The world of the 21st century is awash with the effects of globalization, both in the economic sphere, and in information. The developments brought by globalization have been accompanied by many downsides, including environmental degradation and the problem of the North-South divide, which it is incumbent upon all of us as human beings to try to solve. At the same time, everywhere we look, we see new problems arising―an over-emphasis on ethnic identity and regionalism―that have their origin in the collapse of the old East-West structures of the Cold War. These ideologies are essentially the extreme expressions of local ethnic conflicts and the contradictions between traditional culture and the processes of modernization. However, as yet, no one has succeeded in coming up with new paradigms that can allow for the coexistence of these divergent global and regional (or local) forces.
Such problems are perhaps the most extreme in areas of the developing world, and especially in the countries of Asia and Africa. These areas, which lie over low-latitude tropical regions, have their own distinct history of development, and they are at present facing a crucially important turning point in their history. It is no exaggeration to say that the movements and transformations that take place in Asia and Africa over the next decade or so will greatly influence the shape of the world order in the 21st century.
At such a critical juncture, it is vital that we contribute socially and academically as citizens of the world to the establishment of a new world order that is appropriately directed toward the sustainable development of the global community, and toward the independence and coexistence of the Asian and African regions. In order to do so, we need to promote an interdisciplinary and holistic approach to area studies, one that transcends conventional disciplinary boundaries. The Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies offers a program of education and research based on fieldwork, different from traditional text-reading or experimental studies, and trains specialists in Asian and African Studies who possess an in-depth and detailed understanding of their area of study but who are at the same time equipped with a broad global perspective.
The expectations of the world community with regard to Japan’s contributions in overseas development aid continue to grow. In the meantime, the emphasis in international cooperation has been changing, from material assistance (or “hard” aid)―building infrastructure for technological or economic development, for example―to providing personnel who are capable of assisting in planning the realization of sustainable economic development and social welfare policies and so on, consonant with local conditions and needs. Successful implementation of this so-called “soft” aid hinges on a deep understanding of the intrinsic characteristics of the areas, that is to say their distinct ecology, society and culture. This is especially so in the management of international aid in low-latitude tropical Asia and Africa, which are in many respects so radically different from Japan and Euramerican countries.
ASAFAS was established precisely in order to respond to these kinds of social and academic demands. With a five-year doctoral program as its basis, the School places longitudinal fieldwork at the very heart of its methods, providing a program of education and research aimed at a holistic appreciation of ecology, society and culture in Africa and Asia, and their interrelationship. In addition to training specialists in Asian and African area studies, the School aims to produce personnel capable of working in the practical world of international aid organizations. Accordingly, ASAFAS will, if requested to do so by students, provide Master’s Degrees after the usual two-year juncture, to help with career options.