Digital Humanities and Buddhist Studies in Japan: An Interview with Kiyonori Nagasaki (2/2)

This is the second part of our interview with Professor Kiyonori Nagasaki (twitter @knagasaki), Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Digital Humanities in Tokyo, and technical director of the SAT project. The first part, published in July, can be found here.

In this part of the interview, we ask Professor Nagasaki more specifically about Digital Humanities for Buddhist studies and about the Digital Humanities community in Japan.

DO: What do you see as the future for Digital Humanities in Buddhist Studies more generally?

KN: Now, Digital Humanities in Buddhist studies is being carried out not only by the SAT project, but also by CBETA (The Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association), the BDRC (Buddhist Digital Resource Center) and many other organizations and projects. But beyond these larger projects, with the advent of GitHub and Open Licenses, it has become possible for individuals to apply the latest methods of analysis to large-scale data and to provide new services using that data. Thus, although DH largely relies on developments in the realm of information technology, the trial-and-error process in the application of this technology can be carried out in a more democratic way. As a result, with the introduction of multiple developments in software, and the increased convenience of doing such research, I imagine that now, more than ever, new developments will appear independently from many different places.

That is to say, while such large projects will continue to be significant, I think we are moving from an era of large-scale projects aimed at providing services to a large number of people, to an era of large-scale data that can be customized and manipulated in response to the needs of individuals and smaller organizations.

Using the Word2Vec analysis software within the SAT Database to visualize relationships between different words, ideas, and texts.

DO: What is your involvement with the JADH (Japanese Association for Digital Humanities) and with DH in Japan in general?

KN: I am one of the founding members of the JADH and the current head of the executive board, and I am also the representative of the JADH to Constituent Organization Board of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO).

The DH community in Japan is centered on the Computers and the Humanities Special Interest Group (SIG-CH; jinbun-gaku to konpyūta kenkyūkai 人文科学とコンピュータ研究会) of the Information Processing Society of Japan (IPSJ, or jōhō shori gakkai 情報処理学会), founded in 1989. I joined this organization around 2001, and have worked for them from time to time as a member of the steering committee, a general secretary, or symposium program committee member, among other positions.

The SIG-CH mainly focuses on the DH Community in Japan, working in the Japanese-language, and at the time being, runs three workshops per year for non-peer reviewed work, and one conference per year featuring peer reviewed research. For the peer-reviewed conference, as many as 160 people attend.

In addition, the JADH is affiliated with the ADHO, which was established in 2012 in response to the trend toward internationalization in the Digital Humanities. The JADH joined the ADHO soon after the founding of this organization, which has held an English-language international symposium for DH every year in Japan, involving many of the same people as the SIG-CH. Although there aren’t typically as many participants in this conference as there are for the Japanese-language conferences, this conference involves many participants from overseas, and contributes to international exchange of DH in Japan.

In addition to providing Buddhist texts in their Chinese versions, the SAT platform also offers digitized translations of some works, seen here in parallel to a digitized original.

In addition, I am also the editor of our e-newsletter Digital Humanities Monthly (Jinbun jōhō gappō 人文情報学月報; ISSN:2189-1621), published monthly since 2011. For this, we ask researchers in the field of Digital Humanities, humanities scholars with an interest in digital technology, information scientists with an interest in humanities, or librarians and curators with an interest in DH to write introductions for each month’s edition, and use this publication to feature a variety of information related to DH from both Japan and beyond.

The articles include, for instance, how-to guides for useful DH tools, information about upcoming DH events, reports on recent research and technical developments, etc. (Actually, our newsletter is somewhat similar to The Digital Orientalist.)

Many of these are written by graduate students and younger researchers, but we also include articles by more senior scholars. For example, we recently featured a Japanese translation of an article by the former chair of the ADHO. We have already published two books based on the articles from this newsletter, and in the future, we plan to continue producing this resource, and to carry articles that are useful in a variety of ways.

Screen capture of an annotated Mandala from the SAT Taishōzō Image DB. Originally published as an appendix to the Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō Canon of Buddhist Scriptures, many images within the Image DB have been annotated in detail using the IIIF standard.

