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Interviews with Faculty

 [書込]

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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.
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.

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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.

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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.

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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 consider 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.

Click here to access the project website.

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.

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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.

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

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?

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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.

Background:
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.)

Project Overview

Professor Gerstle, thank you for your time today.sjL3-0004_ed2.jpg

As the leader of the FY2020 ARC-iJAC project "Cultural Salons and the Visual Arts in Kyoto and Osaka, 1750-1900: Digitizing Kamigata Surimono and Paintings", could you please tell us the reason why you started this project?

Prof. Gerstle: I have been fascinated over the years by discovering how common it was in the Edo period for men and women of all ages and statuses to be active in cultural pursuits (遊芸) for pleasure.

I first realized this in researching gidayū amateur performance, where I found that until World War II gidayū as a hobby was popular all over Japan. I then saw how kabuki actors circulated among patrons and fans via haikai gatherings. Pursuit of the arts also importantly was a way for women as well to socialize outside their neighbourhood, and for individuals of different status (身分) to interact.

I still find it intriguing that individuals often had several pen names for their different activities. Under a pen name, everyone was nominally equal as a devotee of the particular art they were participating in. In contemporary Japan, we still see that it is common to socialize through cultural or other organized activities, like the clubs at university.

How do you feel about the overall execution of this project? Have you come across any particular challenges?

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Prof. Gerstle: The key element of this project is to create an online research corpus of paintings, surimono, and illustrated books, and then to siphon out all the information held in them in order to try to begin to understand the dynamics of how circles and networks functioned and how they supported the arts.

The ARC staff under Prof. Akama have done a magnificent job in photographing carefully about 2000 surimono and in the process of photographing more than 1500 paintings. Further, we have been able to input basic data on the items.

I did not think that we would get this far because the coronavirus pandemic has restricted travel. I have not been able to come to Japan as planned.

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

Prof. Gerstle: The skill, experience, and resources of the ARC-IJAC have made this project possible. No other institution could have done this work as efficiently.

Could you please give us an overview of the most significant research outcomes of this project so far?

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Prof. Gerstle: There are two important outcomes of this grant. First, it enabled us to digitize the Scott Johnson extensive kamigata surimono collection - with over 2000 items, the largest known collection - and to make it available to researchers. The digitalization then enabled the British Museum to propose the acquisition of this collection to its Board for approval.

This is the first stage of a larger project. The completion of the digitalization of the large research corpus has made it possible for us to apply for a grant in the UK to continue this work, particularly in analyzing the data thus far collected.

The second important outcome is the start of the digitalization of the Hakutakuan private kamigata painting collection of more than 1500 items. Until now, only about 100 items have been published. This is an extremely important, large collection with a wide range of artists, including women artists. The inclusion of this collection in the ARC database will greatly enhance 19th-century kamigata art studies.

This is the first stage of a larger project. The completion of the digitalization of the large research corpus has made it possible for us to apply for a grant in the UK to continue this work, particularly in analyzing the data thus far collected.

What are your plans for the future to continue and expand this research project?

Prof. Gerstle: We hope this coming year to complete the digitizing of the private painting collection. At the same time, we are now preparing to submit a research proposal for a three-year grant to the UK Funding Council.

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Professor Tsukamoto, thank you for your time today.

As the leader of the FY2020 ARC-iJAC project "Construction of a 3D Model Database of Japanese Armor in the Collection of the Tokushima Castle Museum, Tokushima City", could you please tell us the reason why you started this project?

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Prof. Tsukamoto: This project started around five years ago. At that time, SfM (Structure from Motion)--a technology that generates point cloud data from drone photography and the video and images captured--had just begun to attract attention in the fields of surveying, archaeology, and GIS. Yet, databases with two-dimensional images were mainstream.

We thought that, depending on the type of cultural property, it would better to create and store three-dimensional data to preserve their features in a digital archive more accurately. Around that time, I had the opportunity with Tokushima University to work on the 3D measurement of archaeological sites and collaborative projects with local museums.

I thought about the possibility of creating a three-dimensional archive of cultural properties held by local museums that would appeal to the local communities.

52nishiura_1.jpgProfessor Nishiura, thank you for your time today. Can you please tell us more about your area of research?

Prof. Nishiura: I joined the College of Information Science and Engineering at Ritsumeikan University in 2004. My research focuses on acoustic signal processing, acoustic systems, and sound interfaces, amongst others.

I conduct integrated research on the analysis, understanding, reproduction, and synthesis of a sound environment to improve society through sound. My goal as a researcher is to create a sound environment for people to live comfortably.

Could you please elaborate on this?

Prof. Nishiura: A practical example may be the visit to the dentist. Many people feel uncomfortable with the dental drilling sound. I have researched and developed a technology of sound esthetics, also called noise-masking so that people are not bothered by the unwanted noise by overlapping it with a pleasant sound.

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Furthermore, I have been investigating audio spot technology, a technique to transmit sound only in a specific area. Loudspeakers utilizing ultrasound waves have a higher directivity and can form a narrow audible area to a particular listener, i.e., the audio spot.

This is useful for exhibitions at museums, for example, when you would like to give visitors information relevant to each exhibited object.

48tanaka.jpgProfessor Tanaka, thank you for your time today. Firstly, could you please tell us how you joined the Art Research Center at Ritsumeikan University?

Prof. Tanaka: In 2004, the College of Information Science and Engineering was founded at Ritsumeikan University. I was appointed to the Department of Information Science and Engineering in 2002 as a founding member.

Coincidently, the Art Research Center had been selected for the 21st Century Center of Excellence (COE) Program "Kyoto Art Entertainment Innovation Research" by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) in the same year and so, the joint research started.

Can you please tell us more about your area of research?

funehoko.pngProf. Tanaka: I conduct research on the ultra-high-quality visualization and visual analysis of cultural heritage to digitally preserve valuable cultural properties in Japan and abroad.

By utilizing the latest 3D scanning technologies such as laser scanning and photogrammetry techniques, we can obtain large-scale point-cloud data of cultural assets.

We have proposed a novel method of see-through visualization applicable to point cloud data. This method enables us to visualize the complex inner and outer structures of tangible cultural heritage.

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yano_keiji_profile.jpgProf. Yano, thank you for your time today. As an expert in the field of human geography and geographical information science, your research comprises digitally archiving the historical city of Kyoto. Can you tell us about your motivation and how it all started?

Prof. Yano: The rapid advancement in ICT technology and the development of Internet-based GIS (geographic information system) in the past decades have eased the digitization of cultural assets and their distribution via the Internet.

In the early 2000s, the Department of Geography at Ritsumeikan University had accumulated an enormous amount of geospatial information on the historical city of Kyoto including paper maps, digital maps, and national land information, while the Art Research Center (ARC) had been proactive in using cutting-edge information technologies.

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hosoi_sensei.pngProf. Hosoi, thank you for your time today. As one of the pioneers in digital game research in Japan, you have successfully expanded the "Game Archive"-project over the last two decades. Moreover, the Ritsumeikan Center for Games Studies (RCGS) has been established in 2011. Could you tell us about your recent updates?

Prof. Hosoi: There have been some positive developments in the last 4-5 years. Firstly, government funding from the Agency of Cultural Affairs has been increased for the RCGS which enabled us to create new rooms and facilities for game research and archiving - despite the notorious lack of space on Kinugasa campus.

Secondly, networking has been greatly expanded, especially with overseas institutions. While we only had a few connections with institutions in the US about five years ago, we have been able to form new alliances with overseas institutions, particularly in Europe.

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