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Masami Yamada, leader of the ARC-iJAC project Re-thinking Japonisme: Digitization of the V&A's collection of Japanese illustrated books and researching its formation in the late 19th century, is a Curator in the Victoria and Albert Museum's Asia Department. She has particular responsibility for the collections of Japanese lacquerware, netsuke, ukiyo-e woodblock prints and contemporary craft. Her current area of research is contemporary craft, particularly the work of urushi lacquer artists. In 2022, she received the inaugural Sir Nicholas Goodison Award for Contemporary Craft from the Art Fund to further develop the Museum's internationally renowned Japanese lacquer collection.

Thank you very much for your time today. How did you first connect with the Art Research Center (ARC) or hear about the International Joint Digital Archiving Center for Japanese Art and Culture (ARC-iJAC)?


Yamada: The V&A was the first museum where Professor Ryо̄ Akama from the ARC conducted the digitization of a Japanese art collection in Europe 20 years ago. In this first phase of the partnership project, every single artwork from the Museum's extensive collection of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, numbering over 25,000 in total, was photographed. These images were subsequently uploaded onto the Museum's publicly accessible collection database, Explore the Collections. It was a remarkable achievement in the early 2000s when the digital presence of museums was fairly limited.

Soon after I joined the V&A in 2018, I had a chance to meet with Professor Akama and Dr. Ryо̄ko Matsuba, Lecturer in Digital Japanese Arts and Humanities at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC), in London to discuss the possibility of initiating the second phase of the digitization project. The collections of ukiyo-e prints and illustrated books remain largely uncatalogued and without photographs in the case of the book collection. We agreed that there was much scope to improve the visibility and accessibility of these important collections. So, a collaborative project with the ARC was something I planned to initiate from the very beginning of my time at the V&A.

Could you please tell us the motivation and significance for your ARC-iJAC research project Re-thinking Japonisme: Digitization of the V&A's collection of Japanese ukiyo-e prints and illustrated books and researching its formation in the late 19th century?

Yamada: The current research project, launched in 2022, is expected to take at least a few years to complete considering the volume of the target areas. The prime objective is to systematically digitize the ukiyo-e woodblock prints and illustrated books in the V&A collection to provide a more comprehensive overview.

digitization_v&a.jpgTo date, three publications in English and two in Japanese on the ukiyo-e collection have been released between the 1980s and late 2000s. The 170 selected works traveled to Tokyo in 2007 for a special exhibition, Masterpieces of Ukiyo-e from the Victoria and Albert Museum, held at the Ōta Memorial Museum of Art in Tokyo, contributing to the collection's recognition in Japan. However, the selection of prints for these previous publications and the exhibition tended to focus on the most iconic prints of the ukiyo-e genre. The number of prints we can display in our permanent gallery of Japanese art is limited to no more than 15 at a time. I am excited to make thousands of prints that have never been displayed or published before accessible online through this project.

The presence of the illustrated book collection, on the other hand, remains largely unknown despite its incredibly rich contents. There is only one publication on the collection compiled by Leonard G. Dawes in 1972. It introduced just a small selection of the most important titles, and there is currently no other publicly available resource to explore over 700 titles in the collection in full.

Our immediate focus is on the large group of Japanese prints and books acquired in 1886. The Museum purchased over 12,000 prints and 300 books as a single lot from a London-based art dealer, S. M. Franck, at the height of the European craze for all things Japanese. Analyzing print and book genres offered in this bulk acquisition would ultimately contribute to creating a new understanding of the Japanese art market in London in the late 19th century.

What do you hope to achieve with this joint research project?

workshop_v&a.jpgYamada: I hope this collaborative project will further reinforce our existing partnership with the ARC and SISJAC. The V&A could not initiate this exciting new phase of the digitization project without their expertise and support.

We are currently working together to make the ARC databases of the V&A's print and book collections publicly accessible. By interlinking the V&A's collection database in English with these specialist databases in Japanese, we will not only improve the accessibility of our collections for Japanese-speaking specialists and general audience, but also create opportunities for international specialists and audiences to discover the ARC's dedication and excellence in the field of Digital Humanities.

As part of the project, Dr. Matsuba from SISJAC regularly organizes hands-on digitizing workshops in the V&A, inviting young researchers and students. Spending one to two weeks, these workshops are designed to photograph the book collection for the above-mentioned databases. Every single book is being photographed from cover to cover, ensuring that new photographs meet today's publication standards. So far, seven university students and one researcher have taken part and learned best practices for digitizing museum collections. Offering learning opportunities for the next generation of researchers is another important goal for me.

v&a.jpgCould you give us an insight into your current role as curator at the V&A and what do you find particularly fascinating about the Japanese Collection of the Museum?

Yamada: I am one of the three curators responsible for the Japanese art collections at the V&A. We hold over 48,000 objects in the Japanese art collections. Our permanent gallery, the Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art, celebrates the extraordinary craftsmanship and artistic creativity of Japan from the sixth century to the present day through displays of swords and armor, lacquer, ceramics, cloisonné enamels, textiles and dress, inrō and netsuke, paintings, prints, and illustrated books, as well as contemporary craft, product design, fashion, and electronics.

While making our existing collections as widely accessible as possible through exhibitions, displays, research papers, lectures, and digitization is at the heart of our daily routine, the V&A is also committed to supporting and promoting new creative practices, acting as a resource and platform for contemporary artists, designers, and performers. As a Japanese national who has lived in Europe for many years, it is my passion to support contemporary Japanese practitioners and create opportunities to introduce their artistic creativity on the world stage.


Our audience is diverse, not just in terms of nationalities, but also of age range. Young V&A (formerly the V&A Museum of Childhood) opened its doors to the public at the beginning of July 2023. This historic museum in East London has been entirely redesigned and is now reborn as a new museum where children, young people, and families can imagine, play and design. Its inaugural special exhibition will be all about Japan, Japan: Myths to Manga, and will open in October 2023. The exhibition has been collaboratively curated by Katy Canales, Young V&A Curator, with us in the Japan section of the V&A's Asia Department.

The ARC places great emphasis on fostering young researchers--the next generation of digital archiving experts. So, last but not least, based on your experience of studying and working in the UK, what would be your advice to students wishing to go abroad or join an international research project but worry about language barriers and other challenges?

