50 years of history at CSEAS

In its 50 years of existence, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) at Kyoto University has confronted the challenges of exploring new horizons of area studies on Southeast Asia. Designated as an Institute by the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT), the center’s history of engagement in the region reflects the intimate and dynamically evolving relations between Southeast Asia and Japan as well as its own efforts to continuously renew itself as a center of excellence in area studies. CSEAS’s strength lies in its multidisciplinary orientation. Since its official establishment in 1965, CSEAS has employed a comprehensive approach to investigating the contemporary and historical dimensions of problems confronting present-day Southeast Asia. The two above-mentioned guiding principles—an interdisciplinary approach and contemporary academic concern—as well as a fieldwork-based method with language at the core- continue to direct the current research activities of CSEAS and have contributed to creating an integrated studies approach. This overview offers a brief history of CSEAS’ development over the past 50 years.

CSEAS’s 50-year history can be divided into different periods: an early and a late one. These two periods can be further divided into stages based on the center’s research orientation and activities.



Spring 1959 - CSEAS

The history of CSEAS predates its official establishment. In the spring of l959, a group of scholars in Kyoto began to organize monthly seminars on various aspects of Southeast Asian culture and society. As the seminars gradually attracted an increasing number of faculty members and graduate students from universities in and around Kyoto, the enthusiastic participants sought the possibility of organizing the informal gathering into a more institutionalized forum. A preparatory committee was formed in l961 to organize a systematic program of Southeast Asian studies, one that included the natural sciences, which were neglected in most area studies programs in Western universities and research institutes. These developments culminated in the creation of CSEAS in January 1963 on the campus of Kyoto University as a semi-official body for coordinating Southeast Asian studies.

The newly organized center lost no time in launching a joint research project with special emphasis on Thailand and Malaysia. Researchers went to these two countries to conduct fieldwork, ranging from detailed community studies by anthropologists to investigations of tropical forests, paddy soils, and agricultural techniques by natural scientists. It was to facilitate these field activities that the liaison office was opened in Bangkok in October 1963 and staffed by representatives of the Center. The office in Jakarta has been similarly staffed since l970. Funding for fieldwork in the early years came primarily from private sources, including a research grant from the Ford Foundation and a domestic fund raised by supporters of the center. The results of the center’s research programs in its inceptive stage were so promising that the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (Monbusho) decided to grant the center formal status in order to foster its area studies program. Thus, in April 1965 the center was reorganized as a “research center” with posts for four full-time staff members, the first such center to be created at a Japanese university.

The foundation of CSEAS was built on the strong support provided by the majority of Kyoto University faculty members and the continuing efforts of the center’s directors and research staff. In particular, Professor Shinobu Iwamura, the second director of CSEAS, who formulated the guiding principles mentioned above, and Professor Shinichi Ichimura, the fourth director, who succeeded Professor Sagara Iichi in 1968 and led the development of the organizational structure and research implementation in the early stage, played prominent roles in paving the way for the development of CSEAS.

Bangkok Liaison Office established in February 1964, the first overseas study station set up by a Japanese university.

Research activities in the early stage were carried out mainly in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia based on individual researchers’ academic concerns. The research projects organized at this stage consisted of those in the Social Science Section and Natural Science Section. The former covered such big themes as “Burmese-Thai area study,” “Malaysian-Indonesian area study,” “political organization and governmental process,” “system and structure of education,” “survey of languages of northern Thailand,” “modernization factors in economic development,” “religion in Southeast Asia,” and “historical and social study of the Chinese in Malaysia.” The latter included “medical survey,” “geological survey,” “studies for agricultural production,” and “biological survey.” The studies were carried out in collaboration with researchers and scholars from other departments and institutes of Kyoto University as well as from other universities in Japan, and through bilateral cooperation with counterpart agencies and institutions in Southeast Asian countries.

1960s - 70s.
Institutional Development Stage

Apart from these research projects, CSEAS initiated official programs and established a publication office, a library, and exchange and training programs to strengthen its institutional base. The publication program, beginning with the inauguration of the first issue of Southeast Asian Studies in July 1963, was responsible for publishing the annual bulletin of CSEAS in both English and Japanese, and occasional/discussion papers reporting the tentative results of intensive fieldwork in the region. The Monograph publication series was launched not only in Japanese but also in English, the latter from the University of Hawai’i Press, with the initiative of Director Shinichi Ichimura as the Monograph of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. The Hawaii series now has 21 volumes out, many of which are studies mainly by natural scientists.

