goto Main menu goto Contents

HK Projects

Construction of a Global Research Base on the Life-world of Contemporary Japan

Introduction of HK Projects

Institute for Japanese Studies at Seoul National University started as a research base for Japanese Studies in November 2004, and since then we have consolidated the basis to develop as a comprehensive Japan research Institution, making continuous efforts in constructing the academic infrastructure. In November 2008, IJS was selected as an Institute of Overseas Research Field for Humanities Korea (HK) by National Research Foundation of Korea (former Korea Research Foundation), which brought us a groundbreaking opportunity to further develop our research aspirations.

Our agenda for the HK project is the “construction of a global research base on the life-world of contemporary Japan.” We intensively quest for the life-world of contemporary Japan through long-term experimental researches, and we envision formulating a research base that would lead the academic discourse concerning Japan. Also, we put our utmost efforts in order to improve the communality of our research activities through a wide spectrum of academic activities.

Founded on a firm cornerstone of human resources, system, and space, which are the three factors that construct the infrastructure, we have designed the operation of our project in such ways that “producing research outcome” and “networking of academic exchanges” create a virtuous cycle, which would be the foundations for the operation of a stable research institution.

Background and Purpose of the Selection of Research

Contemporary Japan has gone through continuous changes and modifications after the WWⅡ: the defeat and the post-war reform, a rapid economic growth, de-growth and the late capitalism, and prolonged economic depression and rebirth of political conservative swing, have all contributed to the dynamics of postwar Japan. In particular, the accelerating society-wide globalization since the mid- and the late-1980s fundamentally challenges both the systematic framework and the cultural “belief” that have been consolidated during the high-growth period. As Japanese “identity” and “border” that have sustained the postwar Japanese society are being blurred, some analyze and insist upon the “collapse” of the Japanese-style, while others propose a diagnosis to such dismay as a necessary part of the restructuring process for the developmental stage of the society.

What is obvious is that, like any other social bodies, contemporary Japan takes on a composite nature and is experiencing continuous changes. In reality it is impossible to completely deny the “collapse” of the Japanese-model. However, both the system and the concept of “tradition” are reemerging with a new dimension, even though they are often thought to be dismantling. At the same time, global culture shared by the late industrial societies is deeply embedded in everyday life. As such various elements are intertwined, the contemporary Japanese acknowledge “life” in more diverse and dynamic ways than they did in any other historical period. The 90s in Japan is often referred to as “the lost decade” after the end of the bubble economy, and yet when we observe the actual venues of people’s lives, we discover a various range of dynamic movements and new approaches. Today, it is a task of the Japanese Studies to unravel this holistic linkage between the structural changes of the society and the individual lives, as we carefully capture the composite nature and dynamism of the Japanese society. It is exactly in this position that we have established “life-world” as the keyword for the synthetic research on Japanese Studies.

The Japanese Studies in Korea after the Independence either took “ideological” direction toward “de-colonization” under the influence of nationalistic sentiment, or it has been strongly characterized by the approaches to the Japanese model for its “practicality.” On the other hand, the humanistic approaches centering on Japanese Literature remained overall distant from the contextual and historical approaches toward contemporary Japan, making it rather difficult to acquire any realistic compatibility with the issues we face today. Both historical and political “accessibility” between Korea and Japan has induced the understanding of Japan with simplified images and frameworks which provoked an excessive bias against Japan. As a result, this became not so small impediment to the universalization (i.e. generating the knowledge by coping simultaneously with the researches carried out worldwide) of Japanese Studies. It is crucial to accumulate an objective and systematized knowledge toward the actual consciousness of the Japanese people in order for the Japanese Studies in Korea to overcome its limitation and open a new horizon. In this regard, IJS aims to build up a global research base that would lead the academic discourse on Japan with an intensive quest for the “life-world of contemporary Japan” through long-term experimental researches.

Prospect of Research Activities at Institute for Japanese Studies

The phenomena we find in Japanese society today are the important issues such as low-birthrate and aging society, widening disparity, multiculturalism, environmental issues, etc., many of which can also be found in the Korean society in similar forms. Our aim is to contribute to the formation of an independent and a powerful agency that is capable of tackling these shared issues regardless of the national boundaries (by regionalizing and globalizing these phenomena). The important questions for us to ask are: how macro current and structural changes appear in the life-world, how people unravel these changes and make an effort to ensure their existence in dignity, and how we can trace this process within which a new system is being formed. In this sense, our search for the “life-world in contemporary Japan” corresponds to the established purpose of the Institute, which is the contribution to the future-oriented relationship-building between Korea and Japan. Being future-oriented does not mean we forgot or conceal the historical past. It is necessary, in the dimension of overcoming and inheriting the historical legacy, to deal with current and future challenges of the society, as we prepare a new basis for the Japanese studies in order to open a way to the future. In this regard, “life-world” is a very meaningful field of research.

