Continued funding for Yanai Initiative aimed at globalizing Japanese humanities

Continued funding for Yanai Initiative aimed at globalizing Japanese humanities

Wed, Jun 9, 2021
Continued funding for Yanai Initiative aimed at globalizing Japanese humanities

The Tadashi Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities was first established in 2014 by a generous gift from Waseda alumnus Tadashi Yanai — Chairman, President, and CEO of Japan-based Fast Retailing Co., Ltd. and founder of clothing company Uniqlo. The initiative, which was conceived from the start as a partnership between Waseda University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), has been collaborating ever since to bring the Japanese humanities, and Japanese culture itself, to the international stage.

Inspired by the Yanai Initiative’s creative, and innovative efforts, both academic and cultural, and recognizing the importance of building on the momentum that the Yanai Initiative has built up over the past six years, Yanai has decided to continue his support through additional funding to Waseda, pledging to donate approximately JPY 585 million to the university over the span of ten years, starting from 2021.

The English-language Noh play, Blue Moon Over Memphis, performed at UCLA in Oct. 2018

Yanai has previously donated over JPY 2.7 billion to UCLA, the largest financial contribution given by an individual towards the field of Japanese humanities. This helped drive the landmark collaboration between Waseda University and UCLA, and thus Japan and the United States, towards the globalization of the Japanese humanities.

The renewed Yanai Initiative recently announced plans to establish a digital hub, known as “Japan Past & Present,” to connect researchers engaged in the Japanese humanities on a genuinely global scale, allowing them to share information, expertise, and resources in an equitable manner.

The Yanai Initiative has made possible many high-profile international events, such as a five-day series of events featuring Living National Treasure and Waseda alumnus Nomura Mansaku, an actor in the classical Kyogen theater, and a retrospective film festival of Palme d’Or recipient Hirokazu Kore-eda’s works.

On the technological front, the initiative created the Hentaigana App for smartphones, a free app teaching the premodern hiragana used in calligraphic texts in a game-like fashion. The app, which has been downloaded more than fifty thousand times, serves as a chance for many to discover, or rediscover, the beauty and fun of premodern Japanese writing. Through projects such as these showcasing the Japanese literature, art, film, performance, and design, the Yanai Initiative aims to bring Japanese culture to a wider audience.

As co-directors of the Yanai Initiative on the Waseda side, Professor Hirokazu Toeda (Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University) and Professor Michael Emmerich (Department of Asian Languages & Cultures, UCLA) have been furthering the development of collaborative research and education under the initiative.

Under their leadership, ideas such as the Yanai Initiative Award (tentative title) and the Yanai Initiative Travel Award (tentative title) have been proposed. The former will help drive the implementation of Japanese and English dual-language education at the graduate level, fostering the growth of a new generation of researchers capable of engaging in the Japanese humanities on the global stage. The latter aims to help encourage and support Waseda student participation in academic conferences and symposiums around the world. These efforts fit nicely into Waseda University’s existing efforts in this direction through the establishment of the Global Japanese Literary and Cultural Studies (Global-J) doctoral program.

Future international symposiums and academic lectures will see continued support under the Yanai Initiative. In October of this year, Waseda University will also open the Haruki Murakami library, which will undoubtedly lead to new developments in the field.

Comment by Tadashi Yanai

“I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Waseda University and UCLA for their continued commitment to the Japanese humanities. Through the Yanai Initiative, run as a partnership between two leading Japanese and American universities, I hope more people both within Japan and abroad will have a chance to deepen their knowledge of Japanese culture. While the current Covid-19 pandemic has made it difficult to travel abroad, it has provided many with an excellent opportunity to sit down and focus on research. I hope that even, or perhaps especially, in times such as these, more people around the world will find their way into the Japanese humanities.”

Comment by Professor Hirokazu Toeda

“With extraordinary support and sage advice from Mr. Tadashi Yanai, collaborative research and educational projects between UCLA and Waseda University under the Yanai Initiative were able to kick-start in 2014. To that end, Japanese culture and literature have been able to cross national borders, spreading around the world. Over the past six years of trial and error, as I met with people from different cultures with different values, I was often struck by just how much we can all continue to learn about Japanese literature and culture more broadly. The recent gifts by Mr. Yanai will allow us to further build on all that the Yanai Initiative has already achieved. I myself remain committed to bringing Japanese culture and literature to the world, as I continue to ask myself how I can contribute to society.”

Comment by Professor Michael Emmerich

“Since it was launched in 2014, the Yanai Initiative has helped both Waseda and UCLA— which, like all universities, often have a certain inward-looking tendency—to open up and engage in projects that are genuinely meaningful to scholars in the Japanese humanities, as well as the general public, all around the world. Mr. Yanai’s most recent gifts, ensuring the Yanai Initiative’s long-term viability, offer us a really extraordinary opportunity to make real, positive changes in the field. I can’t say how thrilled I am to keep pushing ahead with all that we have been doing, and how grateful I am to Mr. Yanai for his generosity.”

(C) Reed Hutchinson

To express our gratitude towards Yanai’s generosity, Waseda University hopes to further deepen its academic efforts towards the Japanese humanities, and keep propelling the field forward on the global scale.


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