Activity Report (1997) Preface - Background

THE ASIAN REGION, which encompasses an unparalleled diversity of cultures and ethnic groups, as well as immense human and natural resources, has in recent years experienced extraordinary economic growth. Such growth has both deepened structural interdependencies and influenced the society and culture of each country in many ways. The region still faces numerous problems that it is difficult for any one country to solve on its own and thus require increased mutual collaboration among the region's nations. And rapid social change and globalization have led to a reevaluation of national identities. On balance, there is a trend toward increased levels of mutual collaboration and exchange among the countries of Asia.

Against this background, the Japan Foundation, a semi-governmental organization dedicated to international cultural exchange, founded in 1990 the ASEAN Cultural Center with the purpose of introducing the cultures of Southeast Asia to Japan. The ASEAN Cultural Center carried out public education projects in various fields of the arts, including mounting public exhibits, sponsoring visits of performing arts groups, film showings, and lecture series, and established a library on Southeast Asia open to the public.

In October 1995, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Foundation decided to expand the ASEAN Cultural Center to include other countries of Asia and to add programs to promote intellectual exchange and cultural vitality in the Asian region more generally. This new entity became the Japan Foundation Asia Center (referred to hereafter as the "Asia Center"). The Asia Center comprises two divisions: the Culture and Information Division, which basically takes up the role of the former ASEAN Cultural Center, now expanded, to enhance understanding of Asia among the Japanese people; and the Intellectual Exchange Division, which focuses on promoting intellectual exchange and encouraging cultural vitality in the Asia region.

The primary objectives of the Asia Center are: (1) to promote mutual understanding through dialogue and exchange at various levels of society in the Asian region; and (2) to encourage international collaboration in coping with common problems in the region.

The Asia Center has a flexible variety of modalities for implementing these goals. It can, for instance, initiate projects on its own (the main modality for the Culture and Information Division's programs). Or, it may collaborate in the planning, implementation and administration of projects with other governmental or non-governmental organizations, both within and outside Japan. Finally, it can (through the Intellectual Exchange Division's grants program) provide funds in support of projects that are proposed by organizations in Asian countries in an open grants competition.

This Activity Report lists and describes in two parts the projects and programs that the Asia Center's Intellectual Exchange Division has initiated itself or in collaboration with other organizations and the projects that have been carried out by other organizations in Asia with the support of grants from the Asia Center. All of these activities were carried out in fiscal year 1997 (April 1, 1997 to March- 31, 1998).

Trends and Issues in 1997

NINETEEN-NINETY-SEVEN WAS a tumultuous year in Asia: what began with the devaluation of the Thai currency in July quickly engulfed the entire region in a severe financial crisis that led in turn to very serious crises on the economic, social and political fronts as well. 1997 was the year, too, of the death of Deng Xiao-Ping; the return of Hong Kong to China; the election of Kim Dae-Jung in South Korea, the first lateral transfer of power in that country's history; IMF-led bailouts and stringent structural adjustment measures in Thailand, Korea, Indonesia, and Philippines; the adoption of a new constitution in Thailand and a new government there, too; the controversial re-election of Suharto in Indonesia amidst continuing inter-ethnic and political violence, which would lead eventually to his stunning resignation; an international environmental and health disaster caused by widespread forest fires in Kalimantan; and a worsening of the already recession-bound Japanese economy.

The aftershocks from the mid-1997 crisis are in fact still being felt throughout the Asia region and beyond. Some have called it the end of the "Asian miracle" and have called into question the relevance of those very "Asian values" that before the crisis had been vaunted as behind the region's remarkable economic success. While such hasty analyses by media pundits may be premature and superficial, there is little doubting that the crisis has affected the way people outside and within the region now view its past and future. A period of reflection and intense seeking for solutions has therefore ensued.

Several of the Asia Center's own programs provided a venue for such reflections: this is perhaps one of the advantages of intellectual exchange modalities that allow for flexibility of theme and approach. Others of our self-initiated programs-e.g., support to Indo-China-took on a new meaning against the background of what will certainly be a reduced availability of local governmental and private sector resources. Applications for grants were for the most part submitted well before the crisis appeared, and many of them therefore did not tackle head-on issues raised by it. Nevertheless, many projects that looked at governance and equity issues, or issues of international trade, economics and security, or of lesson-sharing among non-governmental organizations, or, most pointedly, of issues of globalization, certainly ended up examining those topics with the heightened sense of urgency that the East Asian crisis has motivated.

