Starting now, starting here

On July 1, 2017, the Humanities Center (HMC) was established as a collaborative research institute of the University of Tokyo based on agreement and cooperation among the Graduate Schools for Law and Politics, the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Education, the Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, the Historiographical Institute, and the General Library. I am happy to say that, thanks to everyone's support, our activities are being enriched with every passing year, while expectations of us have also increased. At the same time, under the system based on which it was founded, the HMC's term of establishment was set to run only until June 30, 2022. More than a year ago, we entered into several rounds of discussions, listening to the views of those who had been involved with the HMC, and determined that, given the value of continuing the center's activities, we had a duty to keep going. Our application for re-establishment, this time as an institution under the purview of the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, was approved on the basis of our achievements to date and our plan for the future. As such, on July 1, 2022, the HMC embarked afresh on its journey as a collaborative research organization. We are most grateful for the many warm words of encouragement that we have received.

From its very inception, the HMC has been sustained by the understanding and support of LIXIL Corporation and its then chairman, Yoichiro Ushioda. Even after the HMC's fresh start, Mr. Ushioda continues to support our work and we have been able to make research grants funded by the Ushioda Humanities Initiative a major pillar of our future activities. We would like to express our gratitude once more to Mr. Ushioda.

Our point of departure is our ambition to respect freewheeling thinking on the part of individual researchers, supporting their ideas while weaving them together, so that we can render visible the diversity and depth of the humanities, whose central questions focus on human activities. Putting this into practice, we tried a variety of approaches, including holding frequent seminars open to the public, organizing exchanges among fellows, and producing booklets based on seminar records for timely publication. In the course of these efforts, I have realized that the humanities, as a diverse set of practices based on collaboration between the humanities and adjacent fields, are in the process of fulfilling a new role as a platform connecting not only the research community within and outside the university, but also a variety of members of society. These person-to-person links would appear to be essential to our concept of the humanities.

The Humanities Liaison through URA Utilization initiative launched in FY2020 will also continue to be a major pillar of our activities. The job of university research administrator (URA) should by rights be positioned as a professional research planning and administration post, but the reality at Japanese universities at present is that most URAs are tasked with the acquisition of organizational funding, so progress in establishing this system has stalled in the humanities, where there are few examples of large-scale research. The Humanities Liaison project has the advantage that leveraging the researcher information and research seeds amassed through the HMC's activities as a resource makes it easier to perceive the scope and prospects for planning and support, while also facilitating the acquisition of skills through day-to-day collaboration with fellows. Positioning the Humanities Liaison project as a hub for planning and operation by early-career researchers, we will further strengthen the initiative based on our vision for the humanities as a connecting force.

The humanities tend to be criticized for existing in a bubble, being an academic field where unsystematic, highly individual activity is common, with a tendency to try to sustain its nature as a highly specialist discipline. However, rather than trying to forcibly impose order or guide academics away from overly specialist disciplines, we believe it is more effective for the HMC to serve as a separate layer, providing humanities researchers with a forum for new thinking, exploration, and dialogue, while they individually forge connections that will spark catalysis, based on the premise that humanities are a sporadic and specialist discipline. For example, in forums such as our open research seminars, where the framework of the university has been removed, fellows talk about their research in a lively way. Seeing this has made me realize just how important it is to researchers themselves to have these spaces separate from discussion among experts. The humanities are a process originally rooted in individual experiences. People discover something in those experiences, delight in it, and tell others about it. We want to appreciate the value of that simple starting point. That is the discovery we at the HMC have made from our experiences so far.

A new Humanities Center starts here. Thank you for your ongoing support.
July 1, 2022

The University of Tokyo Humanities Center