The construction of a well-equipped library was also a primary concern of CSEAS and was at this time a collection of basic references on and from Southeast Asia and exchange of periodicals and other research materials with academic institutions were initiated by the library program. The most important mission of this program at the early stage was to obtain membership access to the Human Relation Area Files (HRAF). As a result of the hard work of the library staff, the files in the HRAF room in the Central Library were opened to the public in April 1965. The exchange program enabled the center to invite leading scholars and top officials in charge of research administration from abroad as well as from other institutions in Japan to organize international conferences in Kyoto University; in turn, CSEAS was able to send its staff members as well as Japan-based scholars and graduate students to Southeast Asian and Western universities. Among the many promising researchers and graduate students who were selected as research scholars or awarded research fellowships by this program were a number of scholars who came to be attached to the CSEAS research staff, including such prominent specialists as Professors Yoshikazu Takaya, Hayao Fukui, Yoshihiro Tsubouchi, Toru Yano, Yoshihiro Kaida, Narifumi Maeda Tachimoto, Isamu Yamada, and Kenji Tsuchiya.

As the above programs indicate, CSEAS successfully laid its research foundation within a very short period of time. New research divisions were subsequently created, based on the financial support of Monbusho against the backdrop of rapid Japanese economic growth. As research staff increased and research programs expanded, CSEAS grew to encompass nine research sections covering the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences by April l978. A notable addition was a new section for visiting foreign scholars, although CSEAS has been inviting scholars from abroad to visit the center since the 1960s.

In addition to establishing its research foundation, CSEAS began to pay attention to the importance of providing education for the younger generation of Japanese scholars, students, and public intellectuals. The Southeast Asia Seminar was first organized in 1976 as a training course open to the public. Offering intensive lectures by center staff on the nature, culture, society, economy, and other facets of Southeast Asia, the annual seminar has provided the basic knowledge necessary for specialized study of the region mainly to graduate students from Kyoto University as well as other universities nationwide. Many of the participants of these seminars have become prominent scholars in Southeast Asian studies in Japan.





In its first stage of organizational development, CSEAS was able to construct a platform for researchers to organize and conduct joint studies with their institutional counterparts within Kyoto University, in Japan more generally, in the region, and elsewhere. The second stage began when Professors Ichimura Shinichi, Tadayo Watabe, and Yoneo Ishii (1929-2010) succeeded each other as director of CSEAS. The team projects organized in the second stage were conducted mainly with the support of external funds. The increase in the amount of governmental financial support for scientific research such as Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (Kakenhi) from Monbusho helped promote and strengthen joint studies after the early 1970s. Carrying out individual research related to each researcher’s concern and organizing and participating in joint studies became a principle by which every CSEAS staff abided.

Field survery trip Dong Daeng Village in Northeast Thailand. Professor Kaida Yoshihiro donating electric wires to a newly built "forest temple."

In line with this principle, CSEAS organized team projects such as “Regional Economic Survey of South Sumatra,” “Agro-environmental Studies of the Mekong Delta of Vietnam,” “Potential Survey of Lowland Soils in Thailand,” “National Independence Movement in Southeast Asia,” “Impact of Industrialization on Rural Communities,” and “Impact of Climate Change on Agricultural Production and Socio-economic Conditions in Rice-Growing Countries in Asia.” As of 1980, permanent staff and the intra- and extra-mural affiliates at CSEAS had undertaken over 150 projects. These encompassed religion, culture, anthropology, sociology, demography, history, linguistic, education, economics, agricultural economics, international relations, fauna and flora, paleontology, geology, geomorphology, soil science, hydrology, irrigation and drainage, agronomy, forest ecology, medical science, and pharmacology (Fourth Report 1977–1980 15th Anniversary Issue (Japanese only)).

Drawing on these team projects in the second half of the 1970s, CSEAS began to promote institutional joint research projects in 1980 by organizing researchers by themes for five-year internally designated projects. During 1980–84, the first five-year center project was organized and conducted around the theme of “An integrated research on the formation process of the Southeast Asian world.” It consisted of two subprojects: Project A, “Agricultural Development and Inter-regional Contact in the Ecosystem of the Tropical Monsoon”; and Project B, “Economic Development and the Social Foundation for a Small-scale, Patrimonial State.” Each project was further divided into the following two research teams consisting of scores of researchers from the center and outside: A-1 project, “Dong Daeng Village in Northeast Thailand” led by Professors Yoneo Ishii, Hayao Fukui, and Yoshihiro Kaida; A-2 project, “The Environment and Human Migration in the Tropical Archipelago” led by Professors Narifumi Maeda Tachimoto and Yoshikazu Takaya; B-1 project, “Petty Patrimonial States in Southeast Asia” led by Professors Toru Yano and Kenji Tsuchiya; and B-2 project, “Characteristics of Economic Development in Southeast Asia” led by Professor Shinichi Ichimura.