Projects Administered by the Asia Center

THE PROJECTS that the Asia Center has initiated and administered, whether by itself or in collaboration with others, are grouped in two large categories: "Intellectual Exchange," by which is meant activities to facilitate dialogue and cooperation among various international partners on a wide variety of topics; and "Cultural Preservation and Vitality," which is concerned not only with preservation as an end in itself, but also with how cultural knowledge is transmitted from one generation to another, and how cultural heritage, whether tangible or intangible, can be interpreted and understood in rapidly changing social contexts. To a certain degree, of course, these two categories can and do overlap; cultural preservation projects can also involve "intellectual exchange" as a matter of course. The second category should, therefore, be seen as representing a particular program emphasis of the Asia Center.

Intellectual Exchange

In 1997, the Asia Center continued support for three programs that encourage interactions among Asian intellectuals: Asia-Pacific Youth Forum and Fellowships for Leaders of the Next Generation, which especially targeted younger participants, and the Asia Leadership Fellow Program, which brought together distinguished intellectual leaders from five countries for two months. Support was extended for a second Conference of Asian Foundations and Organizations in Manila that followed up the inaugural conference in Tokyo in 1996. These conferences involved program officers or managers of foundations from throughout the Asia region.

The Asia Center takes a special interest in how the countries of the former Indo-China are coping with rapid social and political change. A special Support Program for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam thus targets those countries as they enter or prepare to enter the ASEAN regional grouping: Japanese experts again provided seminars in the three countries, and a workshop was held that gathered a number of Asia Center-supported projects focused on Indo-China to share lessons and assess the effectiveness of the projects to date.

Evincing a strong desire to help in the formulation of new paradigms in the study of Asia, and to encourage such study by Asian scholars at Asian institutions, the Asia Center continued its Support Program for Centers of Asian Studies at three key institutions (University of Hong Kong, Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences). It also continued to collaborate with the Toyota Foundation in funding and administering the Southeast Asian Studies Regional Exchange Program (SEASREP), a vehicle for supporting a large number of scholars throughout Southeast Asia. Both are conceived as multi-year programs.

Finally, two new major initiatives were also launched. The first, the ASEAN-Japan Multinational Cultural Mission, was the outgrowth of a suggestion made by Prime Minister Hashimoto in a speech in Singapore calling for the formation of "Multinational Cultural Mission" to reinforce multilateral cultural cooperation among ASEAN member countries and Japan. This government-to-government and government-private-NPO-sector initiative assessed the status of cooperation and exchange between Japan and ASEAN, solicited suggestions on needs and priorities, and recommended an "Action Agenda" for both the government and private sectors in the region. The Asia Center took the role of secretariat together with the National Arts Council of Singapore. A related survey on the history of cultural exchange between Japan and ASEAN, International Cultural Exchange and Cooperation between ASEAN and Japan, was commissioned from a Tokyo University study group as reference material for the MCM project.

The second initiative was the first of what are hoped to be a series of international symposia held in Okinawa, Okinawa as a Crossroads: Global Intellectual and Cultural Collaboration in the 21st Century, jointly organized by the Asia Center and the Okinawa Prefectural Government, that focus on regional issues in Asia. It is hoped to enhance Okinawa's role as a pivot of international exchange activities in the region.

Cultural Preservation and Vitality

The two most important areas of activity for self-administered projects under this rubric are museology and library preservation. The Asia Center co-organized a symposium with two of Japan's leading museums to explore the conceptual defining and redefining of the museum's role and function in a changing world: Representing "Cultures" in Museums. To disseminate information from an ambitious project carried out by the Asia Center last fiscal year, a Training Workshop on Management of Community Museums, which explored new models for community-focused cultural preservation in the region, we published a book summarizing the discussions and papers from that workshop. Our interest in libraries focuses on strategies to help Asian countries deal with the challenge of preserving, conserving, and restoring their valuable written heritage, Support Program for Manuscript Preservation. An Asia Center-dispatched mission of experts to Myanmar resulted in a later grant-funded action to inventory and microfilm Burmese manuscripts kept in small temple libraries. Another expert mission that visited four Asian countries, Conservation and Restoration of Historical Documents in Asian Countries, was also related to a grant project in Vietnam to preserve archival and library materials there.


