Welcome to the “Ren 101: EAA Review of Books” site. This is an online platform to map the expanding and transforming world of liberal arts through the constellation of review articles. Each contributor aims to discover unnoticed links between different disciplines, and the articles will invite readers to associate subjects in various fields of study from a fresh perspective. Cultivating the power of “association” is an underlying theme in this editorial project.
In Japanese, the word “ren” (連) means “association” or to “associate.” Historically, it also signified a type of literary circle in which people from different backgrounds gathered and pursued collaborative arts in early modern Japan. The cultural role of “Ren” in eighteenth-century Japan would be similar to that of coffeehouses in eighteenth-century Britain. In early modern Japan, “Ren” was a creative space of conversation and intellectual exchange as a playful activity, relatively free from social boundaries. This model of communication would provide a case study for EAA members to consider the collaborative form and space of liberal arts. Based on these multi-layered meanings of the word “ren,” we have chosen it as our title for the EAA Book Review website.
For Japanese speakers, the alphabetical transcription of “連” into “ren” would stimulate the further chain of association, as there are many homonyms with the same spelling. Some examples of “ren” are “練” (mix), “憐” (pity) and “恋” (love). The title of this review site can be the object of your association. We, co-editors, welcome the fluidity of the meaning and implication of “ren” in the name of this collection of reviews. This fluidity and chain of association extend beyond the Japanese language. For Chinese speakers, “ren” can take the meaning of “仁” (benevolence) and “人” (human being) among others. English speakers may associate the spelling with the word “Renaissance.” The development of this review site in a multilingual environment should allow expansion and transformation of the meaning of “ren” beyond our original intention.
The number “101” has two symbolic meanings for EAA. (Needless to say, it has nothing to do with 101 Dalmatians.) Firstly, the EAA Komaba Campus Office is located in the 101 Building, a historic building originally used for international education. EAA members therefore associate “101” with home, a cozy multilingual space for intellectual exchange. Secondly, modern Japanese intellectual Amane Nishi (1829-97) once introduced the Western encyclopedia to Japan under the name of Hyaku Gaku Ren Kan (“百学連環” The Chains of Hundred Kinds of Learning). Almost 150 years have passed since he envisaged the system of Western learning as the chains of 100 branches of knowledge. For us, the number “101” expresses our aspiration to go beyond Nishi’s vision. Under the name of “101”, we endeavor to find subjects and themes outside of the current system of learning represented as “100”.
For the launch of this site in 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, three EAA members act as major reviewers. Yusuke Wakazawa is interested in the fact that eighteenth-century thinkers across the globe discussed human nature, literature and sentiments, and the system of learning. Through writing EAA reviews, he embarks on conceptualizing the “synchronicity” of thought in the global eighteenth century. Hanako Takayama seeks to explore the intersection between literary expression and visual representation, an interest that led her to write a review article on the anthropology of images. Seitaro Maeno attempts to combine the practice of fieldwork with the outcome of interpreting literary texts. Based on his research experience as an agricultural sociologist, he examines the world of Buddhist folklore in his first review article here. Yusuke, Hanako and Seitaro co-edit and manage this review site. Ren 101: EAA Review of Books welcomes contributions and responses from students and scholars both within and beyond the East Asian Academy for New Liberal Arts, University of Tokyo. For inquiries, comments and suggestions, please feel free to contact the editorial team (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Yusuke Wakazawa (EAA Project Research Fellow)
Hanako Takayama (EAA Project Assistant Professor)
Seitaro Maeno (EAA Project Assistant Professor)