In terms of specific projects, as I spoke about in the first part of the interview, the Japanese DH community is putting in efforts to propagate widely used international “defacto” standards like the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) Guidelines , and the IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework) Standards. Along with Professor Charles Muller, I established the East Asian/Japanese Language Special Interest Group (SIG East Asian/Japanese) within the TEI Consortium in 2016, and at present, am working with Prof. Kazuhiro Okada 岡田一祐 and Prof. Satoru Nakamura 中村覚 on the steering committee to promote the use of the TEI Guidelines in Japan.

In regards to IIIF, we began using this system in 2015, and had it integrated as the platform of the SAT Taishōzō Image DB from 2016. 
From then, we have held seminars throughout Japan for researchers, librarians, museum curators, and engineers working for industries, to introduce not only IIIF in general but teach how to on-board and structure data in the system, through Blog posts, academic articles, essays, books etc., aiming to develop an environment that was easy to work with IIIF in.

These activities are mainly done under the auspices of the Center of Next-Generation Humanities Development at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, a member of the IIIF Consortium. In 2017, under the supervision of Prof. Akihiko Takano 高野明彦 of the National Institute of Informatics (NII), we invited about eight members of the IIIF to Japan to hold events in Fukuoka, Kyoto, and Tokyo to propagate the use of the standard.

Because the IIIF system was a good fit for Japan’s cultural institutions (like libraries, archives, and museums), and because it was adopted early on and with impressive results by the National Diet Library, and the ROIS-DS Center for Open Data in the Humanities (CODH), the use of this system has spread relatively quickly.

Using the IIIF System to compare multiple editions of a work to a digital edition within the SAT database.

DO: Is there work in DH that is going on in Japan that sets this community apart? Is there any work going on in the Japanese DH community that you feel deserves attention outside Japan?

KN: Well, this is only a general impression, but perhaps because the Japanese DH community is based around a Special Interest Group of the Information Processing Society, researchers with an information science background seem to make up a larger share of participants than they do in overseas DH organizations. Because of that, I feel that DH in Japan is led a bit more strongly from an informatics perspective, and as such, is a bit weaker in terms of putting issues in the humanities at the forefront than it may be in Europe or North America.

However, or rather because of that, I feel that instead of tending toward being a special field within the humanities, the DH community has aimed at developing a “methodological commons” between these different fields.

In addition, the application of digital techniques to linguistics, sociology, and social sciences, as well as the critique of digital media take place as separate fields, so one could say there are a variety of different endeavors that make up the DH community in Japan.

Although DH deals with a variety of different fields depending on the country or language group, even among such groups, my impression is that the scope of Japan’s decentralized DH community is still relatively narrow.

The landing page of the Digital Hōbōgirin, a new reference resource made available by the SAT project.

As for projects that I think researchers from outside Japan should more aware of, of course there is the SAT project that I myself work on, but there is also the Minna de Honkoku みんなで翻刻 project (featured on DO last year), the Miwo みを project and app (also featured on DO) the Shiryohensan-jo Historical Information Processing System (SHIPS) from the University of Tokyo Historiographical Institute and the Ritsumeikan Art Research Center, which are already somewhat well-known internationally.

Beyond that, some newer projects that are perhaps not as well-known are the Next Digital Library (Kinsedai Dejitaru raiburari 次世代デジタルライブラリ), a full-text search for the public-domain works recently made available by the National Diet Library, the Edomi project of the ROIS-DS Center for Open Data in the Humanities (CODH), the Literary Maps Project (Nihon no dejitaru bungaku chizu 日本のデジタル文学地図), nihuBridge a service that connects several databases created by the National Institute for the Humanities, and in regard to Buddhist studies, the Digital Hōbōgirin 法寶義林 and, although perhaps a little older, the Indo-Tibetan Lexical Resource (ITLR), a project done in collaboration with researchers based in Germany, Austria and Japan.

Thank you again to Professor Nagasaki for taking the time to answer all of our questions in detail.

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