The A-1 and A-2 projects adopted contrasting methodologies for conducting team projects. In the A-1 project a village in Northeast Thailand, Dong Daeng, was chosen as a single research site upon which intensive village-level surveys were implemented by a cohesive interdisciplinary team consisting of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, agronomists, and irrigation scholars. In contrast, the A-2 project drew on more wide-ranging and flexible perspectives in geographical terms, with members consisting of anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, soil scientists, agronomists, and historians covering a wide range of ecosystems, such as coastal areas, mountain regions, and watersheds, in Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi. Although both projects were interdisciplinary, their focus and operation differed diametrically. Since a number of young researchers and graduate students who later joined the CSEAS staff were involved in these projects, they came to exemplify the “CSEAS-Style Research Collaboration.” From these projects were drawn the second and third generations of CSEAS professors, including Tsuyoshi Kato, Yumio Sakurai, Koji Tanaka, Yukio Hayashi, and Yasuyuki Kono.

1970s - 80s
Joint Studies Development Stage

In addition to research projects under the five-year research plan, CSEAS launched another five-year program in 1983 aimed at the acquisition of Southeast Asian vernacular library materials. With special funding from Monbusho, the center began to collect research materials of all kinds—books, magazines, periodicals, maps, and satellite images—and to organize them and make them available for public use. This program contributed to expanding the CSEAS library holdings and strengthening the library itself.

It was also at this stage that CSEAS received a grant from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) to enhance the exchange of scholars between Japan and Southeast Asian countries and to expand CSEAS’s research network in the region. A series of JSPS Core University Programs, “In Search of a Collaborative Framework for Southeast Asian Studies,” were initiated in 1986 within a bilateral framework of cooperation with Thammasat University. The first half of the program’s ten-year term covered the exchange of scholars between Japan and Thailand. By its fifth year, when the fourth seminar was held in 1991, the program had been expanded to other countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. This reflected the changing academic context, with increasing intellectual interest among Southeast Asian scholars in their own neighbors. CSEAS has been extremely fortunate to work with many prominent scholars in the region through this program over the years.

The second five-year center project began in April 1985 under the general theme of “A civilization-oriented integrated study on the formation and evolution of the Southeast Asian world.” The project consisted of four clusters of topics: “A-Outside Civilization and Inside World,” “B-Civilization and the Formation of State,” “C-Civilization and Ecological Environment,” and “D-Civilization and Economic Environment.” These projects were conducted in tandem with a number of research projects supported mainly by the grants-in-aid provided by Monbusho. The third five-year center project started in April 1990 under the general theme of “An integrated study on indigenous logic and the development structure of the Southeast Asian world.” It also consisted of four clusters of topics: “A-Formation and Historical Structure of the Southeast Asian World,” “B-Natural Ecology and the Development Pattern of Southeast Asia,” “C-Human Environment and Social Structure in Southeast Asia,” and “D-Cultural Environment and Regional Integration in Southeast Asia.”

As can be seen from the general theme and sub-themes, the latter half of the second stage was an important period, paving the way for the transition in CSEAS’s research orientation and strategies. Defining Southeast Asia as a “Southeast Asian world” and/or an “inside world” (in contrast to “outside civilization”), CSEAS came to be recognized as one of the leading institutions for area studies by Japanese academia in the field of the humanities and social sciences. In consequence, the center’s growing reputation opened the way to more “integrated approaches” in area studies in the succeeding years, financially supported by large-scale research projects.



Organizing a symposium in celebration of the 25th anniversary was not only an important occasion for highlighting the foregoing academic achievements of a number of joint studies, but also a symbolic challenge for CSEAS to seek a new mechanism for sustaining its institutional research framework, in light of changes in Monbusho’s funding scheme that introduced highly competitive grant funding in the early 1990s. Monbusho began to introduce the policy of selecting outstanding researchers and institutions and providing them with grants of a larger scale than the ordinary grants-in-aid for scientific research.

In 1993 CSEAS was selected as a core institution for a four-year project (1993–96) under the title of “An Integrated Approach to Global Area Studies: In Search of a Paradigm for a Harmonized Relationship between the World and Its Areas.” Generally referred to as “Global Area Studies,” this project was funded by Monbusho through the Grant for Scientific Research on Priority Areas. Although this program was designed mainly for promoting and supporting priority areas in natural and applied sciences, the CSEAS project was the first institutional proposal selected from the field of humanities and social sciences. This project involved some 130 area study specialists nationwide in an endeavor to delineate clearly the form and substance of global area studies and was managed as the fifth five-year project under the leadership of Professor Toru Yano, then director, and Professor Yoshihiro Tsubouchi, who succeeded Professor Yano as director following the latter’s resignation.

A round-table discussion under “Global Area Studies” project (1993–96) funded by Monbusho through the Grant for Scientific Research on Priority Areas.