The newsletter of the Asia Center, Asia Center News, reports on the projects of both of the Center's divisions. Asia Center News, originally issued four and now three times a year, also contains articles of general interest about Asian cultures and societies, and information about upcoming events relating to Asia in Japan. Published in Japanese, it is targeted at readers in Japan, and is also available on the Japan Foundation's Web site.

Projects Supported by Asia Center Grants

THROUGH an open grants competition, the Asia Center responds to requests for funding from a variety of organizations, providing grants to cover partial expenses of carrying out international collaborative projects that may involve research or documentation, workshops or conferences, training of human resources, or dissemination of research through print or audio-visual publications.

In this third full year of grant-making, we received a record number of applications-241, as compared to 233 in 1996 and 149 in 1995. After a process of assessment, evaluation, and recommendation by Japan Foundation staff abroad and in Tokyo, the Foundation's Board of Directors agreed to dispense a total of ¥230,092,755 for 94 projects, including projects that were granted supplements for a second or third year. This thus represented a 39 percent success rate, indicating that our grants are becoming somewhat more selective; the average grant size was ¥2.4 million.

A summary of each project, the name of the grantee, title of the project, and amount awarded are provided in Part 2 below. Here we shall give an overview of the kinds of projects that were funded, organized according to the Asia Center's five program priorities. It should be noted that these categories unavoidably overlap and the classification is mainly for purposes of retrospective analysis. (It should also be pointed out that the classification of projects into the five categories below is somewhat different from the previously published Japanese-language version of this Activity Report 1997. This accounts for the slight percentage differences to be noted in Chart 1, Project Focus by Theme on page 61.)

Increasing Mutual Understanding and Tolerance for Diversity

About half of these projects (9 out of 19) were initiated and proposed by institutions in Japan, though all involved substantial collaboration with Asian partners and a focus on regional issues.

Under this rubric are included projects that either focused on the academic study of Asia including area studies within Asia or that examined the state of particular academic fields in Asia. Thus, in the former subcategory, see, for example, Trends in Asian Studies in Australia's Higher Education Sector, East Asian Thought, Asia: Looking to the Future, International Congress of Mongolists, Kimchi Culture in East and Central Asia and Siberia, Southeast Asia in the 20th Century, Symposium on Asia and Islam, Historical and Contemporary Studies of Some Southeast Asian States, International Malaysian Studies Conference; and in the latter, Teaching Palliative Care in Asia, Peaceful Development, Race and Religion in the 21st Century, Conference of Association of Asian Social Science Research Councils, Asian Bioethics Conference, Asia Pacific Regional Conference of Sociology, Engendering Early Modern History in Southeast Asia, Conference of the Asian Association of Social Psychology, and Comparative Literature in East Asia

Two projects addressed how information is shared and how regional information networks can be developed and strengthened, especially making use of new media technologies, such as the Internet. Thus, Creating a Computer-based Asian Studies Information Network for Internet Users and Exchange of Information on the "Information Superhighway" in Asia.

Addressing Common Problems Requiring International Cooperation

About a quarter of the grant-supported projects could be categorized under this heading. Fourteen of them looked specifically at issues of international relations, trade, migration or security in the Asia region. For example, New Migrations and Growing Ethno-cultural Diversity in the Asia-Pacific Region, Structure and Movement of Japan-Southeast Asia Relations after World War II, Economic Cooperation in Northeast Asia, Models of Organizing Industrial Research and Development, Golden Growth Triangle: A Subregional Model of Cooperation, Establishment of Security Agreement on Investment in Infrastructure in Asia, Formation of a New Order in the Asia-Pacific Region, Human Security in the Asia Pacific, Prospects for Development in Asia in View of Japan-China Relations, Japan-China-Korea Forum, Prospects for the International Situation after the Unification of the Korean Peninsula, Security in East Asia and Prospects of Japan-USA-Korea Relations, Asia's Response to Globalization in Comparative Perspective, and Economic Development Strategy in Asia and Lessons for Sri Lanka.

