Interrelating Distance and Interaction (IDI) / East Asia and the West in the 19th and 20th Centuries Encounters, Interaction and Images (EAW)

PI Prof. Olavi K. Fält


Members of the research group:

  • Professor Olavi K. Fält (olavi.falt(at)
  • Postdoctoral researcher Riika-Leena Juntunen (riiku_juntunen(at)
  • Postdoctoral researcher Tuula Okkonen (Tuula.okkonen(at)
  • Doctoral student Juha Sahi (j.sahi(at)
  • Postdoctoral researcher Juha Saunavaara (juha.saunavaara(at)
  • Doctoral student Ari Uusitalo (ari.uusitalo(at)


Ongoing research:

  • Fält: Globalisation and cultural identity: Western image of Japan in the post-war world
  • Juntunen: Local religion and space in 20th century China (Funding: Jenni and Antti Wihuri Foundation)
  • Okkonen: Vanhat muistomerkit, uudet vallanpitäjät: Yhdysvaltojen monumenttipolitiikka Japanissa 1945–52 (Old monuments, new ruling powers: USA’s monument policy in Japan in 1945–1952)
  • Sahi: Suomen ja Japanin kauppasuhteet 1919–1974 (Funding: the Finnish Doctoral School of History) (Finland’s and Japan’s trade relations in 1919–1974)
  • Saunavaara: Recreating a region: The Allied occupation of Japan and its legacy in post-war Hokkaido (Funding: Academy of Finland)
  • Uusitalo: United States and Philippine Independence 1930-34


1. Scientific goals and innovativeness

Although the increasing interaction and mutual dependence between East Asia and the West—the first-mentioned referring mainly to China, Japan and Korean Peninsula and the latter understood roughly as the countries and societies of Europe and its descendants who share similar traditions, values, religions, etc.—are often described as distinctive phenomena characterising the past decades and especially the anticipated future, these developments cannot be described as new or ahistorical processes. While the recent trends can only be understood in connection with their historical roots, they can, however, be used as indications that speak on behalf of the importance of studying transcultural encounters and interaction in the context of East Asia. The EAW group defines transcultural encounters widely as including interaction between states, actions made in the name of a state(s), on behalf of a state(s), as well as actions of non-governmental organisations and private enterprises. 

Although this group and its common aims were identified only a short while ago, this identification is built on a solid and well-established foundation. Namely, the study of the modern history of East Asia (especially Japan) in the University of Oulu has a history of its own, dating back to the 1970s. This research has been conducted within the discipline of History in cooperation with Japanese studies and East and Southeast Asian studies and it has resulted in 6 doctoral dissertations, approximately 30 Master’s theses and an array of journal articles. 

While cooperation between scholars in different stages of their career has been close throughout the years, the existence of a research group with a clear identity and aims is believed to bring added value to the existing situation. While the EAW group still consists of researchers whose projects have specific spatial, temporal and thematic outlines, they are all connected with phenomena such as modernisation, westernisation, spread and spreading of values (Christianity, democracy, liberalism, capitalism, socialism, etc.) and globalisation.

These phenomena are essential parts of the historical context in which the key processes of interaction between East Asia and the Western world took place during the 19th and 20th centuries. These processes are: 1) Growing consciousness/awareness that has been interlocked with the growing interaction and increase in information; 2) Evaluation and reaction to the increase in consciousness, interaction and information; and 3) Adaptation, resistance, admiration, coexistence, conflict that has followed the original reaction and re-evaluation.

While these—often simultaneously occurring and contradicting—processes are observed and analysed within political, economic and societal realms, clear temporal, spatial and thematic focus areas can be recognised. The image of Japan in the Western world in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Allied occupation of Japan in 1945–52 and its legacy for contemporary Japan, Finland/Finnish actors and East Asia, and Western missionary work in East Asia constitute four distinctive cases of transcultural encounters where expertise is already present and where the requirements and features of a focus area (researchers, funding, publications, international networks, etc.) already exist.