While focusing on Southeast Asia, the project was grounded in the cumulative research of wide-ranging area studies, encompassing regions other than Southeast Asia. The project sought to define the leading domains of area studies through subprojects titled “Area and Ecological Environment,” “Theories on the Formation of Area Identities,” and “Indigenous Theories of Area Development”; to examine the formation and interrelations of areas in Southeast Asia through subprojects titled “External Civilization and Internal World” and “Theories of Area Interconnections”; and to establish a methodology and a logical framework for research through the organic integration of these themes in the subproject “Concept of Global Area Studies.” Out of this project, 17 issues of the quarterly journal Global Area Studies (in Japanese) were published, issues that included contributions from project members.

In 1995, its 30th anniversary year, CSEAS together with Kyoto University Press launched the monograph series Chiiki Kenkyu Sosho (in Japanese, Series on Area Studies). This was in response to the need for a suitable outlet for disseminating the accumulated research and knowledge, and for presenting exemplary and original research. With the efforts of Director Yoshihiro Tsubouchi and Professors Yoshikazu Takaya and Narifumi Tachimoto, the series was founded on a rigorous peer-review system. The first several volumes were publications of the final results of the above four-year project: In Search of Global Area Studies (1990) edited by Yoshihiro Tsubouchi, the project leader; Trials for Inter-Area Comparative Studies, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (1999), edited by Yoshikazu Takaya; Theories on the Formation of Area (2000) edited by Y. Tsubouchi; and Indigenous Theories of Area Development (2000) edited by Yonosuke Hara. After 2000, this publication series (Chiiki Kenkyu Sosho) became open to contributions from the public. Now counting its 27th volume, the series has become an important face of the center, and many of its volumes have won awards. The launch of the series was followed by the launch of the English-language monograph Kyoto Area Studies on Asia in 1999. In collaboration with the Trans Pacific Press in Australia—a reliable publisher to facilitate editing and publishing in English—the first volume was launched in 2001. This series has published 23 peer-reviewed volumes of innovative and meticulous research. The new series discussed above became forums not only for individual research but also for disseminating results of the center’s various projects.

1990s- 2000s

In 1993 CSEAS confronted the gravest crisis in its history as an institution with the resignation of the sitting director following accusations of sexual harassment. This crisis spurred the center under the succeeding director, Professor Tsubouchi, to undertake internal reforms that resulted in a number of substantive changes: the establishment of Committees for Handling and Consulting on Sexual Harassment (later broadened to Workplace Harassment); the democratization of the decision-making process; the promotion of young faculty members; and the infusion of new minds, including the recruitment of women and non-Japanese scholars at the professor and associate professor levels.

CSEAS’s approach to education and training dates back to its second stage, in which the center’s staff were involved in collaborative teaching at the Division of Tropical Agriculture in the Graduate School of Agriculture. The division inaugurated a master’s program in April 1981 and a doctoral program two years later. Natural scientists among the center’s staff taught courses on tropical rice culture, tropical geography, and tropical hydrology. Unfortunately, the program was terminated following the major reorganization of the Graduate School of Agriculture in 1995.

The new monograph series Kyoto Area Studies on Asia is copublished by Kyoto University Press and Trans Pacific Press.

CSEAS’s involvement in graduate education came to the fore again through the establishment of a new graduate school in 1991. Kyoto University established the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies centered on the former Faculty of Liberal Arts. The school was composed of three divisions: Human and Environmental Studies, Culture and Area Studies, and Environmental Correlative Studies. One of its 25 departments was the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, with which 19 of the center’s staff were affiliated. CSEAS’s tradition of engaging in area studies on the basis of long-term fieldwork was inherited by graduate students in the division from which the younger generation of the center’s staff were partly recruited. As the primary affiliation of the center’s staff shifted to another new graduate school, the Graduate School of Asian and African Studies (ASAFAS), as will be noted below, recruitment of new students to this course ended in 1998.

Since CSEAS’s involvement in graduate-level education at Kyoto University had been limited to collaboration with independently established graduate schools, the center was not able to come up with its own comprehensive and institution-based outline of the aims and themes for promoting area studies education. To remedy this situation, in 1996 CSEAS began to prepare for the establishment of a new graduate school in Kyoto University that would be devoted to area studies. It succeeded in establishing ASAFAS in 1998 in collaboration with the Center for African Area Studies of Kyoto University. This new school was created in order to respond to changing social demands on academia to promote an interdisciplinary and integrated approach to area studies capable of transcending the existing disciplinary boundaries and producing a more holistic understanding of divergent areas in the world, particularly Asia and Africa. With this mission in mind, the school has trained and produced a number of specialists in Asian and African studies who possess detailed and intimate knowledge of the areas and at the same time are equipped with a global perspective.