Yamada: Studying and working abroad was the best thing I did in my early 20s. I highly recommend any early career researcher in Japan to go abroad or join an international research project if any opportunity arises. Although it has become easy to connect with international researchers virtually, meeting and working with them in person is an entirely different, far more powerful experience. Living in another country far from home is always challenging, but often life-changing and rewarding. It is exciting to exchange ideas with researchers from culturally diverse backgrounds who might have a completely different perspective on your research topic.

In terms of language barriers, I strongly believe the proverb, 'What one likes, one will do best.' If you are passionate about your research field, the most important thing is the contents of your research, and English is just a tool to communicate it. I went to a public school in Japan and could not speak English until I enrolled at the International Christian University in Tokyo, renowned for its fully bilingual education. So, my English was by no means perfect when I lived in London for the first time as a student, but I had learned that my Japanese heritage and language skill are unique assets that contribute to research projects in an international context.

Images credit line: Ⓒ Victoria and Albert Museum, London

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li)

Supported by the ARC-iJAC, the research led by Dr. Ewa Machotka and Dr. John Pavlopoulos (Stockholm University) has pursued the large-scale digital geospatial exploration of places depicted in Japanese early modern ukiyo-e landscape prints through Natural Language Processing (FY 2021). Their follow-up project aims to apply NLP technology to inscriptions on ukiyo-e landscape prints to facilitate a large-scale exploration of textual information featured in those prints (FY 2023).

Project leader: Dr. Ewa Machotka (Dept. of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Stockholm University)
Project manager: Dr. John Pavlopoulos (Dept. of Computer and Systems Sciences, Stockholm University)
Project members: Konstantina Liagkou, Panagiotis Papapetrou, Marita Chatzipanagiotou

Thank you very much for your time today. Could you please tell us the motivation for your ARC-iJAC research project Natural Language Processing for a Geospatial Exploration of Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints?

Unknown-2.pngMachotka: The last several decades saw the rise of interest in the concept of Global Art History, understood as a heterogenous transnational and critical study of the world's cultural production. One of the challenges of this new research direction is the question of how to acknowledge the conceptual and material heterogeneity of artistic production across the world in a way that does not support a universalist understanding of cultures. This concern prompted our research. We saw that Japanese early modern landscape prints, as globally recognizable non-Western pre-modern artifacts, offer a critical testbed for considering these issues.

We know that these prints are often defined today as fūkei-ga, or landscapes. However, we should not forget that the notion of fūkei is a modern cultural translation entangled with the ideology of modernization and colonial power. Originally these images were largely defined as meisho-e or 'images of famous places', and they are rooted in poetic rhetorical figures that tie seasonal images with either actual or imagined places. So, to understand meisho-e prints and their social function at the time of their production, we have to understand what places were depicted (i.e. considered culturally significant) and how these geographical locations were represented and mediated by the prints. We wanted to identify a general pattern in this mediation, which can be done easier at a large scale instead of at the level of individual prints.

Considering the richness of the corpus that includes thousands of objects, we thought that recent advances in Natural Language Processing (NLP) could effectively help us to take the first step in this study, namely the geolocation of places depicted in prints, and identification of their distribution across time and space. Our exploratory mixed-method analysis has so far delivered promising results. We developed a novel application of NLP for the Digital Humanities that demonstrates the transformative potential of AI for the study of Japanese early modern prints and Art History at large.

How have the ARC-iJAC resources supported you in realizing this project?

ishiyamadera_1.pngLiagkou: To put it plainly, our research would not be possible without the Ukiyo-e Portal Database being developed by and hosted at the Art Research Center at Ritsumeikan University. First, the Portal Database offered us access to print collections kept in different museums around the world. If this feature sounds trivial, please note that not all museums freely share their collections online with the public.

Second, the ARC Ukiyo-e Portal Database offers access to an extremely rich corpus. When we started our research, the Portal Database hosted 678,429 prints kept at 28 institutions in Japan and abroad, and it is continuously growing. Hence, it offers access to a very large corpus of ukiyo-e prints facilitating 'distant viewing' or a macro analysis of the prints, thus also enabling a diversity of analytic tasks.

Third, the Portal Database features not only high-quality visual data itself (delivered in a standardized protocol) but also rich and high-quality metadata facilitating different kinds of explorations and analyses. In the context of our project, we especially appreciated image-content-related transcription of inscriptions on prints which often mention names of the places depicted in the prints. We identified these mentions with NLP, geotagged them, and then visualized them on a map.

As part of your research project, you developed an online application called Ukiyo-e Distant Viewer. Could you briefly explain its merits/ purpose?

Pavlopoulos: The Ukiyo-e Distant Viewer aims to facilitate the geolocation and visualization of recognized place-name entities found in ukiyo-e prints, enabling users to identify culturally significant places and explore their spatial distribution. This analysis covers thousands of images across Japan and provides a large-scale perspective on early modern landscape imagination.

It is important to note that our focus is not on individual prints or print series, but rather on identifying trends and changes across time.Ultimately, this tool will enable us to trace the chronological development of this imagination and gain insights into its cultural and historical significance.

Unknown-3.pngHow do you feel about the execution of the project? Have you come across any particular challenges?

Liagkou: Our exploratory mixed-method analysis has so far been successful. First, by employing the NLP approaches such as transfer-learning and Named Entity Recognition (NER) and applying our fine-tuned recognition model on a large dataset of prints, we provided a use-case of how a macroanalysis of a visual dataset can be undertaken in art historical research of Japanese visual culture.

Machotka: We also identified a number of methodological challenges. As we know, the field of Spatial Art History--combining Geographical Information Systems (GIS), NLP, and Corpus Linguistics--has advanced in the past few years. However, although these tools perform well on modern datasets, it is not the same for historical materials.

We can encounter several problems, such as OCR errors, difficulties related to place reference identification, and place reference disambiguation (related to language changes over time), among others. The situation is even more complicated in the case of mapping meisho-e prints due to the ambiguity of the depicted visual motifs. We need to note that place identification in prints is not always facilitated by iconography or visual motives but by the image-content-related inscriptions printed in the images that often feature place names.

So, the geolocation of these sites requires the reading of inscriptions. And transcription of inscriptions is one of the main obstacles for art historians interested in a large-scale analysis of the prints. This is due to the complexity of the Japanese early-modern writing system, problems with adequate identification of place names, and material aspects of a print (e.g. color scheme and preservation state). We plan to address some of these issues in our next project, which focuses on exploring possibilities of using computational tools for the automated transcription of inscriptions on prints.

