Wednesday, May 10, 2006

European theories in Japanese context

The second (and last) semester has started about a month ago, so it's about time that I tell about the useful things I'm doing here next to all the travelling and going out.
Maybe the most important course I'm taking is 'individual research'. With the approval of Leiden University, a tutoring teacher here at Waseda and a plan for my research I could apply for this subject. It consists of one meeting a week with my tutor and it allows me to conduct research on any topic I'm interested in. I'm mostly interested in developmental politics/economics, so I wanted to look at which elements of Japan's developmental policy are applicable in other non-asian developing countries. I choose for non-asian countries to avoid the ever recurring comparison with the newly developed economies of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Because I liked the methods of the Hungrian teacher Katalin Ferber very much last semester, I asked her to be my tutor. Since she has most knowledge about former Sovjet-countries (as non-asian developing countries), I decided to use these countries for comparison with the Japanese model.
Next to this individual course, I'm taking two more courses by her because these are directly related to the topic of my individual research: Economic Modernization of Japan, and Comparative Economics, about the differences and similarities between capitalist, socialist and the Japanese economic system.
For my individual research and Modernization of Japan I'm reading about the developmental theories invented and adapted from Europe by the elite who led the Meiji-restauration in 1868. In order to know whát they actually learned from European theories, I started studying German cameralist and Western-European mercantalist theories. Interestingly, similar ideas had developed independedly in Japan throughout the 19th century (so already before 1868). The next step is to look at how these theories were fit into and applied to the specific characterics of the Japanese society and the needs in international power-relations. All the while, Western countries also kept adapting their economic policies to the changing global situation, establishing the gold standard, trade treaties and expanding their colonial empire.
As you might understand, it's quite complicated material (and I'm not even talking about the comparison with the socialist system yet), but very interesting. I feel like everything I've learned about Japan so far is coming together now while I'm doing this research. And many questions I had until now are being answered little by little.
Next to these three courses I'm also taking 'World Economy and International Business', a more practical course about, indeed, international trade and business. Since until now I've mostly seen the leftist, protective or at least public side of economic theory I'm interested in the rightist, liberal, private side of the story. And indeed, last class the (Japanese) teacher did advocate free trade and even posed that child labour should be tolerated if the other option would be to suspend trade with the country concerned (because in the absence of trade the country can't get enough revenue to improve the living conditions of the population, including the children).
And of course I have Japanese classes, consisting of learning vocabulary, conversation and kanji (chinese characters). However, some nice features this semester are that we are focussing on reading some more, so that we can also pick our own book that we can read in class. I choose 'Why the bureacratic kingdom should be broken down' by Junichiro Koizumi, the present prime minister of Japan. And we're also watching a movie in class, every week about ten minutes, about ramen. Ramen is a chinese noodle dish that's very popular here, and the movie uses every opportunity to exploit that popularity to show it in exaggerated proportions. If you want to see it for yourself, the movie is called 'Tanpopo'.