1990s- 2000s

In the same year, 1998, CSEAS and ASAFAS were awarded a second large-scale research project for five years, the Center of Excellence (COE) Program (FY 1998–2002, approximately 700 million yen over five years) funded by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (formerly Monbusho, now called MEXT), to create a world-class research and educational center under the title of “Making Regions: Proto-Areas, Transformation, and New Formation in Asia and Africa.” The program was led by Professor Takashi Shiraishi, who joined the center in 1996. Emphasis was given to institution building and the development of a holistic way of studying and comparing world regions and understanding how regions evolved and how people changed over time.

COE’s institution-building activities included the expansion of library resources, networking, and publication initiatives. The libraries in both CSEAS and ASAFAS acquired 20,000 books per year during the course of the program, with the addition of large collections such as the Ocampo Collection on the Philippines (acquired from the Philippine historian Ambeth R. Ocampo); the microfiche collections of colonial documents from the former Netherlands East Indies and British Malaya; and vernacular materials from areas hitherto not covered such as southwest China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Publications from the program included several books in the Kyoto Area Studies on Asia series, as well as the founding of the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia, a multilingual online journal that showcased debates and publications on Southeast Asian studies in Japanese, Bahasa Indonesia, Filipino, Thai, and English. Through the provision of financial support, this program also greatly contributed to the establishment of the research and educational base of the newly established graduate school, which had a strong component of fieldwork-based education.

The second JSPS Core University Program started in 1999 with the general theme of “Region-making in East Asia.” Recognizing the importance of the relationship between East and Southeast Asia, the program incorporated a wide network of scholars from both Southeast and Northeast Asia in nine subprojects over 10 years. The program covered topics clustered around a number of big themes: hegemony and technocracy, middle classes, regionalism and networks, state, market and society, the flows of people, goods and information, entrepreneurs and rent-seeking, and family, all reflecting emerging and hot issues in the region and incorporating broader regional comparisons. With the steady increase in the number of participating scholars and countries involved, this program greatly contributed to the extension of CSEAS’s academic networks within and beyond Southeast Asian countries, and played an important role to bridge Southeast Asian and East Asian academics.

The first decade of the 21st century saw a series of reforms in the administrative structure of CSEAS under the directorship of Professor Narifumi Tachimoto. In 2001, the center restructured itself into a research department composed of four divisions—the Division of Regional Dynamics, the Division of Humans and the Environment, the Division of Society and Culture, and the Division of Economics and Politics—and three sections for visiting fellows—a Documentation Department, an Administration Department, and overseas liaison offices.

In 2012, the hitherto bilingual quarterly journal was re-fashioned into the triannual English journal, Southeast Asian Studies and the biannual Japanese Journal of Southeast Asian Studies (Tonan Ajia Kenkyu).


2000s - 2015s


In 2004, due to a government-mandated administrative reorganization of all national universities into autonomous and independent legal bodies, the academic structure at CSEAS underwent considerable reform.

A degraded peatland due to overlogging and fires (Source: Prof. Yamada Isamu, in Palangkaraya, Kalimantan, Central Indonesia, Aug, 2008).

The latest restructuring involved the elevation of the center’s administrative status from research center to institute, even though the center elected to retain its original name in English. The preparation for the transition from center to institute level was led by Professor Koji Tanaka, who was director at the time. The elevation of CSEAS to the status of institute was a result of MEXT’s recognition of the center’s great repute in the field of area studies.

CSEAS celebrated its 40th anniversary in October 2005. It was not only a time for retrospection but also a stepping-stone to the further development of the institution. Since then, CSEAS has further developed and expanded its research activities, entering into new fields of research, establishing new academic linkages and expanding its regional and global networks, and experiencing personnel and institutional changes. A notable development was the substantial influx of young researchers, both Japanese and non-Japanese—trained in as well as outside Japan—who participated in the various research projects initiated and organized by the center.

In 2002 the center, in collaboration with the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, received further funding for a 21st Century COE program titled “Aiming for COE of Integrated Area Studies,” which ran between 2002 and 2006. In addition to the liaison offices in Bangkok and Jakarta, under this program field stations were set up in Yangon, Vientiane, Bogor, Makassar, the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, Manila, and Kuala Lumpur to facilitate research, training, and collaboration by students and faculty in the field and with local scholars. This program promoted network building in each locale, connecting researchers and providing opportunities for young scholars to conduct fieldwork as well as present their findings and conduct discussions with local and Japanese researchers.

2000s - 2015s

Following the 21st Century COE, in 2007 the center received MEXT funding to initiate a five-year project for a Global COE program titled “In Search of Sustainable Humanosphere in Asia and Africa” (2007–11, 740 million yen over five years), which aimed at an integrated multidisciplinary approach to the humanosphere. Led by Professor Kaoru Sugihara, the Global COE program was carried out in collaboration with eight other institutions on campus: ASAFAS, the Research Institute for Sustainable Humanosphere, the Center for Integrated Area Studies, the Center for African Studies, the Institute of Sustainability Science, the Graduate School for Agriculture, the Institute for Research in Humanities, and the Graduate School of Engineering. This formed the basis of a campus-wide collaborative network for conducting research in Southeast Asia and other tropical regions.

