Dreamy Days at Nichibunken

HSU Peihsien (Professor, Graduate Institute of Taiwan History, National Taiwan Normal University / Visiting Research Scholar)
February 15, 2023

It was a summer afternoon. Sunshine in seven colors refracted through the library’s skylight. This mystical scene reflected my own sense of bright anticipation.


The floor of Nichibunken library, dappled with seven colors refracted through the round skylight. (Photo by the author)

I cannot forget the words of Professor Timon Screech, head of International Research Promotion, when I arrived. “Foreign researchers here should do just one thing: research to their heart’s content.” These remarks struck a chord. In Taiwanese universities, lectures, administration and student supervision take up all our time, and “research to your heart’s content” is out of the question. Here I conduct my research supported by magnificent facilities and people. I am absolutely conduct; it is like a dream.

My research at Nichibunken examines “Daily school life in Colonial Taiwan during the war: focusing on School Journals.” School journals are a category of record vital for modern schools. From the daily reports in the journals, we can understand the circumstances under which school children were mobilized during the war. What drew my attention was the fact that a large number of children were mobilized to collect leaves from the Japanese red cedar. The development of colonial science is in the background here. We see the bringing together of knowledge under school supervision, symbolized by the journals, and colonial scientific knowledge, symbolized by the red cedar’s leaves. One gets a clear sense that schools were an effective site of mobilization.

 It was thanks to my counterpart, Professor Matsuda Toshihiko, that I was able to make observations like that above. Not only did he let me participate in his collaborative research group, where I gave a presentation, but he was always very generous with his support and assistance. I am profoundly grateful to him. It is my intention to invest what I learned and experienced at Nichibunken into academic exchange between Taiwan and Japan.

The end of 2021, when I was preparing to come to Japan, was just when Japanese border controls were in flux. The staff of the International Research Promotion unit, and especially its head, Sasaki Ayako, did everything in their power to enable us foreign researchers to enter Japan without a hitch. I had to lean on them for house-hunting, and all manner of other procedures. After my arrival, they looked after me so well. Everyone has treated me with such kindness: the security guards, the library staff, the common room staff, and other administrative staff, too. I am so grateful.

Time passes when you are having fun. My ten months at Nichibunken are coming to an end. My final tasks are a research group presentation and a forum lecture. I’m worried, though, that I shall not be able to finish reading the manga and other interesting-looking books on the library’s shelves. And then there is the exploration of the mountains behind Nichibunken. I am still here, but already missing it!