Presenting at the 18. Deutschsprachigen Japanologentag

The three-day 18. Deutschsprachiger Japanologentag (18th German Language Japanese Studies Day) organized by the Institut für Modernes Japan at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf was held online at the end of August. We are happy to report that the JVMG project was represented with two different presentations at this central triennial German language conference on Japanese Studies. Digital humanities and open science in Japanese Studies were both major topics at the conference, and it was great to see so many excellent projects and initiatives.

The first panel in which we presented on our work was Open Scholarship und Japanologie organized by the Sektion Informations- und Ressourcenwissenschaft together with the Sektion Medien. Cosima Wagner set the tone for the panel with her opening address Einführung: Open Scholarship und Wissenschaftsinfrastrukturen in Japan und für die Area Studies im deutschsprachigen Raum (Introduction: Open Scholarship and scientific infrastructures in Japan and for Area Studies in German-speaking countries). She highlighted some of the projects being developed at The Research Center for Open Science and Data Platform (RCOS) of the National Institute of Informatics (NII). For example, the recent integration of the much used CiNii Articles database into the CiNii Research platform, as well as the launching of the Japan Data Catalog for the Humanities and Social Sciences (JDCat) service. However, Wagner also reflected on some of the challenges facing a more open digital research infrastructure for area studies domains like Japanology, such as the predominance of the Latin alphabet in information technology accompanied by often incomplete or lacking support for other script types.

Next up, Elisabeth Scherer‘s presentation Open Educational Resources (OER) und ihr Potenzial für die Japanologie (Open Educational Resources (OER) and their potential for Japanese Studies) focused on the various types of materials that are available online for students and researchers of Japanology. Following an excellent overview of the various Creative Commons licence types and their relationship to openness, we were introduced to an array of different types of open educational resources from complete courses to videos (e.g. via OERSI), books (via for example OER Commons), materials made available by museums as well as Japanese language OER like Kyoto University OpenCourseWare (see the full list of resources on the slides made available under CC BY-SA 4.0 here, and also embedded below). In closing Scherer offered a brief overview of where OER offerings stand regarding Japanology, provided a list of potential resources that could be incorporated within the field, and outlined some best practice guidelines for how to further the cause of OER and open science in general.


Our presentation by Martin Roth and Magnus Pfeffer Visual Media Graph / Open Research Data came next, offering an overview of the JVMG project, especially our work in relation to data quality, data integration, and legal harmonization, but also highlighting the Tiny Use Case methodology and future steps for the project. See the slides below for further details.


The panel finished with Ursula Flache‘s presentation CrossAsia Open Access Repository / Open Access ePublishing & Forschungsdaten offering a detailed overview of the publishing and open access repository aspects of the CrossAsia platform. CrossAsia offers both open access publishing as well as self-archiving opportunities for authors/researchers working in the social sciences and humanities on topics related to Asia. It is not only a domain specific open repository, but also guarantees the appropriate cataloging of the materials within the Integrated Authority File (Gemeinsame Normdatei) system, thereby ensuring good visibility in national and international library catalogs. Furthermore, thanks to the cooperation with the German National Library CrossAsia also offers long-term secure archiving of all the materials in their repository. (Readers of this blog might remember, that chapters on two of our Tiny Use Cases have also been published with CrossAsia, so it goes without saying that we are definitely on board with the platform.) Finally, Flache pointed out some very encouraging changes underway in science policy and financing – as well as the general culture around publishing new results – towards fostering the growth of open access.

The second panel where we made an appearance, Fokus Daten was once again organized together by the Sektion Informations- und Ressourcenwissenschaft and the Sektion Medien. This session started with Zoltan Kacsuk and Martin Roth presenting Dataspaces / Datenräume als Zugänge zur visuellen Medienkultur Japans (Dataspaces as access points to Japanese visual media culture), in which the JVMG knowledge graph was employed to try and better understand some of the differences in reception and framing that become visible when looking at popular Japanese visual media through the lens of different databases both separately and in conjunction with each other.


Next up, Nobutake Kamiya offered us a very practical walk-through of the steps of data collection, preprocessing and analysis of Japanese text data in his presentation Twitter-Daten sammeln und mit Elastic-Search analysieren (Collecting Twitter data and analyzing it with Elastic-Search). All the key steps and settings for employing the Twitter API, for cleaning text data in Japanese with Python as well as using Elasticsearch with Japanese plugins are described in detail on the presentation slides available here on Kamiya’s GitHub page, and thanks to it being published under an open license we have also included it here below for easy reference.


In the third presentation, CrossAsia Datenhosting und –services: Tools zur Recherche, Analyse und Mehrwerterzeugung auf Basis des CrossAsia ITR (CrossAsia data hosting and services: Tools for research, analysis and value creation based on the CrossAsia ITR) by Martina Siebert and Christian Dunkel, we returned to learning more about the possibilities opened up by the CrossAsia platform. First, the functionality offered by the CrossAsia Integrated Text Repositories (ITR) were introduced. The ITR combines both licensed and open access materials to enable powerful search (the CrossAsia Fulltext Search), browsing/visualization (the CrossAsia ITR Explorer (Beta version)), and quantitative text analysis (the CrossAsia N-Gramm Service) capabilities. The second part of the presentation focused on the problem of how to digitize and digitally present Japanese handscrolls, as part of a project currently underway at the Berlin State Library; the results of which will be made available as part of the CrossAsia ITR hopefully by the end of this year.

