1. Area Studies: Interdisciplinary Approach for Complex Phenomenon

There is a limit to study complex phenomenon by the single academic discipline approach. In order to focus on real world in Africa and produce research findings thereon, researchers need to utilize a diverse range of knowledge and Interdisciplinary methods. Faculty members in the DAAS have a broad variety of disciplinary expertise–including anthropology, linguistics, cultural studies, geography, economics, ecology, agronomy, and soil sciences –and are working on many different research topics, ranging from rural community development and poverty eradication to wildlife conservation and management, desertification, indigenous ecological knowledge, and communication. We also have researchers working in partnership with organizations such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and the World Bank to tackle local problems and apply their research findings for the benefit of wider society. We are very proud of the diversity of expertise among our faculty members and the experience they have accumulated through long-term research engagement with Africa.

The same kind of diversity characterizes our graduate student body. In addition to the disciplines named above, we have students working in academic fields such as international relations, political science, education, literature, psychology, sociology, architecture, environmental science, and religious studies. Students’ personal backgrounds are also highly diverse: some have joined us after completing graduate programs at other universities, working at non-government organizations or private companies in Africa, or participating in the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers; others are international students from outside Japan. In the DAAS, we train our students to draw freely on different disciplines across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences in order to identify and pursue solutions to problems in line with the realities of the region they are studying.

2. Fieldwork and Unique Research Outputs

Almost all the researchers in the DAAS travel to Africa to engage in fieldwork at the specific locations. There are many different types of fieldwork, but most graduate students either take up residence in a rural village or urban area, living together with the local community, or reside in a Kyoto University Field Station, the local university dormitory, or guest house within travelling distance of the research place. The research site is closely interrelated with the choice of research topic; these are crucial choices and students should make in consultation with their supervisors.

As they accumulate experiences in the field, students, aided by their supervisors, decide on a research topic and begin collecting data in earnest. The length of stay in the field site varies depending on the research topic, but most students spend between four and seven months doing fieldwork in the research countries before submitting their pre-doctoral theses in the second year. Many students become multi-lingual during fieldwork, gaining proficiency not only in languages such as English and French, but also local languages including Swahili, Lingala, Amharic, Ali, Hausa, Luganda, and Bemba.

Lack of previous fieldwork experience is no impediment to our research activities. Successful fieldwork demands a well-defined research topic and approach to data-collection, but it is also important to develop an understanding of the region and its ethnic groups, a proficiency in local languages, an ability to keep conversations going, a good personality, tolerance, smiles, a penchant for drinking . . . and many other factors. Nobody excels at every one of these things, and neither should you over-extend yourself. The basics of fieldwork are covered in lectures and seminars in the first semester of first year. Prior to departure for Africa, and in the course of fieldwork, the faculty members provide attentive advices. Students with doubts and concerns receive the full support of their supervisors and other staff. All students begin their fieldwork with some trepidation, but are soon able to establish their own approaches to life in Africa, refining their research topics through ongoing research and data-collection, and eventually producing unique research findings that reflect profound understanding of the African regions.

3. Interactive Tutorition and Autonomous Research Activity

New students enroll in April, and by mid-May they choose one main supervisor and two associate supervisors. (The supervisors are allocated for the MEXT scholarship students before they come to Japan.) They make their decisions after auditing classes offered by the faculty members and talking with them in their offices. Then, in consultation with their three newly-appointed supervisors, students decide on a fieldwork site, research topic, and fieldwork schedule. Some students plan to undertake fieldwork for lengthy periods of three months or more, so detailed discussions are required not only regarding research methods, data-collection skills, and experimental techniques, but also on the acquisition of language skills, basic living needs, safety and security in the field site, and medication to prevent diseases such as malaria. In some cases faculty members accompany students on their fieldwork, helping them to learn basic fieldwork skills, eating meals together, and keeping in close contact.

After returning to Japan, students receive dissertation supervision as they draft a doctoral dissertation using the data from their fieldwork. Research topic, approaches, data, and dissertation content vary from student to student. In the DAAS, we take a tailor-made and interactive approach to education that respects the individuality of each student. Our students continue to produce unique research outputs, including presentations at conferences, research workshops, and symposia, articles for publication in academic journals, and both co-authored and sole-authored papers.