Your next project, AI-powered Text Recognition of Inscriptions in Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints, will continue to utilize Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology to study the landscape prints (meisho-e) in the ARC Ukiyo-e Portal Database. What is the significance of this project?

Pavlopoulos: In this project, we will focus on resolving the linguistic problems related to transcribing the inscriptions on prints enabling geolocating of places mentioned in these inscriptions. We will investigate the development of computational tools for the automated recognition of the text of inscriptions on prints rather than using already-transcribed inscriptions provided in the database.

As we established previously, NER can be used to successfully extract the place names from inscriptions on ukiyo-e prints. However, the tool requires transcribed digital metadata to generate information, while many museum collections lack reliable transcriptions of inscriptions on prints.

Optical character recognition and handwritten text recognition (HTR) can be used to recognize the text from an image. Due to the technological, formal, and linguistic characteristics of ukiyo-e print inscriptions, which do not use a standardized writing system or movable type, we hypothesize that handwritten text recognition could be effectively applied to inscriptions on Japanese prints.

We expect the recognized text to contain errors, and we will investigate the accuracy of extracting place-named-entities from the recognized (not transcribed) text. This multimodal methodological challenge requires testing on non-transcribed inscriptions on prints, and our study will facilitate this.

How did you first connect with the Art Research Center (ARC)? / How did you hear about the International Joint Digital Archiving Center for Japanese Art and Culture (ARC-iJAC)?

Machotka: As a scholar of Japanese art history educated in Japan, at Gakushūin University in Tokyo (thanks to the doctoral fellowship issued by MEXT), I have been well aware of the pioneering contribution of the Art Research Center (ARC) and the International Joint Digital Archiving Center for Japanese Art and Culture (ARC-iJAC) to the digitization of Japanese cultural artifacts, and computational analysis of Japanese art.

I also had the honor and pleasure to meet the leading ARC researchers, Prof. Akama Ryo, Prof. Suzuki Keiko, Prof. Yano Keiji, Dr. Matsuba Ryoko, and many other colleagues at different academic events in Europe and Japan. So, I have been aware of the important work done by the ARC, its faculty, and the research value of the ARC databases for a long time. And I have to admit that I probably would have never started my own research adventure with Digital Art History if not for the ARC and its ground-breaking work.

Is there anything else you would like to comment on or highlight?

Machotka: We would like to stress one important issue, which we think is the key to the success of Digital Humanities, and can push the frontiers of research in (Global) Art History. It is the need and value of collaboration across various disciplines, institutions, and national borders.

Communication between researchers, exchange of experiences, sharing knowledge and good practices is the key to knowledge production. Digitization processes are going fast, and many museums invest in building their digital databases and sharing their collections with the general public. But to benefit from this incredible work, we would also like to see a strengthening of analytical aspects of Digital Art History, using computational tools not only to offer wider accessibility to museum collections but also to facilitate analysis and a better understanding of art objects.

So, we would like to encourage other art historians and computer scientists to explore possibilities for collaboration. Interdisciplinary work across distant disciplines like ours is not an easy task, as we need to learn to understand and respect our divergent research approaches. But it has been a rewarding experience for our team and brought out new findings that can move our disciplines forward.

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li.)


Kelly Midori McCormick is an assistant professor of Japanese history at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, specializing in the history of the material and visual culture of modern Japan.
Carrie Cushman is the Edith Dale Monson Gallery Director and Curator at the Hartford Art School. She holds a Ph.D. in Art History from Columbia University and is a specialist in postwar and contemporary art and photography from Japan.
Supported by the ARC-iJAC, their project team has created and launched the bilingual website Behind the Camera--part database, part educational tool--spotlighting a diverse range of international experts on the history of Japanese photography from the perspective of gender and power.

Thank you very much for your time today. Could you please tell us about your motivation to start your FY 2021 ARC-iJAC project Expanding the Study of Japanese Photography and Gender: Modules for Teaching and Public Access?

Kelly-McCormick-Edited-270x298.jpgProf. McCormick / Prof. Cushman: Conceived in 2017, Behind the Camera was established to address the lack of scholarship and access to primary sources on the histories of Japanese women in photography. The idea for Behind the Camera was sparked with a simple question: what resources existed on the roles that women have played in the history of Japanese photography?

Since the introduction of the first camera to Japan in 1848, women have been integral to the social constructions of photography as a visual technology, art form, and commercial practice.


Women photographers require a history that intersects social and political history with the close analysis of their work and its implications for visual culture in Japan.

Beyond accounting for historical omissions, we sought ways to interrogate the overwhelmingly male-centered historiography of Japanese photography and to address the ideologies that have consistently reinstated gendered hierarchies within the photography world.​​ We knew that these efforts could not be individual but would require a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach.

To that end, in 2019, we brought together a multidisciplinary group of scholars from Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel for a two-part panel at the Association of Asian Studies (AAS) Annual Conference, sponsored by the Japan Art History Forum. The conversations generated at the AAS made clear that the histories of Japanese women in photography required a sustained platform that would allow for research to develop organically and collaboratively.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the project transformed into a website where specialists share carefully researched arguments and source materials made available to the public in both English and Japanese. In times when travel to archives and conferences is difficult, this website seeks to bring photographs, scholarly perspectives, and historical resources directly to you.

We are delighted about the launch of your digital humanities website Behind the Camera: Gender, Power, and Politics in the History of Japanese Photography.

Can you share some of your experiences with us during the implementation of this project? Have you come across any particular challenges?

BtC Timeline Screenshot 2.pngProf. McCormick / Prof. Cushman: The Art Research Center at Ritsumeikan is an incredible resource for researching Japanese visual culture and producing new information about it. We were thrilled at the opportunity to work with the ARC but the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that our initial goals of using the recording facilities to conduct interviews with current Japanese women photographers were not possible.

We were able, however, to use the generous funding to produce an interview between the photographer Nagashima Yurie and art historian Handa Yuri. This interview will be the first to introduce a wide range of audiences to Nagashima's scholarly work on the history of the Japanese women photographers who gained recognition for their work in the 1990s and Nagashima's critical interpretation of the male photo critics who shaped the way the world saw this generation of women photographers.

Is there anything particularly fascinating you found while implementing this project?

Prof. McCormick / Prof. Cushman: To create the modules for the site, we approached historians of photography to present an issue from the history of Japanese photography from a gender studies perspective. One of the most gratifying things about this project is how many new angles scholars have approached and created their modules from. Many have seen the new format of a video lecture paired with an image archive as a structure that allows them to explore new topics or synthesize larger projects in a compelling and captivating way.


