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Professor HIRATA, Yumi 《Japanese Studies》

Interviewer/Producer: Yuichi Morioka (Junior, British and American Literature, English Linguistics Major), Yuka Omae (Junior, British and American Literature, English Linguistics Major), Ai Yamazaki (Junior, Japanese Studies Major)

Researching Social Issues

hirata_yumi2014Omae: What are you researching, or what interests you the most right now?

Hirata: That would be “today.” I want to think about what is happening right this moment. My research began with female writers in the Meiji era, and recently I have been reading documents by Korean writers residing in Japan and documents about people who have been facing unjust discrimination or other disadvantages in mainstream society.
After graduating from graduate school, I entered a research center that was right in the middle of a joint study on Meiji culture, and I began my research by reading newspaper after newspaper, magazine after magazine. I did not have a particular goal, but I spent ten years walking through Meiji history with microfilms and documents. From a firsthand perspective of literary history, Ichiyo Higuchi seems like the only female writer during the Meiji period in the late 1870s to 1890s. However, in fact, it is possible to find several female writers’ names listed in old newspapers and magazines. They were all discarded without ever being read, and they were never acknowledged as writers. Because they were written by anonymous women, some of their works may seem a little dull compared to Ichiyo’s writing; but I believe that, if that is the case, they should be assessed truthfully. Unfortunately, the writings “never existed.” Today, there are even some researchers calling this “textual harassment,” and they are currently studying attitudes toward writings by women. This type of reaction is completely linked to the androcentrism that existed in society, and you can find that sexual harassment and textual harassment occur as a result of the same underlying mechanism.

Omae: Following the subject of gender, have you felt any awareness of Korean residents in Japan in your daily life?

Hirata: The first time I had any recognition of this subject was when I learned that a person close to me found out, after turning 30, that her grandfather was Korean. The situation was identical to that of the novelist Moe Sagisawa, but unlike the novelist, my friend never studied abroad in Korea, nor did she seem to think much of it. What was behind this difference? I began to wonder if it was not a matter of choice to identify oneself as Korean. Sagisawa wrote in her essay that others are free to judge her but that it would not change who she is. I believe in a society where the collective identity as “Japanese” is very strong and “unity” is compelled, it is critical to position oneself in this way. A society where minorities face hardship cannot represent a positive aspect for majorities. If women comprising half of the population are feeling uncomfortable, how could the other half possibly be satisfied?

Omae: I was awed to see news reports on anti-Korean protests. How do you feel about this?

Hirata: You mean the reason people engage in hate speech without considering the history behind the hundreds of thousands of Korean residents in Japan. Even in this Japanese society, not everyone has a Japanese identity. I wonder how shouting “get rid of the Koreans!” could make people feel any more confident of being Japanese. It is possible that these people could have ancestors who are of Korean, Ryukyu, or Ainu descent. They lack the ability to view themselves objectively.

Omae: Do you believe Japanese people have a strong sense of fellowship?

Hirata: It may not be a sense of fellowship as much as a sense of fear towards difference. Of course, everyone has this sort of fear. However, when this leads to anti-foreignism or even extermination, it becomes more of a social issue within a group rather than an individual issue, and it must be overcome as a society.

Yamazaki: I feel that those who can choose their own identities are strong-willed. If only everyone could determine who they are by themselves.

Hirata: Fellowship can occur from exclusion through groups; people label each other as either being different, to be excluded, or the same, to be accepted. Who would want to be labeled like that?
I want people to realize that there is a“right to be hated.” Everyone thinks they “have to be liked,” but is that not tiring? Once the “right to be hated” is acknowledged, I feel like it helps people relax and think lightheartedly. There is no need to be liked by everyone. I think our society has become stressful because people have trouble accepting to be hated.

Studying in the University

Omae: What is the difference between studying in high school and studying at university?

Hirata: When I welcome new students, I tend to use this phrase: “Up through high school, it is a zoo; the university is a jungle.” Until now, you were fed by sitting and waiting with an open mouth. There may be slight differences between those who can chew well and those who cannot, or those who have poor digestion, but in any case, everyone was fed. In the “jungle of knowledge,” the university, you have to find your food. You have to learn to hunt and make appropriate tools for each hunt. Professors can always advise you that “your spear is not sharp enough,” but you have to realize you are the only one who can hunt for yourself.

Morioka: What do you look for in students?

Hirata: Nothing in particular. I do want them to have obtained various abilities by the time of graduation. I think we should discard entrance exams and let anyone enter, but what can you say? Graduation should be assessed based on what the students have learned and what abilities they’ve obtained, whether it be through studies or extracurricular activities. I believe it is ideal to graduate with a definite feeling of reason and value in having entered that university.

Omae: Do you go abroad often?

Hirata: Today, studies on Japan do not conclude within the borders of Japan, and there have previously been researchers participating in joint research with researchers from the United States, South Korea, and Australia. So yes, I do go abroad often. In fact, many professors of different specialties go abroad. Language is crucial in the humanities and in social sciences, and there are many occasions to learn a language in the School of Letters. Study while you are a student, and you will still have plenty of time. Unlike for myself, who cannot retain new knowledge, what you learn today is sure to be a lifelong treasure.

Excerpt from Introduction of Osaka University School of Letters, 2014-2015. The stated years of the interviewers was recorded at the time of interview (October 2013).