Another important issue requiring international cooperation, that of preserving and sustaining the natural environment, was the concern of ten projects: Innovation in Teacher Education through Environmental Education, Contemporary Meaning of Oriental Traditional Thinking about the Environment, Environmental Politics in a High-Growth State, Preservation of Environment in Metropolitan Areas in Asia, National Trusts in Asia and Oceania, Customary Forest Management in East Kalimantan, Asian Forum on Biological and Cultural Diversity, Enhancing Indigenous Knowledge in Biodiversity Protection, Culture and Environment in Vietnam, and Role Played by Culture in Development in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

Contribution to the Development of an Equitable and Open Society

This rubric includes five projects that focused on important issues of governance, democratization, and human rights: Asia-Pacific Human Rights Electronic Database and Communications Networks, Promotion of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education in the Asia Pacific, Wartime Violence against Women, Tribal Communities in the Malay World, and Good Governance and Defense Spending in South Asia.

To explore some of the ramifications of shifts in various economic, political, and legal paradigms since the end of the Cold War era, the Asia Center supported in this category four projects that look at changes in legal systems in socialist or formerly socialist economic systems: Changes on Civil Legal Systems Brought by the Introduction of Market Economies in China, Vietnam and Mongolia, Social and Cultural Changes in the Process of Transition to Market Economy in Some Asian Countries, Vietnam and the Process of Joining the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and Mekong Region Commercial Law Initiative. The following six projects were consonant with the Asia Center's desire to strengthen local intellectual infra-structure in view of the profound changes affecting the Indo-China region: Publication of the Cambodia Report, Urban Development in Vietnam, Cambodia Journalism Workshop through Desktop Publishing, Revival and Promotion of Traditional Culture and Improvement of the Educational Environment in Cambodia through Library Activities, Human Resource Development Training in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, and Radio Journalism Training Course.
Finally, with the ultimate goal of helping to strengthen the non-profit sector in Asia and related to initiatives administered by the Asia Center itself (see page 7), the Asia Center continued to support exchanges of ideas and information among non-governmental and non-profit organizations in Asia with grants to the following four projects: Asia Pacific Regional Workshop on Banking with the Poor, Cooperation at Grassroots Level in the Asia-Pacific Region, Networking between Japanese NGOs and Key Asian NGOs, and Development NGOs in Bangladesh.

Preserving, Documenting, and Increasing Access to Tangible and Intangible Culture

Cultural preservation projects continued to comprise a significant percentage of Asia Center-supported projects (27 percent). Under this heading, the Asia Center supported efforts to preserve or increase access to historical, literary and artistic documentsI (Transmission of Documentation on Chinese Traditional Medicine, Research on Chinese Popular Woodblock Prints, Esoteric Buddhism in Western Tibet: Caves and Wall Paintings, Feasibility Studies on Asian Activities Development, Mongol Archival Sources, Survey of Historical Documents Conservation in Vietnam, Preservation of Dunhuang Manuscripts, Microfilming of Myanmar Traditional Manuscripts); to ensure the transmission of orally transmitted folklore and performing arts traditions (International Conference '98: Traditional Arts Festival in Asia, Research and Documentation on Indonesian Oral Traditions, Traditional Khmer Culture in the Angkor Area, Lao Dialects, Documentation of the Non-material Culture of the Hani/Akha in the Mekong Quadrangle Area, Course in Nha Nhac [Court Music] at Hue National University); to preserve or document architectural or archaeological sites (Training Program in Architectural Recording, Community-centered Conservation of the Buddhist Monastery at Hemis, Preservation and Conservation of the Orkhon Epitaphs in Mongolia, Mustang Ecomuseum, Conservation and Preservation of Kiln Sites of the Angkor Period, Historic Cities in Islamic Societies, Conservation of the Mausoleum of Emperor Minh Mang at Hue, Vietnam, Old Castle Wall at Chengdu); and to promote and preserve traditional handicrafts (Southeast Asian Craft Products in a Globalized Economy).

Two projects also addressed some more general or institutional issues relating to cultural heritage preservation: Museum Staff Training Course in Mongolia, and Indigenous Cultural Survival in Ancient Cities of Asia.

Sustaining the Vitality of Artistic Traditions in Changing Contexts

The five projects in this category share some concerns with the previous one-cultural preservation-but the emphasis here is on the links between modern, creative expressions and the region's rich cultural heritage.

Four of them examined issues relating to performing arts in contemporary contexts: Traveling Small Shadow Theater, World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, Cultural Consequences of Globalization: The Case of Music, and Publication on Asian Music and Dance in Education. The fifth, Film Series on Contemporary Indonesian Writers, aimed to document the lives of prominent, elderly writers in Indonesia for broadcast and educational purposes.

Page Top