For instance, Dr. Elena Creef drew on networks of Japanese war brides that her mother is a part of to create a collection of family photographs that illustrate their experiences as they moved from Japan to the United States in the postwar period.

While the majority of the modules are focused on historical events, a selection of the modules has been created by curators who reflect on exhibition practices in relationship with the gender histories of Japanese photography.

Maggie Mustard's module on the exhibition she curated, The Incomplete Araki: Life, Sex, and Death in the Work of Nobuyoshi Araki, held at the Museum of Sex, New York in 2018, examines the many challenges with presenting work by the very controversial photographer in the context of the MeToo movement.

Do you have plans to expand this website, for example, by adding new modules? If possible, could you please tell us more about them?

Prof. McCormick / Prof. Cushman: We will be adding a new collection of modules to the website in 2023. We are excited to present lectures by Ayelet Zohar on Ishikawa Mao; Kerry Ross on marketing cameras to women in the Taisho and early Showa period; Judy Legewood on May Ebihara's anthropological photographs in Cambodia; Phillip Charrier's lecture, Shigeo Gocho, women, and everyday resistance in 1960s Japan; Miryam Sas on Rethinking Japanese media theory, and interviews with Eileen Smith on photographing Minamata; and an interview between Komatsu Hiroko and Franz Prichard.

How did you first connect with the Art Research Center (ARC) at Ritsumeikan University? / How did you hear about the International Joint Digital Archiving Center for Japanese Art and Culture (ARC-iJAC)?

We saw a call for applications and after investigating the resources at the ARC were excited to partner with Ritsumeikan in the hopes of spreading the word about the project and collaborating with Japanese scholars.

Is there anything else you would like to comment on or highlight?

We are actively seeking contributors in Japan and around the world who would like to contribute new modules on the history of Japanese photography from new perspectives. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have a proposal for a module.

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li.)

IMG_4633.JPGMurakami san, thank you very much for your time today. Would you please tell us about your time at the Art Research Center (ARC)?

Murakami: I have very fond memories of the ARC. During my graduate studies at Ritsumeikan University, I could obtain a variety of experiences through my classes, writing my master's thesis, and the internship opportunities in Japan and abroad provided by the ARC.

Within the well-established research environment of the ARC, I could immediately put the knowledge I had obtained in the classroom on digital archiving into practice, the most memorable of which was the filming of the Katayama family's Noh play that I was lucky to participate in.*

Which research area have you specialized in, and why do you find it fascinating?

Murakami: I have specialized in the digital archiving of contemporary Japanese theater.

I have loved theater for years, and because of that, during my undergraduate days, I was doing research on a certain playwright in contemporary theater. However, learning about digital archiving at the ARC, I came to realize that the digital archiving of materials related to contemporary Japanese theater had not progressed that much. So, I chose this as my research theme.

It is so interesting to capture theater, a temporal form of art that cannot be archived in its own right, from the perspective of its related materials.


What did you experience during your internship abroad, and what are your thoughts on it?

Murakami: I was very fortunate that I could do my internship training at the University of California, Berkeley, for a week as part of my graduate course, as the ARC has been closely collaborating with the university for many years.

Under the guidance of the librarian in charge of the Japanese collection at the C.V. Starr East Asian Library, we worked on the Virtual Institute of the 'Japanese Special Collections in the C.V. Starr East Asian Library, University of California, Berkeley' created in collaboration with the ARC. We also got an opportunity to talk to librarians in other departments at the library as well as staff in charge of digital archiving.

Nowadays, the ability to communicate in English, in particular, conveying your own ideas, is essential in order to study, network, and conduct research abroad. Therefore, I am thankful that the ARC facilitated our internship opportunity at UC Berkeley and provided an environment for us to actively engage in English conversations without worrying about making mistakes.

Can you tell us about your current job?

Murakami: I work as a curator at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum in Tokyo and am mainly in charge of its digital archiving projects. I am glad I can utilize my knowledge acquired at the ARC for my current digital archiving duties by leading a joint research project with the ARC and discussing plans for the digital archiving of materials in the museum collection.


I have been researching how to do digital archiving of a wide variety of materials related to sports. After all, sports are something that almost everyone experiences, so depending on the angle you take, it would be easy to attract people's interests, which is quite rewarding.

Can you tell us more about the joint research project with the ARC and the significance of this project?

Murakami: The joint digital archiving project encompasses all kinds of sports materials in our museum collection--from three-dimensional materials such as athletic equipment, medals, and uniforms to paper materials such as books and newspapers on sports, and documents on tournament management.


Although most of the materials are from Japan, there are also many books in foreign languages, and documents on foreign athletes and overseas competitions.

In the study of sports, research on so-called 'sports science' has been quite advanced. Yet, research on the cultural aspect has not been as extensive. Hence, our joint research project to construct a digital archive on sports materials aims to further develop the study of sports as an activity of the people and society.

What do you hope to achieve with this joint research project?

Murakami: Our goal is to leverage the ARC digital archiving system to eventually digitize all of the museum's materials and build a digital archive on sports that will facilitate collaboration with other institutions as well.

We hope to release our database in 2025 and make all those items with no issues regarding copyrights available to the general public.


*The ARC has been closely working with the Katayama Family Foundation for the Preservation of Noh and Traditional Kyoto Dance (片山家能楽・京舞保存財団/ ) to film and digital archive their performances for more than 20 years.

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li.)

Professor Hans Bjarne Thomsen has held the Chair for East Asian Art History at the Institute of Art History, University of Zurich, since 2007. His publications include Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Ernst Grosse Collection (2019). Supported by the International Joint Digital Archiving Center for Japanese Art and Culture (ARC-iJAC), Art Research Center, Prof. Thomsen conducted his research project 'Tracing the Reception of Japanese Art in the West: Case Study of Freiburg im Breisgau' in FY 2021, followed by the project 'Tracing the Reception of Japanese Art in the West: The Case of Monte Verità' in FY 2022.

IMG_20220711_152607.jpgProfessor Thomsen, thank you very much for your time today. How did you first connect with the Art Research Center (ARC)?

Prof. Thomsen: I met Professor Akama in Geneva more than a decade ago. Since then, we have embarked on several projects digitizing and cataloging Japanese woodblock prints at the Print Cabinet in Geneva.

