An Interview with Dr. Ryoko Matsuba (Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, University of East Anglia, UK)
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.)