While the door is open for new focus areas, it is especially hoped that the cooperation with other research groups/individual researchers within the ‘Transcultural Encounters’ group will lead the way to comparative studies. It is believed that when the processes that have so far been studied in the context of East Asia are compared with relevant counterparts that represent different spatial and temporal contexts, both our understanding concerning the nature of the process and its special characteristics in East Asia will improve.

The EAW group has also more easily measurable aims and objectives. These are: 1) increasing the number of publications (especially international peer-reviewed journal articles); 2) increasing or at least securing the current level of research funding; and 3) organising an international symposium in Oulu in 2014 or 2015.

While the ongoing projects are typically funded by personal researcher grants, it is believed that implementation of a more coordinated research plan offers possibilities for and guides toward application for project-level funding. The increasing cooperation is not to restrict individuals’ freedom of research, but to assist, for example, in creating and consolidating (maybe even institutionalising) relations between researchers in Oulu and abroad (especially in the East Asian region).

In general, the EAW group strives for recognition as one of the leading Asian studies groups in Finland and the Nordic countries. In its focus areas, the group aims at global recognition. In addition, continuous participation in popular discussion concerning Asia in the role of an expert is found an important and highly valued function. The surge in general knowledge and interest in Asia has both increased the need for specialists’ input to the discussion and raised the bar for the content of these inputs. 


2. Scientific merits of the researchers

The research group’s publications and success in the competition for research funding are the main indicators verifying the high level of significance and quality. In addition, it can be assumed that the existing international cooperation speaks on behalf of the appreciation felt toward the research group and its individual members.

It is also worth noting that some of the Asia-oriented researches who have close working relations with the ‘East Asia and the West’ research group decided to join other RAE groups. Nevertheless, this does not mean their valuable contributions to the research on East Asia would automatically disappear.


3. Research environment

Regional studies are multi- and interdisciplinary almost by definition. In addition, international cooperation comes as a standard when a Finland-based research group studies East Asia. Each individual member of the research group already has their established contacts in East Asia and also has fieldwork experience. Therefore, it can be argued that the members of the group are already familiar with the research environment that is formed by the network of institutions, organisations and individual actors located not only in Oulu or Finland, but also in different parts of East Asia and the rest of the world.      


4. Position of the RC with regard to the world leaders in the field

Individual members of the EAW group are already known among the specialists of their fields. They participate actively in international conferences and have other types of dialogue with their colleagues around the world. However, while the Department of History, University of Oulu, is nationally recognised as a location where studies on East Asia (especially Japan) are conducted, international visibility has mainly come through the acts of individual researchers and through the international symposium ‘Japan and Finland in Transition, 1945–1990’, organised in August 2009. Furthermore, during the past few years, the EAW group has hosted several visiting scholars from different East Asian universities. These visitors have not only contributed to the research conducted in Oulu, but their knowhow has also been integrated into the teaching of History, Japanese studies and East and Southeast Asian studies (recorded lectures, etc.). It is, however, hoped that further coordination and cooperation within the EAW group will crystallise its identity and help it establish an internationally recognised position.

The Asia-related expertise in Finland is rather scattered and consists of individual researchers working in different universities. For years, the Graduate School of Contemporary Asian Studies and its successor, the Doctoral Program of Contemporary Asian Studies, at least partly solved the challenge of heterogeneity. While three members of the EAW group completed their dissertation within these graduate schools, there is now room for new initiatives because of radical changes in the funding of doctoral training in Finland. Although national cooperation will continue within the University Network for Asian Studies, the research on East Asia is in a state of flux.

The Nordic Institute of Asian Studies and the Nordic Association for the Study of Contemporary Japanese Society are the most important cooperation partners in the Nordic Region. The former is a destination for research visits and the latter has acted as a platform where ongoing research and new research initiatives are discussed. The research group’s contacts in East Asia concentrate on Japan. Osaka University, Meijo University, Hokkaido University, Keio University, Hitotsubashi University and the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) are examples of institutions with whom the group is actively cooperating. At the moment, the group is opening a new type of research cooperation with a researcher from Yokohama National University. This new initiative is found important as it might open doors for future projects that could utilise the possibilities provided by the University of Oulu unit (CVC Nippon) in Yokohama. (short- and long-term research visits, common research, assistance when applying funding, etc.)

Last updated: 30.4.2015