Thanks to the efforts of the ARC in digital archiving of these prints, we have held two exhibitions at the Print Cabinet--one on kabuki prints in 2014 and the other on surimono prints that is currently ongoing.

In 2016, the University of Zurich also held a three-day international symposium on katagami in Zurich where several ARC faculty members presented their research.

You are the leader of two ARC-iJAC international joint research projects. 'Tracing the Reception of Japanese Art in the West: Case Study of Freiburg im Breisgau' was conducted in the fiscal year of 2021, while you examine the case of Monte Verità in the current fiscal year. Could you tell us your motivation for these projects?

Prof. Thomsen: There has been a prolonged interest in academia to study Japanese art outside of Japan that goes back to the 1970s. However, the focus has mainly been on meibutsu (名物) and their connections to Japan.

My research interest lies not only in finding and identifying objects that have been traditionally seen as meibutsu but to expand on this. Some Japanese art collections across Germany and Switzerland, such as the collections left behind by Ernst Grosse (1862-1927) and Baron Eduard von der Heydt (1882-1964), have been little explored.

As part of our ARC-iJAC projects, we have been digital archiving and cataloging these artworks as we intend to not only examine their connection and existence within Japanese art history but place them in context of both their Japanese origin and a piece of local Swiss/ German history.

Freiburg.pngIn your ARC-iJAC projects, you also investigate the art collectors and other agents involved in bringing artworks from Japan to Europe. Could you tell us why?

Prof. Thomsen: We hope to get a better understanding of the roles these various pioneers held in spreading public and academic knowledge of Japanese art.

In graduate schools, the students typically look at the most recent texts, whereas older ones are neglected because they are considered 'old history'.

We are inclined to think that there is a sudden burst of light, and we know everything about a subject--but it builds over time. The gradual growth of knowledge on certain subjects tends to be ignored in the West.

Japanese collections had been brought to Europe for particular reasons--the art collectors could have considered them interesting, and perhaps important. The motivations and individual stories of these collectors--two key persons were Ernst Grosse and Baron Eduard von der Heydt--should not be forgotten.

For instance, despite his early influence in East Asian art studies and contributions to the establishment of the Japanese art collections in the West, the role of Ernst Grosse has largely been forgotten. Furthermore, many other people, including middlemen, were involved in the process of knowledge transfer of Japanese art in the West. It was not a simple process.

To 'resurrect' these histories of learning, we should give credit to these pioneers.

Monte Verita.JPGHas there been something particularly fascinating that you found regarding these pioneers?

Prof. Thomsen: For instance, as opposed to Ernst Grosse, von der Heydt had never been to Japan. So, where did he buy his artworks, and how did they arrive there?

Furthermore, von der Heydt gave his East Asian art collection to Museum Rietberg in Zurich. However, some key pieces, including a fine collection of Japanese woodblock prints, never went to Rietberg. Instead, they have remained at his home, a modernist-style Bauhaus building in Monte Verità where they have been largely forgotten and become a part of hotel decoration.

So, what are the pieces he did not give to Museum Rietberg, and what does this tell us about the status of these objects?

We would like to address some of these questions as part of our ARC-iJAC projects, directed toward rediscovering a forgotten history of the reception of Japanese art in the West.

We intend to fully digitize and catalog the collections of Grosse and von der Heydt that have been lost to the public.


Could you please tell us more about your post-COVID plans?

Prof. Thomsen: I plan to continue working with Japanese art collections here in Europe. In the last fifteen years since joining the University of Zurich, I have had the pleasure working with more than 50 different museums--including museums in Switzerland, Germany, Ukraine, France, and Italy.

Regarding our ARC-iJAC projects, we faced the problem during the pandemic that we could not enter the museums for a long time. Therefore, many of the Japanese artworks Ernst Grosse left behind still remain in cardboard boxes. Once we get permission from the museums, I plan to take higher-quality images of the objects that we can replace and add to our ARC database.

I am excited that there is still an incredible research potential in these art collections in Freiburg and Monte Verità, and I hope to continue the delightful research collaboration with the ARC for many years to come.

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li.)

Dr. Mohamed Soliman is an Egyptian archaeologist and the Director of the Advanced Studies Unit for Cultural Heritage at the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics (NRIAG) in Cairo. While completing his two-year JSPS Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Ritsumeikan University's Institute of Disaster Mitigation for Urban Cultural Heritage (DMUCH), Dr. Soliman started his research project "Qait'bay Citadel (1477-1479): Visualizing the Main Coastal Fortification of Medieval Alexandria, Egypt" in FY 2021 supported by the ARC-iJAC.

received_1166561990470172.jpegDr. Soliman, thank you very much for this interview. How was your time here in Japan?

Dr. Soliman: Thank you. Although the pandemic hit us soon after my arrival, and I had to adapt my research plans, I had a rewarding time in Japan. The field of cultural heritage studies, in particular, relies a lot on field data acquisition, so working from home is difficult.

However, I received a lot of guidance from my host professor Keiji Yano* to achieve my research goals, conduct joint research and expand my network within the Japanese research community.

*Professor Keiji Yano (College of Letters, Ritsumeikan University) is a Deputy Director of the Art Research Center.

Could you please tell us why you started the project of visualizing Qait'bay Fort?

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Dr. Soliman: Qait'bay Fort, built in the 15th century, is not only considered one of the most significant fortifications in Egypt but along the Mediterranean Sea.

The Fort stands on the same site as the legendary Pharos Lighthouse. However, it is exposed to natural and man-made disasters such as seismic hazards and tsunamis due to this location.

The fire disaster at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 2019 reminded us of the importance of 3D visualization to preserve and document cultural heritages at risk and make our research outcomes available to scholars and the public alike.

At the same time, the project contributes to the sustainability goals of our local tourism industry, reflected in the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS): Egypt Vision 2030.

Furthermore, we consider this a prototype project to build bridges of scientific collaboration between Ritsumeikan University, E-JUST** and NRIAG.

**Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology (E-JUST)

How do you feel about the execution of this project until now?

c_IMG20210607112457.jpgDr. Soliman: Despite the exceptional circumstances caused by the pandemic, I was able to make a field trip to Egypt, enabling us to collect rich data. A part of the historical data was collected in collaboration with two archaeologists from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA), who will continue to participate in the fieldwork.

