Face to Face: the Association Fulfilled in the Dream
What size is suitable for an academic society? From a general viewpoint, if it has a large membership, it will likely to be more influential. In applying for support to cover participation expenses for overseas meetings, it is often necessary to indicate how many members a society has so that its degree of influence can be evaluated. However, the degree of satisfactory outcomes is another question. To date, I have organized four international symposia. Even if budgets are large enough, only about 15–30 participants, at most, would be selected for a symposium. Members will participate at a “Kanzume symposium” (day-and-night symposia) for 3–4 days (or perhaps even as long as 10 days). However, we have found that when members meet for the first time at a symposium, they can be hesitant to become actively involved. Thus, on one occasion, I planned a pre-symposium training camp for three days and two nights at a tourist house on the remote Oki Island. In this way, when a symposium started, participants had already been familiar with each other and had some experience of what was involved.
In a society or a symposium, it is important to share and exchange ideas based on common areas of interest. In Japan, the Japan Association for African Studies (JAAS) has a much longer history and more members than JANES. I presented a paper for the first time at the sixth annual meeting of JAAS, held in Nagoya in 1969. The presentation time was 40 minutes. According to the society report at that time (Journal of African Studies 9:76), 16 individual presentations were made in two days. At the social gathering, about 40 persons participated, and the atmosphere was friendly. When the number of JAAS members increased, an argument arose about whether the program at the annual meeting should be divided into two concurrent sessions. Now the JAAS annual meeting has a number of concurrent sessions and the number of participants is more than 300. It has lost the original intimate atmosphere and it is becoming increasingly difficult for members of a variety of disciplines, both natural and social sciences, to have free and intensive discussions.
The youthful JAAS of those days was a starting point for me. Already, about 30 years have passed since then. The content of research has deepened compared with those early years, and some Japanese researchers have become world- renown spokespeople in their different fields. Many of the JAAS members now play active roles on the international stage. These are indeed welcome developments. Compared to JAAS, JANES is a young and small society. But for me, just because of its youthfullness and smallness, it is an ideal forum where members of various fields are able to be engaged in creative discussions based on face-to-face interactions.
For a small academic society like JANES it is not easy to continue publishing an English-language journal and a Japanese-language newsletter. However, the sharing of information must not remain solely with the Association. I hope that Association members can play an active role, increasingly taking advantage of the flexible features of face- to-face meetings.
I would also like to greatly thank the late Mr. Koichi Takashima, the real parent of the Takashima Fund and the Takashima Prize, and Professer Masao Kawai, who was our first president. We greatly appreciate all they have done.
Second President (2001–2007)