I am fortunate to have just finished my year as a Master’s student in the Double Degree Program in the Literature Department of the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences at Waseda University in Tokyo, despite the challenges of the novel Coronavirus pandemic. My goal in applying for the Double Degree program at Waseda was to write a master’s thesis that could provide the foundational steps in the research for my PhD dissertation, and I was lucky enough to be accepted into the program, sponsored by the Canon Foundation in Europe.
My PhD dissertation focuses on the comic, illustrated travel tale Tōkaidōchū Hizakurige (Hoofing it Along the Eastern Seaboard Highway) written by Jippensha Ikku (1765-1831) and published serially from 1802 to 1822. Accordingly, the MA thesis revolved around three texts by Ikku that served as precursor “practice runs” for the far more successful Hizakurige. With their combination of comic poetry, illustration, and prose, they manage to conjure up mental images of journeys around Edo (now Tokyo), and into the surrounding areas, that Ikku himself made. These texts have never been transcribed or studied before, and give vital insights into the way that the author went about developing the ideas that made Hizakurige an indefatigable best-seller. I successfully completed the Japanese-language thesis, submitted it, and underwent an invaluable defence, in order to complete the requirements for the Double Degree Program. None of this would have been possible without the support of the academic and administrative staff of Waseda.
Over the course of the year, under the supervision of Professor Ikezawa Ichirō, I was able to read, transcribe, and analyse Edo period (1603-1868) materials that are only accessible in Japan. Professor Ikezawa is an extremely kind and dedicated mentor, whose support and guidance is of incalculable value. Before the pandemic began, we would meet several times per week for a combination of seminars, lectures, and individual guidance. The seminars I took on early modern Sino-Japanese poetic and prose texts, and on Japanese book history provided me with vitally important training in these forms of literacy, while giving me the opportunity to learn from my graduate student peers here.
Even during the first throes of the pandemic, Professor Ikezawa continued to mentor my work even when we couldn’t meet in person, giving comprehensive written feedback to my research. I am very grateful to be working with him now for a second year at Waseda, now under a Japan Foundation Fellowship. I can confidently say that my time in the Double Degree Program constituted an immensely rewarding process, both academically and personally. The time I spent with Professor Ikezawa, both in his graduate seminar, and in smaller research groups, constituted one of the most fruitful experiences of my academic career so far. Equally, it was valuable to attend a wide variety of seminars and research groups offered by other professors, and to get to know my peers and senpai in the literature department.