Border Studies Summer School 2018 at the Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan: a brief debrief

From July 2 to 5 2018, I had the chance to attend the Border Studies Summer School organized by the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center (SRC) and the Public Policy School (HOPS) at the Hokkaido University. I live-tweeted in French the different conferences with the hashtag #BSSSSapporo on my account @BenoitVaillot

The first part of the programme reviewed the borders in North-East Asia and addressed a large number of subjects from a comparative perspective. That gave me a better understanding of the diplomatic, economic and cultural relations between the various States in the region. But above all, even though I already knew a little bit the region through my general background, thinking from a regional point of view and being in Japan completely changed my perspective. This has been a good way to revise my European perspective and I hope I will import some visions I discovered here in my work. In a more general way, it was really important to share with students from all over Asia, but also from America. I am used to working with international researchers, but they are mostly Europeans, and if we can have different approaches in Europe, they remain very close in comparison with the approaches I encountered at this Border Studies Summer School. The various conferences were very effective in capturing the region’s main border issues.

Professor Akihiro Iwashita (Hokkaido University), pioneer of border studies in Asia, introduced this first part of the programme, while Professor David Wolf (Hokkaido University) spoke of the construction of North East Asia as a space and a concept, geographically centred on the Korean peninsula. Wooyeal Paik (Yonsei University) intervened on China’s borders, and particularly those of its authoritarian neighbours, North Korea and Myanmar: a fine case study for understanding the influence of borders in authoritarian regimes domestic politics. In a different way, Edward Boyle (Kyushu University) traced Japan’s territorial construction in order to analyse Japan’s relations with its neighbours, with whom it has territorial disputes (see below). For example, the island of Hokkaido was late integrated into Japan, and was called Ezo until the incorporation that only begin with the Meiji era. This island was a bridgehead to Sakhalin and Kuril islands, which fanned the lust of Russia.

Jonathan Bull, for his part, spoke of post-imperial memory in Japan, a memory that cannot be reconciled with those of its neighbours — at the moment. The Japanese understanding of migration in the twentieth century is closely linked to their vision of the end of the Japanese Empire, in which they willingly considered themselves as victims, while Japan’s neighbours suffered from Japanese imperialism until 1945. A very excellent sum-up of the North Korean Issue was made by Professor Naomi Chi (Hokkaido University), who showed well the current paradoxes of the division of the Korean peninsula: cooperation in many fields without peace treaty or even recognition of the regime on each side of the Demilitarized Zone. I was particularly interested as a historian by Ed Pullford, who put the social actors, and in particular the most marginal (smugglers, bandits, guerilleros) in the production of borders in North East Asia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and more particularly in the region where Russia, China and Korea have a common border. And finally, Christophe Sohn spoke about cross-border cooperation in Europe through three main cases: Geneva, Oresund and Luxembourg.

The second part of the programme was devoted to the governance and the public policies in a globalized world. Thanks to Naomi Chi, the main concepts and a general overview were explained. The focus was first on the United States border with Laurie Trautmann (Border Policy Research Institute), who is working on the U.S.-Canadian border and Professor Mark Montoya (University of Arizona), who is dealing with the U.S.-Mexican border at a time when the U.S. president wants to build a border wall. It is interesting to see how the issues are different, and in the case of Mexico, the border is not only economic and political, but also racial. I really appreciated the documentary Statelessness, which taught me that there were people without citizenship in Japan, but not only, because of the complex history of migrations and political shifts in Eastern Asia.

Naomi Chi reviewed the migration situation in Japan and South Korea, and linked them to the relations between the two countries. One must fight the widespread idea that there is no immigration to Japan, nor identity problems. There are Koreans living in Japan for a very long time, and very few have taken Japanese nationality because it is very difficult. At the same time, Japan welcomed Japanese descendants, for example, from Brazil. Japan needs workers for its economy, especially in the care sector. Then, Alexander Bukh (Wellington University) explained the different territorial disputes Japan has with its neighbours: claims on Senkaku Island (with China and Taïwan), Etorofu islands (Iturup administered by Russia) and on Takeshima islands (Dokdo for Koreans) administered by South Korea. The documentary This Land is Ours he made was very interesting to understand the claims on the Senkaku/Dokdo islands from below, through the activists group of Japan and Korea who are claiming theses islands for their respective country. Professor Iwashita concluded the programme with the border tourism, taking the example of the Russian-Chinese border, with which it is possible to solve conflicts.

I warmly recommend the Border Studies Summer School programme at the Hokkaido University. I learned so much about North East Asia and its borders and really enjoyed the documentary films that point to another aspects of the issues raised during the program. The interdisciplinary approach made it possible not only to address geopolitical problems, but also to consider the different actors in the region in a historical context.

I really want to add that the organization was extraordinarily amazing and efficient. I respectfully thank the Professor Iwashita and Professor Chi for everything they have done. Undoubtedly, this Border Studies Summer School was a great success.


Benoit Vaillot

Doctorant en histoire (EHESS, Paris) / Arche EA 3400 (Université de Strasbourg). PhD Researcher (European University Institute, Florence). Coordinateur du séminaire doctoral "Nationalism Working Group" hébergé à l'Institut Universitaire Européen.

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