Since this project is just a start to creating a virtual tour of Qait'bay Fort, we carried out basic tasks such as determining the advantages of the tools used for data collection and the appropriate software for data processing.

We also held a one-day online workshop 'Digitization of Historical Cities in Egypt and Japan' in November 2021 that showcased the diverse contributions of Japanese and Egyptian institutions in Digital Humanities.

Have you come across particular challenges during the execution of this project?

Dr. Soliman: The fact that Quait'bay Citadel is a tourist site open to visitors and its weather conditions in winter posed a challenge to accurate data collection. We had to arrange the time of fieldwork and duration accordingly.

Furthermore, the rich data we obtained requires more advanced software for data processing than the one I am using. I will tackle this issue in the next phase of the project.

Speaking of the next phase, could you tell us more about your plans for FY 2022?

Dr. Soliman: In line with our main objectives, we will continue to carry out the integrated visualization of Qait'bay Fort to create a panoramic tour based on 3D imaging and consider how it can serve research, education, and tourism promotion purposes. We plan to launch an interactive website dedicated to publicizing the dataset and raising awareness of the importance of visualizing cultural heritages at risk.

In the future, I would like to apply more advanced tools, including drones and terrestrial laser scanners.

Finally, I hope to collaborate with ARC members of the Graduate School of Information Science and Engineering, Ritsumeikan, to learn from their experience in the 3D visualization of large-scale cultural heritages in Japan and Indonesia to advance and promote our research agenda further.

We also look forward to continuing working with you. Your project provides a valuable opportunity to strengthen the ties between the ARC, Ritsumeikan University, and our Egyptian partner institutions.


Dr. Soliman: Yes. Under the supervision of Prof. Yano and with the kind support of Ritsumeikan University's President Nakatani***, I am working on facilitating scientific collaboration with the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology (E-JUST).

Professor Mona G. Ibrahim, Dean of the School of Energy Resources, Environmental, and Chemical and Petrochemical Engineering (EECE), has already been involved in this project as Co-Principal Investigator.

Subsequently, I would like to enlarge our network to include NRIAG and the MoTA to strengthen our scientific research relationship, facilitate knowledge exchange, and foster young researchers of the joint partners.

***Professor Yoshio Nakatani, President of Ritsumeikan University, was appointed a member of the E-JUST Board of Trustees in July 2019 and has been deeply involved in the university management.

Dr. Soliman, thank you very much for your time. We are very much looking forward to the further development of your project.

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li.)

Dr. Ryoko Matsuba, a specialist in Edo period print culture, received her Ph.D. from Ritsumeikan University in 2008. She is now Lecturer in Japanese Digital Arts and Humanities at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC), University of East Anglia. Before taking up that post, she participated, as a member of curatorial staff, in two major exhibitions at the British Museum: Hokusai Beyond the Great Wave (2017); and the Citi Exhibition Manga (2019). She co-authored the exhibition catalogue for the latter.

TTL21Jan21.jpgMatsuba sensei, thank you very much for joining us today. Would you tell us about your time at the ARC?

Dr. Matsuba: When the Art Research Center was established, I was an undergraduate student at Ritsumeikan University. I joined the digital-archiving project led by Professor Akama as a part timer involved digitizing kabuki playbills from Osaka and Edo dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.

I gradually came to grasp the techniques and basic procedures of digital archiving, such as scanning photographs, cataloging, and improving the searchability of items, while I worked through the kabuki playbills. This experience laid the foundation for my M.A. and Ph.D. research topics. So, I treasure my time at the ARC very much.

We are glad to hear this. How did it come about that you started to work in the UK?

Dr. Matsuba: When I was still a graduate student, the ARC first provided me with the opportunity to travel to the UK and work at the British Museum as part of the team preparing the exhibition Kabuki Heroes on the Osaka Stage 1780-1830 (2005).

The ARC has been digitizing Japanese collections in renowned museums around the world, and supporting them in creating exhibitions. These activities offer many hands-on training and networking opportunities for young researchers.

Subsequently, I participated in the preparation other British Museum exhibitions such as Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art (2013); Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave (2017); and the Citi Exhibition Manga (2019). In addition, I contributed to and assisted in editing the exhibition catalogs for those exhibitions.

You are now working for SISJAC, with which the ARC has long record of research cooperation. Could you tell us more about your current role?

Dr. Matsuba: As Lecturer in Digital Japanese Arts and Humanities, I teach digital archiving techniques and methodologies to catalog artefacts while encouraging students to gain a deeper understanding of Japanese culture through UK collections and hands-on experience in handling Japanese artefacts. 

Last year, SISJAC launched a new MA program in Interdisciplinary Japanese Studies together with the Centre for Japanese Studies and the Interdisciplinary Institute for the Humanities at UEA. The program is designed to advance understanding Japanese culture from both historical and contemporary perspectives.

As part of this program, I organized the first joint digital archiving technical workshop with the ARC in 2021 and hope to continue our fruitful collaboration by facilitating knowledge exchange.

Furthermore, I intend to build up digital curation--curating digital information in new ways. SISJAC is very keen on developing new digital initiatives for educational purposes as the digital realm is an essential path we need to take.

Could you elaborate on this a little further?

Dr. Matsuba: In a post-COVID-19 world, the presence of museums through the web has gained unprecedented importance. Besides the physical exhibitions, web exhibitions must now be created or further enhanced.

However, technologies and platforms available are still 'work in progress' in all the major institutions in the UK. We are trying to gain a clear picture of what is going on and to define best practice.

My impression is that although we are always talking about digital transformation, it is often not so much an actual transformation. I believe that there is more potential that many realize for doing things differently--and more effectively.

For example, as e-journals become increasingly popular, we could change our idea of publishing research articles. Instead of simply replacing the paper format with a digital version, we could create a wholly different online journal experience by incorporating live links to videos, audio segments, and 3D models.

If the ARC takes the lead in this respect, SISJAC is eager to collaborate.

Do you have any advice for students or young researchers who wish to go abroad or join international research projects but worry about language barriers?

Dr. Matsuba: Students are often concerned about engaging in a research field in a foreign language. I am always asked how I manage the language hurdle. I am still learning and sometime find it difficult to express myself in English.

I do not have any clear answer to overcoming language barrier, beyond urging you to be determined and to practice speaking and reading every day. I think this is the only way to build up your confidence. This is the path that I pursue.

In my teaching, I try to address this issue by, for example, using visuals. If someone has difficulties in giving a presentation in a foreign language, they could prepare a video presentation with subtitles. There are various options available to assist you in expressing yourself.

