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Report on Research Trip to Japan

18. Jul. 2014

Ann-Sophie Schoepfel, a doctoral student (Graduate Programme for Transcultural Studies), has spent three months at the Kyoto University in Japan. The research trip provided her the chance to improve her language skills, cultural understanding, and academic development.

During the trip she was able to meet Japanese scholars, with whom she discussed on her researches, to find books unavailable in Europe and to collect resources for her Ph.D. The trip was supported by the Graduate Programme for Transcultural Studies and funded by the Baden-Württemberg-Scholarship. In the following report, she tells about her experiences in Japan.

Research trip to Japan

The Spring in Kyoto

From 30 January 2014 until 2 May 2014, I spent 3 months in Kyoto on a Baden-Württemberg-Stipendium. During this time I was affiliated with the Department of Social Sciences, located in the Graduate School of Letters, Kyoto University. Professor Kimio Ito was my supervisor during these 3 months. The aim of my stay in Japan was first to visit the National Archives in Tokyo, second to find some books in Japanese about my Ph.D., third to meet with Japanese scholars who are working on war crimes trials or on the Japanese occupation of Indochina during World War II. Moreover, I really wanted to improve my Japanese language skills and to discover the Japanese culture.

Before leaving Europe, the International Relations Office at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg provided assistance with finding accommodations. I found a student room at Yoshida International House located on the Kyoto University Yoshida-South Campus. It was very well sited, at 5 minutes walking from the Central University Library.

Life in Kyoto

The Philosophical Path in Kyoto

When I arrived at Kyoto University, I was very well received by the International Relations Office and by the Department of Social Sciences. A very nice Japanese student in sociology assisted me, as a tutor, with all the administrative steps linked to the registration at the University. Every week, we met up for my Ph.D. research on Japanese war crimes in Indochina. Besides, she helped me learn about the Japanese student life and culture.

During the first two months of my stay, I attended every day Japanese language course at the Kyoto International Community House. The Kyoto International Community House is a space for interaction and cross-cultural communication between the citizens of Kyoto City and people of other cultures. There, I enjoyed very much the tea ceremony course where the basics of the tea ceremony were explained in detail. It was an excellence chance to learn more about Japanese culture.

Parallel with these activities, I wrote an article and the introduction of my Ph.D. The academic environment at Kyoto University enabled me to develop a more detailed approach for my research. I was particularly pleased to find at the University Library some books in Japanese about the French prosecution of Japanese war criminals in Indochina. These books are not available in Europe and are very important for my research.

Kyoto University

Kyoto University (Picture: from Wikimedia Commons)

As soon as I arrived in Kyoto, I contacted many Japanese professors. Before going to Japan, I had met in France Pierre Brocheux, a French historian, and Karoline Postel-Vinay, a Professor at Sciences Po Paris, who strongly recommended me to meet and discuss my research topic with several Japanese scholars. Moreover, Professor Barak Kushner from Cambridge University provided me useful contacts. With their connections, I met many Japanese scholars in Kyoto, Hiroshima and Tokyo (Professor Yoshitsugu Kosuke, Professor Yuki Tanaka, Professor Chizuru Namba, Professor Hayashi Hirofumi, Professor Wasaya Shiraishi, Erika Ikeda, Director of the Women's Active Museum on War and Peace’s Museum in Tokyo, and Kyoichi Tachikawa, Chief of the Military History Division at the Japanese National Institute for Defense Studies). These meetings all turned out to be very enriching. Moreover, Professor Hayashi Hirofumi invited me to attend a seminar in Japanese about Japanese war crimes. I was highly impressed by the knowledge and commitment of the participants in attendance.

In April, I went to Tokyo, where I spend one week at the National Archives. Luckily, I was able to look into very interesting archives which are not available in France and photograph some very interesting material.

During the last weeks of my research stay in Japan, Professor Fuess from Heidelberg University introduced me in Kyoto to Professor Ochiai Emiko, who is leading a research group on ‘comfort issue’ at Kyoto University. Professor Ochiai Emiko gives me the chance to hold a seminar on the French prosecution of Japanese war criminals in Indochina. This seminar provided the opportunity to address the issues of my research. The exchange with Japanese students helped me understand how I could improve my Ph.D.


Erika Ikeda, Director of the Women's Active Museum on War and Peace’s Museum in Tokyo (left), Fumiko Yamashita, Assistant of Erika Ikeda (right), and Anne-Sophie Schoepfel (middle)

To conclude this personal report, I would like to underline that my research stay at Kyoto University on a Baden-Württemberg-Stipendium has been of major importance for my Ph.D.

I went to the National Archives in Tokyo, found valuable resources in Japanese for my Ph.D at the University Library in Kyoto. Moreover, I have met Japanese scholars working on war crimes trials and on the Japanese occupation of Indochina during World War II. Finally, I was not only able to improve my Japanese language skills but also to discover the Japanese academic life.

Therefore, I would like to thank the Baden-Württemberg-Stiftung, Professor Kimio Ito, Professor Fuess and Professor Ochiai Emiko who I met in Kyoto, my supervisors Professor Madeleine Herren-Oesch and Doctor Kerstin von Lingen and the International Relations Office of Heidelberg and Kyoto Universities for their support.

Additional information

About the author

Ann-Sophie Schoepfel is a Ph.D. student of Graduate Programme for Transcultural Studies with history as major and a member of the Project A16 “Transcultural Justice”. Her doctoral thesis focuses on the French Trial Policy in Tokyo and at Saigon in 1946-1953.

About the GPTS

The Graduate Programme for Transcultural Studies (GPTS) is a structured doctoral programme within the interdisciplinary research environment of the Cluster. Doctoral students are taught by scholars working within the Cluster and have access to a vibrant international scholarly community. The Graduate Programme is directed by Professor Harald Fuess, who is Chair of “Cultural Economic History”.


Support to study abroad

Master and PhD students can receive support to finance and organise their research stays abroad. The Cluster offers partner programmes to study abroad, which are especially tailored to the M.A. Transcultural Studies. The following exchange programmes from other institutes are suitable for students of the Cluster "Asia and Europe" as well:

ERASMUS programme at Heidelberg University

The ERASMUS programme supports students to study abroad in one country of the European Union. An overview on the partner institutions of Heidelberg University arranged according to the area of studies is available on this website.

Heidelberg Prize Lectureship at University of Chicago

Two student lectureships are awarded each year by the University of Chicago in cooperation with the Cluster “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”. The lectureships enable advanced graduate students to acquire teaching experience in a field broadly related to the discipline of history at the University of Chicago, USA.

Baden-Württemberg Stipendium

The Baden-Württemberg Stiftung enables students from all over the world to study in a foreign country for a period of three to eleven months. The scholarships are divided equally between applicants from Baden-Württemberg and from abroad.


  • Ann-Sophie Schoepfel in Kyoto-Museum