Willy F. Vande Walle

Willy F. Vande Walle
Department Chair
Section of Japanese Studies, Department of Oriental and Slavonic Studies,
The Catholic University of Leuven
Willy f. vande walle

At the onset of the First World War the library of my university was laid waste by enemy fire, an incident that was widely covered in the press. All the books it housed, including hundreds of incunabula and thousands of precious editions, went up in flames. The loss elicited an international outcry and was condemned as a wanton act of barbarism, directed at the very heart of civilization.

At the Versailles Conference, an international committee for the reconstruction of the Leuven library and the reconstitution of its holdings was set up, in which Japan, too, as one of the Allied Powers, participated. To give Japan's commitment concrete expression, a national committee was set up with the backing of eminent figures from academia, political circles, and the business world, with a view to purchasing and collecting books and documents to donate to the Leuven library. The donated collection was intended to represent the epitome of Japanese culture.

Willy f. vande walle

This sizable donation, which included a considerable portion of manuscripts and precious printed books, although not directly financed by the government, may arguably have been the first case of organized support by Japan to Japanese studies abroad. As such, this enterprise may be called a prefiguration of the kind of activities that half a century later would be given an institutional framework in the Japan Foundation. When at the outbreak of the Second World War the library holdings fell once more victim to the flames, the only collection to escape destruction almost unharmed was, as if by a miracle, the Japanese donation. It is tempting to see this as a sign that augured well for building a lasting relationship between Japan and Belgium in the postwar period.

Since my university established an independent section of Japanese Studies at the beginning of the eighties, it has enjoyed the largess of the Japan Foundation in many forms and on many occasions. This Japan Foundation Special Prize, which is presently bestowed upon me, in my mind confirms in a formal way a relationship that thus goes back almost eighty years. I am deeply grateful to the Japan Foundation and the Selection Committee for this recognition, of which I am sure many others were more worthy.

Since the official Japanese name of the Japan Foundation contains the words "international exchange," it is almost unavoidable that on occasions like this, I devote a few words to the valuable goal it embodies. Internationalization is often understood as something that exists outside or above the diverse nations and communities, as a mode of communication that transcends East and West and that is devoid of any cultural coloring, a world where a so-called international language can fill all needs, and a uniform way of behaving and standardized rules are considered common sense. In my view, real internationalization resides in each individual country, or each community. Therefore, it can only mean the willingness to understand the language and culture of each of these countries. A world that boasts only an international language can hardly be an international world. A really international community is a richly variegated patchwork.

Willy f. vande walle

Most people will pay lip-service to the value of cultural diversity, but in practice they content themselves with a whiff of folklore and cuisine. However, there is a real risk that increased communication and globalization will lead to increased uniformity and less diversity. It is not easy to realize a multi-cultural community, but then anything of value requires effort. Its realization implies a willingness to respect and study a whole array of languages and traditions, to recognize that they all embody something that makes them different from others and worthwhile to know and experience. From the activities of the Japan Foundation, I gather that it has recognized the importance of this idea .

In my academic pursuits I have always endeavored to work from this perspective, and the prize I now receive encourages me to go forward on that path. I have always found myself in a position from which I believed it was meaningful to work and write in several languages and be active on several levels, including both the specialist's approach as well as popularization. I have always regarded my activities as a Japanologist as a function of my own position in a set of concentric communities to which I belong, regional, national, and international. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Japan Foundation, the persons who have recommended me, and the members of the selection committee for having understood my aspiration.

In my case the award is presented to only one individual, but I cannot say that it is a result of my own accomplishment when I look back on my career. Memories of many mentors and teachers come to mind. When I first came to Japan to study in my early days, I owed a lot to my home-stay parents, teachers, and friends, both in my personal and academic capacities. I also owed a lot to those people at Honda Europe, which I joined after I had served in the army and those who showed appreciation for the establishment of the independent Japanese department at the University. Furthermore I should also acknowledge those who made a great contribution to the Europalia Japan Festival; the successive ambassadors of Japan to Belgium; teachers and classmates at Kyoto University, Kansai University, the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, the Center for Historiography, the University of Tokyo, and Kyushu University-to whom I owe a great deal.

When I visited my mentor, who had assumed the position of director of the Asuka Museum two years ago, I noticed that some monoliths from the Tumulus Period had been placed on both sides of the walkway to the museum. When I touched one of the stones, I felt a sort of warmth that had been developed through a long weathering process. The stones were there quite unassumingly, and yet they had a certain presence to tell the story of the Tumulus Period. I am using this analogy of monoliths to express my appreciation for the long-lasting ties with my teachers, mentors, and classmates. Otherwise, I can only do so in a quite mechanical way. I hope these ties will continue to go forward. I would like to thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedules to gather here and to congratulate us at this presentation ceremony. Thank you very much for your attention.

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