics of queer lives in East Asia and Europe: backlash and countermeasures, translation politics and access to knowledge, aging and death, the marketability of queerness, sexual citizenship, and family. As joint projects, the participants discussed various possibilities: transnational studies on elections and social consciousness among/toward LGBTIQ persons, educational cooperation (video conferences/joint lectures), translation projects, and the sharing of materials for LGBTIQ education.
As part of the Genders & Sexualities Network, two panels were held at the German Japanology Conference in Berlin (30 August 2018) and one panel at the NEW TERRAINS IN ASIAN HUMANITIES Conference at Kyushu University (22 September 2018); we also discussed ”Queer Japan“ at the Gender Workshop that is held in conjunction with the annual Conference of the Association for Social Science Research on Japan (Vereinigung für Sozialwissenschaftliche Japanforschung, VSJF) in Berlin (22-23 November 2018). In 2019, we organized five panels at the European Conference on Politics & Gender (Amsterdam, 4.–6. Juli 2019) and at the International Convention of Asia Scholars (Leiden, 16.–19. Juli 2019).
Project members: E. Scherer, T. Thelen
The series format renzoku terebi shōsetsu (serial television novel), also known as asadora, is regarded as a national institution in Japan. For generations, audiences have tuned into the state broadcaster NHK every morning to follow stories of female heroines that run for over half a year. Watching this series format is thus more than just pure entertainment: it has become a ritual that contributes to the structuring of everyday life and to defining what it means to be Japanese.
The content of asadora is often characterized by traditional values, providing an ideal image of Japanese family life and creating normative concepts of femininity and masculinity. In asadora, Japanese identity is often constructed through the incorporation of great national historical narratives, such as World War II or the reconstruction after defeat. This view of national history from the perspective of women is an important part of the Japanese culture of remembrance. Equally essential for identity construction in asadora, though, is a strong emphasis on the regional—which is used pars pro toto to negotiate national values.
Due to digitization, advanced recording technology, and a diverse range of programs, it has become more difficult for TV stations to attract large audiences, and the concept of a ‘national’ audience has become questionable. At the same time, popular TV formats like asadora are widely discussed on social media, and their audiences actively participate in expanding the narrative world of these TV series. In addition, since the mid-2000s, the phenomenon of media-induced tourism has increasingly been discussed in research in Japan. In Japan, this kind of tourism already started with the early asadora of the 1960s, but recently local communities have been getting more and more involved in the production process and the marketing of media content. Some media producers also choose certain regions as locations for development or for charity reasons, as has been the case with the popular morning drama Amachan (2013), set in Tohoku after the Triple Disaster of 2011.
Despite its wide presence in Japanese culture and a notable reception throughout Asia, the asadora is a subject that is rarely dealt with in academia—particularly in English publications. This research project aims to shed light on the characteristics of this series format and on its implications for identity construction in Japan.
- 2019 Special issue on asadora, East Asian Journal of Popular Culture (in preparation)
- 2018 Scherer, Elisabeth; Thelen, Timo: „Drama Offscreen: A Multi-Stakeholder Perspective on Film Tourism in Relation to the Japanese Morning Drama Asadora)“. In: Kim, Sean; Reijnders, Stijn (Hg.): Film Tourism in Asia. Perspectives on Asian Tourism. Singapore: Springer, S. 69–86.
- 2017 Scherer, Elisabeth; Thelen, Timo: „On countryside roads to national identity: Japanese morning drama series (asadora) and contents tourism“. Japan Forum, S. 1–24.
- 2016 Scherer, Elisabeth; Thelen, Timo: „Auf Mares Spuren durchs Hinterland. Publikumsaktivität und Vermarktungsstrategien zu japanischen TV-Serien am Beispiel des asadora Mare“. In: Schönbein, Martina; Stein, Juliane (Hg.): Facetten der japanischen Populär- und Medienkultur 3. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, S. 225–278.
In terms of their talent pool or coordination of international activities, Japanese companies have in the past largely relied on Japanese nationals, either employed in headquarters or delegated as expatriates to overseas subsidiaries. However, since around 2010 we have been witnessing a new and distinct recruitment trend - the systematic hiring of foreign fresh university graduates into Japanese multinational enterprises' (MNEs) operations in Japan. In Japan, this trend has been termed 'internationalization from within' (uchinaru kokusaika). Our project, in collaboration with Associate Professor Hendrik Meyer-Ohle from the National University of Singapore, has been looking at the meanings, objectives, challenges and lessons of this 'internationalization from within' Japanese companies and their human resources. Focussing on a number of perspectives, including the implications for the Japanese employment system, Japanese diversity management, and the Japanese migration system, we have published a number of academic articles in International Journal of Human Resource Management, Social Science Japan Journal and International Migration.
Moreover, as the new Japanese hiring trend has particular implications for Japanese Studies graduates, we are seeking to change the way in which we train and prepare Japanese Studies graduates for potential employment in Japan and have offered feedback to Japanese HR managers and career counsellors with a view to improve the employment situation and practices around foreign graduate employment in Japanese companies. Here is a recent three-part article in Japanese, targeted at Japanese HR managers:
The academic literature on the Japanese employment system and its human resource (HR) management practices has so far tended to focus on changes to key HR practices, such as long-term employment or seniority-based remuneration. This literature has contributed significantly to our understanding of how HR practices and other Japanese company practices are intertwined and constitute the 'Japanese firm'. However, far less attention has been paid to the question where such reforms are initiated, how decisions on HR reform are made and what kind of processes accompany such changes. While existing research suggests that Japanese HR departments remain very important due to their accumulation of and control over personal information and their involvement in the transfer and training of employees across functions, their changing institutional role and possible professionalization in initiating and managing HR initiatives has remained unclear.
The relevance of this question is highlighted by the fact that the western HR literature has been propagating a more strategic role of human resource departments, where human resource managers are close to the leadership of the company and involved in strategic decisions early and proactively. Human resource managers in the West see themselves increasingly as professional and specialist business partners, who proactively assist divisions in assessing needs and developing human resources. This role of the HR manager as a business partner is considered to require a skillset and grasp of the overall company that might exceed HR managers' largely operational understanding and thus puts them in some competition with or need for outside consultants. The emerging Western image of the HR manager contrasts with that of the traditional Japanese HR manager, who has often been trained as a generalist, working in the HR department only for a few years, while also developing skills in other parts of the firm.
The purpose of this research project, which is conducted in collaboration with Associate Professor Hendrik Meyer-Ohle from the National University of Singapore, is it to clarify the changing role, understanding, and organization of Japanese HR departments in initiating and implementing HR innovations. We ask how the institutional role of human resource departments has changed in recent years, which factors have driven such changes, and to which extent human resource departments rely on or work with outside consultants and service providers.