Finally, how do you picture the overall future cooperation between SISJAC and the ARC?

Dr. Matsuba: We hope to be able to set up a joint module with the ARC as part of our new MA program. An issue that we should consider when organizing the joint module is how to overcome the language barrier because familiarity at any level with the Japanese language is not a mandatory requirement of our MA program.

Besides this, we hope to continue our joint digital archiving workshops to learn and share best practices in Japan and the UK and to facilitate student exchanges. It certainly would be great if future joint research projects were built upon collaboration among our exchange students.

Dr. Matsuba, thank you very much for your time. We are very much looking forward to continue working with you.

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li.)

Project Overview:
At the center of this project, which involved Bachelor and Master students of Japanology at Goethe University Frankfurt, was the On Edo ezu (御江戸絵図) from the ARC database 'Maps of Japan from the Collection of Sir Hugh and Lady Cortazzi'.
Drawing on maps, guidebooks, and colored woodblock prints, this project attempted to correlate various sources of both geographical and visual experience and knowledge to hypothetically reconstruct how they might have shaped the late Edo period consumer's consciousness based on the materials accessible to them.
Click here to access the project website.

MKfotosw.jpgProfessor Kinski, thank you very much for your time. As the leader of the FY2020 ARC-iJAC project 'Edo Period Map goes Digital - The On Edo ezu as an Interactive Resource', could you tell us about your motivation to start this project?

Prof. Kinski: I began to develop a strong interest in Digital Humanities (DH) in 2012 when I saw a presentation by Bettina Gramlich-Oka--a colleague at Sophia University--about creating an interactive biographic database as part of her interest in social network analysis.

Striving to incorporate text mining, topic modeling, or semantic network analysis in my approach to Edo period intellectual history, I have been making efforts to raise the interest amongst students in the approaches towards Japanese sources derived from DH.

Frankfurt University owns a small collection of printed books covering the period between 1650 and 1850, our 'Edo bunko' which we use for exercises in the classroom to decipher and transcribe larger quantities of text.

A talented student of mine, Koray Birenheide, created a program called 'DemiScript' that allows us to work with source material--whether premodern, modern, textual or visual--and to present the results of our transcription efforts. A far more advanced tool than expected, I was convinced it could serve as a platform for a larger, more ambitious classroom project.


The ARC-iJAC provided a timely opportunity to put our plan into action by drawing on the materials in the ARC databases and combining the first-hand exploration of primary sources with concerns from urban infrastructure history and art history.

So, the purpose of your project was largely educational?

Prof. Kinski: Yes, our project was not devised as a research project as such. Its paramount aim was to bring students into contact with primary source materials.

Most project participants neither had training in 'classical' Japanese, such as kobun classes (古文), nor Edo period Japanese or had encountered Edo-period script and what often is called 'hentaigana'.

Furthermore, I wanted to provide students with an outline of Edo-period urbanity, urban infrastructure, the representation of geography in the context of a 2D map, and the solutions chosen by the editors for this purpose.

A secondary effect of this project was the in-depth study of the On Edo ezu in a language other than Japanese and the correlation between the map and Hiroshige's ukiyo-e prints--two media available in the Tenpō period to find spatial and temporal orientation.

The students identified and linked Hiroshige's choice in scenic spots and famous places to their counterpart sites on the map. This way, we could verify the exactitude of both the map and the prints and get an idea of what kind of materials were available for Edo-period inhabitants and travelers to find their way around.


How do you feel about the execution of the project, and what kind of feedback did you get from your students?

Prof. Kinski: At first, I naively thought that integrating questions and methods derived from DH would meet with a positive echo amongst students. However, despite the ubiquitous talk about living in the digital age, most of them did not immediately share my enthusiasm for DH in studying Edo Japan.

The On Edo ezu project served to overcome these reservations towards using computer-based approaches to explore Edo Japan and strengthen their intrinsic motivation to learn about Japan's past rather than contemporary Japan.

And indeed, this project turned out to provide fun, insight, and the feeling of exploration and discovery for most of my students. Organized in small groups working on a well-defined target independently, they have expressed in their end-term evaluation that this was a new and satisfying experience learning about premodern Japan.

I hope that the project has also encouraged them to find an individual creative niche for themselves and their study interests in the future.


How did you connect with the ARC-iJAC?

Prof. Kinski: My original interests lie in the Edo-period intellectual and cultural history. Although my connection to Ritsumeikan University goes back to 1990, I only became fully aware of the ARC when I got invited by Andrew Gerstle (SOAS) to join his ARC-iJAC project Cultural Salons and Visual Arts in Kyoto and Osaka, 1750--1900.

This project encompassed the idea of exploring 'networks', and I was investigating Kaiho Seiryô (1755-1817) and his social network as part of this.

The project was the starting shot for what I considered a major discovery for me. Besides providing me the opportunity to explore Seiryô as a bunjin (文人) who was active in salons in Kyoto around 1810 and made the acquaintance of other bunjin painters, it also gave me a chance to see some of the works of Seiryô in private collections.

I am grateful to Ryo Akama, Andrew Gerstle as well as the ARC resources that have allowed me to pursue my interest in Seiryô as a bunjin and to set his works and endeavors in perspective.

Concluding this interview, is there anything else you would like to comment on?

Prof. Kinski: I hope that such research endeavors as pursued by the ARC and ARC-iJAC can continue in the future without the worry of financial resources. Bringing people together in international, interdisciplinary projects like this is of utmost importance.

Prof. Kinski, thank you very much for your time. We are very much looking forward to continue working with you.

Click here to access the project website.

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li.)

Daan  Kok-copy.jpgDr. Kok, thank you very much for your time today. As Curator East Asia, you have been at the forefront of this joint research project with the ARC to digitize the extensive Japanese art collection of Museum Volkenkunde, part of the National Museum of World Cultures.

What sparked your interest in Japanese art and culture?

Dr. Kok: In high school, I once received a book about Japanese design. It raised my interest to apply at a design academy. Not admitted on my first attempt, I began to study Japanese and enjoyed it so much that I never stopped.

During my studies at Leiden University, I became particularly fond of the kyōka surimono of the 1820s.

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How do you feel about the overall collaboration with the ARC?

Dr. Kok: I am very thankful for our collaboration. The first contact between our museum and the ARC was already established more than ten years ago. During Professor Akama's visits, we would conduct photography together using the 'portable travel kit' he developed to digitize art collections abroad.