4. On-site Education and Support Systems

Research and educational activities in the DAAS are pursued in collaboration with Center for African Area Studies (CAAS). The Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies (ASAFAS) and the CAAS have agreements with leading universities in Africa for the exchange of the faculty, research fellows, and graduate students. Under these agreements, students undertaking fieldwork in Africa are matched with research counterparts in their research countries.

Local platforms for research are provided through our six field stations located in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, Zambia, and Niger (operations currently suspended due to security concerns in Niger). In their research activities, DAAS students benefit from a network of the faculty, DAAS alumni, and other researchers both domestically and internationally. Ongoing efforts are also made to minimize the financial burden on students undertaking fieldwork, through travel subsidies supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) through programs such as Global-COE and the Support Program for Improving Graduate School Education, as well as by the Kyoto University Center for On-Site Education and Research (COESER).

5. Substantial Research Resources and Facilities

Unlike the national capital Tokyo, Kyoto is a university town where it is easy to absorb oneself in academic pursuits. Kyoto University itself is a major center of Area Studies, with vibrant programs of research undertaken not only in ASAFAS, but also in CAAS, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, (CSEAS) and Center for Integrated Area Studies (CIAS). Our university boasts Japan’s most extensive collection of published works in African Area Studies, and researchers are also aided by access to many electronic journals that are unavailable at other universities. Each graduate student is provided with an individual desk and bookshelf in the students’ rooms.

Graduate students can also interact with the many experts in Area Studies and related academic fields at Kyoto University. The CAAS holds English-language seminar series known as KUASS (Kyoto University African Studies Seminar), providing opportunities to hear from experts in a wide variety of academic fields. Public lectures, symposia, and other events are also held on an ad hoc basis.

Almost all our faculty members are engaged in projects funded by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and/or private sector research grants. A notable feature is the large number of projects undertaken, and the many highly specialized research workshops held. Through participation in these workshops, graduate students acquire extensive knowledge and academic mindsets, and pursue their own research in an environment that supports the development of academic networks.

6. Wednesday Seminars

We hold seminars on Wednesday afternoons each week, known as the “Wednesday Seminars”. In most graduate schools, seminars are held at the individual department or laboratory level, with only one or a few faculty members providing supervision. Seminars in the DAAS, however, are held at the divisional level. Each student is affiliated with a single course (Political Ecology, Cultural Ecology, and Historical Ecology) of which his or her main supervisor is in charge, but all students in the DAAS attend the Wednesday Seminars of the Division.

Students have many opportunities to give seminar presentations–including before they depart for fieldwork in Africa, after they return, or before they submit their pre-doctoral theses and doctoral dissertations–as practice for their public defense, in preparation for conference presentations, and before they submit their dissertations. Student presenters at the Wednesday Seminars gain a wealth of advice, regardless of formal supervision relationships, from faculty members, researchers, and senior and junior fellow students, and acquire many techniques essential for their research.

In addition to the Wednesday Seminars, students with similar interests and concerns come together in activities such as research and study workshops, reading groups, and film viewings. Small-group extracurricular seminars are also held to supplement the Wednesday Seminar format.

7. Support for Diverse Career Paths

Students completing their studies in the DAAS find work in a lot of different areas. Many become university faculty members and researchers, but many others find employment in private companies connected with Africa (in such fields as manufacturing, construction, general trading, travel and tourism, and information and communications), and in non-government and non-profit organizations. In cooperation with the Career Development Office of ASAFAS, the DAAS supports students in their selection of a career path that matches their interests. Non-Japanese speakers face troubles for job hunting in Japan. Japanese language skills are important for job hunting in Japan. If you wish get jobs in Japan, you should learn Japanese language and some business manners during your stay at DAAS.

Our Graduate School offers a non-divided doctoral program with a standard enrollment period of five years. Many prospective students are daunted at the prospect of spending five years engaged in research on Africa. Others are concerned about the financial burden. Please remember that after two years of enrollment and submission of a pre-doctoral thesis, it is possible to graduate with a Master’s degree. If you have concerns prior to enrollment, we encourage you to pay a visit to one of our faculty members and share your concerns with them. Japanese companies are keen to employ people capable of adapting to societies in other parts of the world, including Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and globally capable individuals with fieldwork experience in Africa are in high demand. The possibilities for applying your skills are limitless, not only in academic research but in the corporate world. We will continue our efforts to cultivate individuals to excel in a broad range of careers.