The joint closing discussion of the Sektion Informations- und Ressourcenwissenschaft, the Sektion Medien and the Sektion Wirtschaft titled Herausforderungen der digitalen Transformation: Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft, Ethik, Wissenschaft – Reflexionen aus Sicht der Japanologie (Challenges of the digital transformation: Society, economy, ethics, science – Reflections from the point of view of Japanese Studies) was led by Ursula Flache, Takahiro Nishiyama, Martin Roth and Cosima Wagner, with a very active engagement on the side of a lot of participants at the panel.

A number of key issues were raised and discussed. Among them the question of who is going to do the work in relation to data archiving, management and processing. Libraries and research teams increasingly need dedicated personnel trained in information science, data management, programming and a number of other key skills related to building, maintaining and using the data infrastructures needed for digital humanities and social sciences work.

It is also crucial to try and figure out how we can prepare people for these new types of data jobs that could be viable career paths following a PhD for example. The experience with research, the knowledge of a foreign language, an understanding of the cultural background, etc. are just as relevant for the specialized data jobs such as those found in the field of digital Japanese studies as for a full-time teaching or research career.

In this same vein it is important to also not lose sight of the continued need for core competences beyond just digital skills. Future researchers, for example, still need to learn the use of paper sources alongside digital resources since there is still a large set of materials that are not available digitally. Indeed, the potential aspect of there being disadvantages to digital literacy beyond its advantages was also raised. It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that one sees the full picture online, when in fact this is far from the case, especially in the case of Japanese materials, the digitization of which is perhaps not as progressed as that of Chinese sources.

Another shift that is being catalyzed by the increasing role of digital scholarship is the importance of working together with others, for example with librarians, data scientists, IT specialists and so on. In this way the myth of individual genius traditionally cultivated in academia needs to be addressed through the lens of the reality of teams of specialists working together to create new results.

A slightly darker aspect of digitization that was also discussed is its role in increasing the pressure for everything to happen faster and the push towards producing even more results. And although working with digital materials, for example, does allow for a larger scope of sources to be processed at the same time, it doesn’t necessarily reduce the time required to truly engage with the subject matter irrespective of whether one works with non-digital or digital materials or even a mix of both.

The final thread of the discussion that we would like to highlight here – although there were many more as the conversation was quite lively – concerned the question of what are the characteristics and challenges specific to Japanese studies regarding digitization and digital humanities work. Indeed, there are a lot of general points that are more about platforms and processes than the particular needs of a given domain, which in turn raise the same kind of questions/problems irrespective of the field, such as the threat of monopolization that seems to coexist with the drive towards platformization. At the same time it is important to try and identify the types of blind spots that we are dealing with when engaging with digitization in Japanese studies, as well as to articulate the digitization needs of Japanese studies as a discipline better.

This last point was addressed at length with great examples in the panel/discussion session Diskussion zum Thema Forschungsdatenmanagement mit japanischen Forschungsdaten- bzw. Infrastrukturanbietern (Discussion on research data management with Japanese research data and infrastructure providers) moderated by Nobutake Kamiya, Cosima Wagner and Ursula Flache, where Naoko Tokuhara, Asanobu Kitamoto and Kiyonori Nagasaki introduced a range of tools and resources for digitizing and working with Japanese texts and materials as well as digital humanities in Japan.

Naoko Tokuhara presented two OCR projects underway at the National Diet Library, Japan, one of which is the development of an open AI-OCR for Japanese materials (current version available on GitHub). Asanobu Kitamoto introduced the amazing range of datasets, software tools and open services/archives developed and made available by the ROIS-DS Center for Open Data in the Humanities (CODH), among them datasets of Edo Period map information, old handwritten Japanese characters, faces from Ukiyo-e images and many more. Kiyonori Nagasaki emphasized the importance of connecting researchers working in digital humanities and offered a glimpse into the many important hubs and networks in Japan, as well as highlighting the state of the art in Japanese literature on the field of DH. Cosima Wagner also introduced the Ada Lovelace Center for Digital Humanities (ADA) that started its operation this June at Freie Universität Berlin, as well as the the Multilingual DH Lab at ADA that, among other things, aims to participate in furthering the research on and development of the use of non-Latin scripts in digital work. Ursula Flache provided an overview of all the major services offered by CrossAsia, among them the Blue Loan Service interlibrary loans, the Patron Driven Acquisition (PDA) program, and its function as an access point to licensed databases (besides all the other CrossAsia services covered in the blogpost so far).

All in all the 18. Deutschsprachigen Japanologentag was an outstanding event bringing together researchers working in the field of German speaking Japanese Studies and showcasing the cutting edge in the development of Japanese digital humanities. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to all the organizers who made this conference possible, and we are very much looking forward to the opportunity to take part again in three years time.