This Global COE program marked a turning point in the center’s research in that there was a shift in emphasis in research from Southeast Asian studies for understanding Southeast Asia as a region and object of study to tackling questions emerging from the region that speak toward global issues. Research now begins from pressing realities and issues in the region, and aims to provide lessons and inspiration toward enhancing our knowledge and providing solutions toward a sustainable humanosphere at a global level. Such research can be accomplished only by even wider multidisciplinary collaboration than before, including in the hard sciences, while maintaining the field-based approach as well as cooperation with those outside academia. How can we reinforce and realize the potentialities of nature while controlling and managing it in coordination with others? How is plural coexistence of cultural, religious, and other differences possible? How can we better connect the knowledge and power of local communities to larger decisions and dynamics? How can we envision a better future in the region and around the globe? Topics such as environment, disaster and sustainability, democracy and governance, aging society and care, economic disparity and urban development involve multidisciplinary region-wide and cross-regional research. These are recognized as some of the big issues that Southeast Asian societies and the world more generally are now confronting. This Global COE project culminated in the publication of six edited volumes, 68 international symposia, 277 domestic workshops, and 127 working papers.

Continuing on the tracks laid by the Global COE project, two new initiatives were started. The first was the International Program of Collaborative Research (IPCR-CSEAS). In April 2010, the center was awarded the status of Joint Use/Research Centers by MEXT, in recognition of its years of leadership in the field of Southeast Asian studies. The program promotes broad-based collaborations among all universities under this leadership. The aims are as follows: (1) to promote Southeast Asian studies with an emphasis on the integration of disciplines and collaboration with local people and society; (2) to strengthen the center’s function as a hub of historical documents and research materials on Southeast Asian studies in Asia; and (3) to publish world-class academic journals and monograph series. The program also provides joint-use opportunities for CSEAS to share its facilities and equipment such as its library, GIS facilities, and map room related to area studies. The program has allowed the center to strengthen its nationwide network of scholarship.

Asian Core Program.

In 2011, a new project, the "Southeast Asian Studies for Sustainable Humanosphere” (internally called Life and Green), was initiated with a MEXT grant. This program continued to examine the contours of a sustainable humanosphere and investigate (1) plural coexistence in social capital, the strengthening of social infrastructures, and transnational regional structuring, and (2) how Southeast Asia’s tropical biomass societies are being reshaped through economic change with glocal linkages between tropical biomass society and global interests. Under these two principal rubrics, research, education and training, and global institutional networking were undertaken.

2000s - 2015s

The IPCR-CSEAS program enabled CSEAS to spearhead the global search for and recruitment of talented, promising post-doctoral researchers. Another significant form of progress made by this program in conjunction with other means such as the JSPS Asian Core Program was the widening and strengthening of the center’s international networks, fostering cooperation among academic communities in Southeast Asia and East Asia and spurring a process that was set in motion over the years.

While previous JSPS Core University Programs had been designed as bilateral exchange, primarily with Thailand, the active exchanges and network building had far exceeded the bilateral framework. By the end of the second Core Program (1999–2008), the center was ready for a multi-lateral framework to widen its network. The Asian Core Program (2009–13) made this possible. In addition to Thailand represented by Thammasat, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) and Taiwan’s CAPAS Academia Sinica joined to respectively represent mainland Southeast Asia, insular Southeast Asia, and East Asia. The program was titled “Asian Connections: Southeast Asian Model for Co-Existence in the 21st Century.” The projects reflected current debates and emerging issues, with such topics as cross-border connections and regionalism, politico-economic transformations, and resource management. While the projects were varied in their focus and outcome, a common realization was that in this region with rich ecological resources and varied social capital—characterized by plural coexistence along with globalization—negotiations and connections are made in dynamic and layered interfaces. These interfaces need to be analyzed as emerging on the ground rather than based on taken-for-granted units, paradigms, or indices.

Life and Green together with the Asian Core Program made possible various efforts in further strengthening CSEAS’s network in both width and depth, including the exchange of young scholars at the post-doctoral level and strengthening of ties with the East Asian institutions that were now emerging on the global academic scene of Southeast Asian studies.

Starting in 2009, CSEAS began offering its Southeast Asia Seminar (which had been held every year since 1976 in Kyoto for a young Japanese-speaking audience) in English, with lecturers and participants drawn from Japan, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, the United States, and Europe. The international seminar has been held in the following countries so far: Japan (2009), Indonesia (2010), Thailand (2011), the Philippines (2012), Malaysia (2013), and Cambodia (2014), Japan (2015) and Myanmar (2016). The English-language seminar attracts hundreds of applications from all over the world.