The execution of our joint project has never been stagnant, but you can see a continuous improvement year after year. It has also been a valuable learning experience for me to see the mechanisms Professor Akama uses to increase the quality of digitizing artworks.

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What is the significance of constructing and releasing this database in the ARC Virtual Institute?

Dr. Kok: We need to ensure comprehensive access for researchers to our collection.

Now that we have constructed and interlinked the ARC database with our museum database, the availability of our collection of printed materials to a Japanese-speaking audience is of great significance.

Furthermore, we appreciate the ARC's digital infrastructure for not only searching but also editing the database. The interactivity of the ARC database allows Japanese-speaking researchers to contribute to the database, paving the way for future research.

While our museum database is a more general database for a wide range of objects, the ARC database has a high level of specialization to cater to the specific needs of research in Japanese art and culture, such as ukiyo-e prints and early Japanese books.

Could you tell us a little more about the Japanese collection at Museum Volkenkunde?

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Dr. Kok: The core of the museum's Japanese collection is made up of the collections of Philipp Franz von Siebold, Jan Cock Blomhoff and J.G.F. van Overmeer Fischer.

They were the main collectors in the 1820s--a period of Japan's sakoku (closed country) policy. After they purchased the artworks during their court journeys to the shōgun in Edo, the items came to the Netherlands almost in a straight line and never circulated among other collectors.

Since we know when they made these court journeys to Edo, we have obtained a good overview of what was available during that period and what was of interest to the collectors. The time of purchase also allows us to calculate how much or how little time there was between a kabuki play and the kabuki poster's availability on the market, for instance.

Furthermore, the existence of multiple copies of the same prints makes them suitable for comparative research.

Is there anything that fascinates you about this collection in particular?

Dr. Kok: It is particularly noteworthy that some of the prints are in a quite unique condition. Their colors convey the impression as if they were made just yesterday. Hence, these prints serve as a valuable reference of how prints may have looked originally.


However, due to their exceptional quality, the museum decided that a limited number would not be permitted to go on loan. Therefore, it is even more important they are available to the broad public in digital form through our database.

Could you tell us about your plans or future project goals?

Dr. Kok: I hope to continue to work with the ARC on digitization projects.

While Volkenkunde has the largest Japanese collection, there are interesting Japanese objects at other museums in our organization, mainly the Tropenmuseum (Amsterdam) and Wereldmuseum (Rotterdam), which the ARC has not digitized yet.

Since these Japan collections are not well-known, compared to that of Museum Volkenkunde, it is all the more important that they become available to a Japanese-speaking audience as well. So, we should strive to ensure that links are well established.

Furthermore, with the advance of technology, AI image recognition may provide opportunities to recognize drawings and sketches and match them to certain prints and book illustrations published by Kuniyoshi, Kyōsai, or Hokusai. I also hope to work together with the ARC on this area in the future.

Dr. Kok, thank you very much for your time. We are very much looking forward to continue working with you.

→ Access the database of the Japan Collection at Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li.)

Kuzushiji is a kind of Japanese cursive script found in early Japanese books (until the mid-Meiji Period).
Due to the different writing styles compared with modern Japanese characters, kuzushiji can be understood only by a minority of trained specialists.

The Art Research Center (ARC), Ritsumeikan University, has developed an educational transcription system with an AI-enabled deciphering support function for kuzushiji to facilitate access to early Japanese books for academic research.
The training course started on May 14, 2021, and has counted participants from 12 countries so far. It is provided free of charge. (→Click here for details on the training course.)

Professor Akama, thank you very much for your time today. You have just completed Phase 1 of the kuzushiji training course for beginners and intermediate levels. What is the purpose of your training course?

kuzushiji_cap1.JPGProf. Akama: We have developed an AI-enabled transcription support system for kuzushiji specifically for educational purposes as part of an industry-academia collaboration with Toppan Printing Co., Ltd. The company kindly provided us with the API (application programming interface) of their kuzushiji recognition system that is powered by deep learning.

Our purpose is to teach and support students and researchers in utilizing our transcription support system for their academic research projects based on the abundant materials available in the ARC's Early Japanese Books Portal Database. You can freely choose the materials you wish to transcribe from our database--with over 218,000 titles, one of the largest databases of digital-archived early Japanese books in the world.

I have held several workshops on the system, for instance, at the University of Leiden and the University of California, Berkeley. Not able to travel due to the pandemic, I hope to promote the system's usage by offering this online training course.

Could you tell us about the significance of developing a transcription support system?


Prof. Akama: The Edo Period was peaceful and culturally mature--an ideal environment for commercial publishing and the distribution of woodblock-printed books to flourish as the literacy rate among the population was reasonably high.

Hence, books from a variety of genres written in kuzushiji were published during this time containing valuable information about art, culture, history, and more. However, only a fraction of them has been transcribed.

The transcription support system facilitates access to these books for students, researchers, and people in the fields related to Japanese arts and culture, to obtain a deeper understanding of the past as we strive to preserve cultural heritage.

What is the merit of the ARC Transcription Support System as compared with other transcription systems for kuzushiji?

Prof. Akama: The merit of our transcription support system lies in its educational function.

Our interactive system enables students to learn and practice transcribing and archiving digital texts of early Japanese books fast and efficiently.

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It is particularly suited for being used in lectures and study groups under the supervision of an instructor or as part of individual or group research projects.

As the system offers a user-friendly interface with a vertical input window for transcriptions next to the original kuzushiji text, users can easily compare and check the contents as they proceed.

Should users encounter difficulties, the AI-enabled deciphering support function gives a list of suggestions ranked by percentage. If there is no suitable suggestion based on the context, users can search in our extensive Character Image Database or request support from the instructor.

Hence, users can gradually enhance their ability to read kuzushiji with clues provided by the system and the feedback given by instructors.

Could you tell us about your plans for the future regarding this system?

Prof. Akama: As we continue to utilize the system to advance the projects under our ARC-iJAC umbrella, we also warmly encourage international researchers, both individuals and groups, to →contact us should you be interested in using the system for your research or teaching.

Our system is a powerful tool to accelerate digital humanities research of Japanese art and culture, so I hope to expand its usage in lectures, study- and project groups in Japan and overseas.

Prof. Akama, thank you very much for your time today.

(This interview was conducted by Yinzi Emily Li.)

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