Over the next decade, with such realization in mind, Institute for Japanese Studies envisions to take a multi-dimensional role in the understanding of the modern Japan’s life-world both of the past and of the present, through the analytical framework of “modification and restructuring of the identity and the boundary.” We seek the accumulation of systematic and profound knowledge on the life-world in contemporary Japan, by analyzing the aspects of change and reconstruction of the identities and the boundaries centering on gender, generation, ethnicity, class, and region. We also hope to take a comprehensive view on the changing imagery of the Japanese consciousness for their value of life, family and community, work and leisure, etc.. In order for the holistic research on the life-world in contemporary Japan to be thoroughly explored, it is our plan to carry out our research with an organic integration of scholars from both humanities and social science division. For, it is crucial to have both approaches of humanities, which inquires the issues of human existence, and social science, which mainly focuses on the historical context. The Korean academic camp for the Japanese Studies has founded a groundbreaking basis for the Japanese Studies since the mid-1990s, especially with the emergence of the humanist scholars with ever widened-perspectives and the social scientists with the softened methodologies and the viewpoints. In this context, Institute for Japanese Studies at Seoul National University provides various opportunities and places within which the researchers, whose flexible viewpoints consist of both humanistic and social scientific approaches, can be exposed to the synergy effect in their work. We have a long-term vision to maximize our support for their research activities, in order for the Japanese Studies in Korea to take a dramatic leap forward.

Long-Term Themes and Medium-Spectrum Themes

Breakdown of the Implementation Plan

Long-term prospects and the research assignment for the 1st stage

It was our first and foremost objective to construct a new model of Japanese studies through a comprehensive fusion of social sciences and humanities. Scholars who specialize in social sciences—political science, sociology, anthropology, law—as well as from humanities divisions—literature, history, and philosophy—have gathered under IJS. We have envisioned drawing a comprehensive image of Japan with the collaborative researches that overcome the impediments of traditional academic circles.

It was in this context we have assigned ourselves the task of determining the power structure of transformation and reconstruction of identity and border that appear within the life-world of contemporary Japan. Traditionally, Japanese Studies in Korea tended to focus mainly on the nationalistic issues to overcome the colonial experience so much that it often overlooked the composite nature of contemporary Japan. Or it overemphasized Japan’s unique characteristics in the light of practicality and pictured Japan as the developmental mode. Our aspiration is to break down these traditions and to open a new horizon to the Japanese studies.

The research assignment for the 2nd stage

The keyword of the agenda for the 2nd stage of the HK project is “structural fluctuation.” As China has exceeded Japan in its economic power, there occurred the power shift to the international order to which Japan had been accustomed to since the end of the WWⅡ. Domestically, too, the Democratic Party of Japan took over the long-lasting rule by the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan who remained for most of the postwar period. A rampant economic depression and the emerging social inequality have presented the issues of structural fluctuation within contemporary Japan’s life-world.

It would not be exaggerating to say that Japan stands on the verge of great upheavals on every sphere—political, economic, social, and cultural. Our research agenda for the 2nd stage of HK project reflects these changes in reality. Any structural fluctuation that marked groundbreaking turns on historical events after the Industrial Revolution has co-independent relations with the aspirations for humanity. And academic researches on these subjects are not limited to the discipline of area studies, but rather it would be the leading medium that facilitates the resurrection of greater discourse with a critical viewpoint on the history of humanity.

On the other hand, IJS will continue to correlate social scientific and humanities research methods in order to consolidate the foundation of new Japanese studies. We will create the new methodology through which we lay down the analytical roots. With continuous field researches, we will bring together the data analysis and theoretical research in order to widen the research topics.

The research assignment for the 3rd stage

The subject of 3rd stage agenda is [Structural Transformation of Postwar Japan and Reorganization of Life-World]. 20years of structural transformation in the Japanese society since the 1990s has resulted in a society that is very different from the familiar ‘postwar Japan.’ Recently, political right-wing movement has become deeply rooted in everyday life as can be seen in the hate-speeches against the minorities. Moreover, after long-term economic stagnation, fundamental change is occurring in microscopic level such as family system that served as the backbone of Japanese society, to macroscopic level such as the employment system and corporate-government relations. Thus, ideological contemplation on post-postwar is active than ever in response to the structural transformation. To mark the end of HK Research Project of the last 10 years, IJS attempts to reflect on the changing aspects of ‘postwar Japan’ at political, economic, historic, and social-cultural level. For diversification of the research content, IJS conducts the research project by subdividing the four years of research into two stages.


Along with the research agenda for the 2nd stage of HK project, IJS has established four laboratories based on different academic fields in order to construct a systematic basis that enables comprehensive Japanese studies to take place. Also, to respond to the timely issues, we have set up a research team under the name of “The east Japan Great Earthquake and Social Fluctuation.