2000s - 2015s

It was during this period that the center relaunched and strengthened its journal and publications. The journal Southeast Asian Studies (Tonan Ajia Kenkyu), which had started in 1963 as a bilingual quarterly journal, gained international recognition as a peer-reviewed journal and received increasing numbers of submissions from all over the world. It is a one-of-a-kind journal that, true to the nature of the center, accepts contributions from across the sciences, social science, and humanities. In Japan, it was recognized among young scholars as the first significant step to one’s career as a scholar of Southeast Asia. In 2012, with due respect to the journal’s function and recognition, both domestic and international, the center opted to maintain the journal’s multidisciplinary content but re-fashion the journal by launching the triannual English journal Southeast Asian Studies and the biannual Japanese Journal of Southeast Asian Studies (Tonan Ajia Kenkyu), both peer-reviewed, open to contributions from scholars all over the world, and open-access. These journals showcase the best research conducted in the region.

In addition to the existing monograph series, in 2009—with the great cooperation of Dr. Paul Kratoska of NUS Press at the National University of Singapore and Kyoto University Press—the center launched the Kyoto CSEAS Series on Asian Studies. This was in recognition of the strong need for an Asia-based publication on Southeast Asian studies, in response to the rising quality and quantity of scholarship from the region. The series aims to reach a wide audience with innovative questions and analyses supported by meticulous research. It receives many submissions from around the world and in five years already counts 13 volumes.

The center also started an English-language-only newsletter (published twice a year) that features and introduces cutting-edge research by center staff and fellows. The CSEAS library also supports the academic activities of both the center’s and outside researchers with one of the largest and best collections on Southeast Asian area studies in Japan. The library’s holdings of over 180,000 volumes include an increasing number in the languages of Southeast Asia and various special collections.

During this period CSEAS experienced a further expansion of its network toward multi-lateral exchange reflecting the current new global mapping of Southeast Asian studies, where scholars from the region are the dynamic force. These initiatives made full and extensive use of the center’s resources, building on networks based on the center’s projects with post-doctoral training as well as the visiting scholar program, which brings 14 scholars to Kyoto every year for six months. Over the years, CSEAS has hosted some 300 visiting research scholars from Southeast Asia and other regions.

Group photo of participants at the Hall of Opium, Golden Triangle Park, 2011 Southeast Asian Seminar held in Northern Thailand.

2000s - 2015s

CSEAS has actively sought not only to establish its reputation as the national hub for Southeast Asian studies in Japan, but also to cement its international reputation as a regional and global hub of Southeast Asian studies. Already blessed with deep roots and networks that link Japanese scholars to Southeast Asian scholars, CSEAS has, over the past decades, sought to strengthen its linkages with counterpart institutions in Northeast Asia through regular joint workshops organized with leading institutions such as Academia Sinica’s Center for Asia-Pacific Area Studies and the Korean Association of Southeast Asian Studies. CSEAS also expanded its institutional network by signing substantive memoranda of understanding with a number of institutions in China, South Asia, America, and Europe.

CSEAS’s position as an international hub was further strengthened by its role as partner institution in the Asian Public Intellectuals (API) program of the Nippon Foundation in 2000. API was initiated with the purpose of promoting the multi-lateral exchange of fellows from participating countries, sharing issues, exchanging ideas, learning from each other, connecting transnationally, and forming a community. Aimed at effective information sharing, discussion, and making an impact through raising voices together in a region faced with emergent issues in industrialization, environment and resource, poverty, discrimination, and conflict, API sought to nurture “public intellectuals,” a term that refers not only to academics but also to journalists, artists, NGOs, and civil activists, promoting exchange across disciplines as well as professions. The partner institutions were in Indonesia (Indonesian Institute of Sciences), Malaysia (Institute of Malaysian and International Studies at the National University of Malaysia), the Philippines (School of Social Sciences, Ateneo de Manila University), Thailand (Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University), and Japan (CSEAS, Kyoto University). Each year several fellows were chosen from each country to be sent to one or more countries in the network. In the final three years, fellows from the CLMV countries were also selected. The program, came to an end in 2015, and created an alumni network of 338 fellows (58 from Japan) who form a multi-lateral network across the region. CSEAS contributed to the exchange program by hosting fellows, holding seminars, and hosting the partner institution office, but it also gained from the program, which enhanced the center’s role as a hub in the region.

CSEAS also set up the Visual Documentary Project (VDP), a unique program launched in 2012 to create a bridge between academia and filmmakers based in Southeast Asia. With nearly 343 submissions (as of 2017) dealing with key social and environmental concerns of the region over 5 years, the VDP has developed into platform that is invigorating discussions on how documentaries can help us to rethink the ways issues are framed within the region. Since 2015, CSEAS has not only screened documentaries submitted to the project, but become a hub helping to raise the profile of young and upcoming filmmakers trained and practicing in Southeast Asia. The project has submitted documentaries to the Kyoto International Film and Art Festival (KIFF) providing past selections for viewing to the general public, hosted talks by international renowned documentary filmmakers such as Rithy Panh, and increasingly linked up with film institutions, universities and conferences in the region to share the fruits of this unique endeavor.

Continually building on the imperative to promote regionally-based Southeast Asian studies, CSEAS, in partnership with nine leading Asian and Southeast Asian studies institutions in the region, established a consortium for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia (SEASIA) on October 11, 2013. The consortium charter was signed by the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies, Academia Sinica; the Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University; LIPI; the Korean Association of Southeast Asian Studies; the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University; the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore; the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University; the Taiwan Association of Southeast Asian Studies; the Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam; and the Asian Center, University of the Philippines. Among the most important activities of the SEASIA consortium is its proposed biennial conference, the inaugural event of which will be held in Kyoto on December 12–13, 2015; its call for proposals received nearly 800 applications.

Working in the field is one of the most productive and happiest times (Source: Kono Yasuyuki, in Tha Ngong, Vientiane, Laos, Aug, 2011).

2000s - 2015s

The need for Southeast Asian studies is dramatically increasing. The ASEAN region is home to more than 600 million people and has become an important political and economic entity. The area, located in a tropical region, possesses a wealth of biomass resources provisioned by an abundant solar energy supply and is attracting attention as an area that owns new energy sources that are potential alternatives to fossil fuels.

By focusing on the political, economic, and ecological possibilities in the region, CSEAS is conscious of its responsibility to promote coexistence, environmental harmonization, energy and resource economization, and sustainable social development. Through its linkages and networks with universities and research institutions in the region, CSEAS hopes to pursue and promote knowledge in the region for the purpose of advancing knowledge for future generations around the world. Going into the 21st century, CSEAS has moved with the times, responding to imperatives that arise in Japan, the region, and the world.

In response to the perceived need to pursue scientific research, CSEAS, together with several graduate schools and research institute at Kyoto University, launched the “Japan-ASEAN Science, Technology and Innovation Platform (JASTIP): Promotion of Sustainable Development Research” within the framework of the Collaboration Hubs for International Research Program (CHIRP) in 2015 funded by the Strategic International Collaborative Research Program (SICORP) of Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). JASTIP promotes Japan-ASEAN collaboration on science and technology research and accelerate the application of its outcomes to social innovation in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through this and other initiatives, CSEAS continues to strengthen cooperative research and foster links between ASEAN and Japan; trains researchers to become leaders in their subsequent fields; and accelerates research that will be a driving force with the shared goal to attain sustainable development through closer collaboration between Japan and ASEAN countries.

The center also started an English-language-only newsletter (published twice a year) that features and introduces cutting-edge research by center staff and fellows. The CSEAS library also supports the academic activities of both the center’s and outside researchers with one of the largest and best collections on Southeast Asian area studies in Japan. The library’s holdings of over 180,000 volumes include an increasing number in the languages of Southeast Asia and various special collections.

During this period CSEAS experienced a further expansion of its network toward multi-lateral exchange reflecting the current new global mapping of Southeast Asian studies, where scholars from the region are the dynamic force. These initiatives made full and extensive use of the center’s resources, building on networks based on the center’s projects with post-doctoral training as well as the visiting scholar program, which brings 14 scholars to Kyoto every year for six months. Over the years, CSEAS has hosted some 300 visiting research scholars from Southeast Asia and other regions.

2016 -

2016 Onwards

With the celebration of its 50th anniversary, CSEAS looks back with pride on what it has accomplished while seeking to overcome the crises it has had to face and in the process improved the institution. It continues to keep its eyes on the present and the goals it needs to achieve, look confidently to the future, and face squarely the challenges that remain. As a result of these changes CSEAS has entered its next transformational phase through an institutional merger with the Center for Integrated Studies (CIAS). The aim of this reorganization is to bring together strong the two institutions’ fieldwork expertise, interdisciplinary areas studies and area informatics approaches to enable an even broader perspective, expand and diversify our academic networks, and provide timely and engaged information and analysis that respond to the needs of contemporary societies. Over the remainder of the 21st century we will witness the end of an era that has solely pursued industrial expansion and economic growth. Present day societies face intricately intertwined problems that threaten our security; global environmental issues, economic inequality, religious and cultural friction, large-scale natural disasters, and the spread of epidemics. CSEAS’ remit is to pursue world-class research in close collaboration with partners in Southeast Asia and beyond, draw on its 50 years of exploring the wisdom found in local societies and environments and weave together reality-based and globally comparative perspectives.

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50 years of history at CSEAS

Center for Southeast Asian Studies Kyoto University.











2016- ↑