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Jubilee Conference of the Scholarly Subject of Japanese Studies at Sofia University

A jubilee conference on the future perspectives of the scholarly subject of Japanese Studies at the Faculty of Classical and Contemporary Philology, marking the 25th anniversary of the subject, was held at Aula Magna of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.

More than 20 established and young scholars of Japanese studies from this country and abroad participated in the conference. The papers covered a wide topical spectrum and included presentations in the domain of Japanese linguistics, Japanese literature and culture, philosophy and religion, language teaching methodology, history and international relations.

Official guests of the event were Professor Dr. Anastas Gerdzhikov, Deputy Rector of Sofia University, Professor Alexander Fedotov, Director of the Center for Eastern Languages and Studies at Sofia University, Mr. Takashi Koizumi, Ambassador of Japan to this country, guests and scholars from Europe and Japan.

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Docent Anton Andreev, Head of the Department of Languages and Cultures from Eastern Asia at the Faculty of Classical and Contemporary Philology at Sofia University, recollected that 25 years ago he was one of the first five students of the newly established Japanese Philology section. “We are sure that those 25 years of development and growth have not passed aimlessly. Our scholarly subject appeals not only to talented students but also to scholars from the whole world who will share today their work on Japan, its language and culture,” Docent Andreev remarked, and wished fruitful work to the conference.

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Professor Anastas Gerdzhikov, Deputy Rector of Sofia University, delivered a congratulatory address on behalf of the Rector of the University on the occasion of the jubilee. “For a quarter of a century you have not only established a new scholarly subject in the world of our academic community but you also raised the level and enhanced your international contacts and reputation. You can confidently take pride in an achievement which took a relatively short period of time but scored successful results,” the address reads. In the words of Professor Ilchev the scholarly subject of Japanese Studies is one of the top subjects of applicants for the University; it also enjoys a high level on the academic ranking scale. The high achievements of faculty and students come as yet another proof that the University should support such small scholarly subjects that cross distant geographic borders and bring two diverse cultures closely together, the Rector of Sofia University added. “I am fully convinced that in the next couple of decades your work will bear fruit that will be the basis of pride and satisfaction of the popularization of Japanese language and culture in this country. May you face ever more intellectual challenges that you will certainly overcome, happiness and professional success,” the address reads.

Professor Gerdzhikov congratulated the audience on his own behalf and noted that during the 25 year period when he formed himself as a scholar at Sofia University, he could witness the growth and development of Japanese Studies. Professor Gerdzhikov wished fruitful work to the participants of the conference and expressed his hope that in 25 years’ time ever bigger successes would be scored.

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His Excellency Mr. Takashi Koizumi, Ambassador of Japan to this country, pointed out that in Bulgaria the study of Japanese and the research related to Japan are flourishing. However, it is Sofia University that is the only institution in the country that offers BA, MA and PhD courses. He showed his deep respect to the initiative of Japanese Studies and expressed his hope that the conference would be only the beginning of future meetings for research work.

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A congratulatory address to the participants of the conference was delivered by Professor Dr. Alexander Fedotov, Director of the Center for Eastern Languages and Studies at Sofia University. According to him there exists the possibility that in the nearest future the subject of Japanese Studies may become an autonomous department since the colleagues from Japanese Studies have given ample evidence that they possess the potential for that. Professor Fedotov mentioned his own motto that says that to deal with the East in order to be a scholar of the East you must love the respective country and its people that are the focus of your scientific pursuit and added that, according to him, the colleagues from Japanese Studies meet the criteria of being such scholars of the East and they also enthusiastically impart their ardor to their students.

A congratulatory address by Professor Dr. Boyka Tsigova was read at the conference: “The period of a quarter of a century for us was the road from the beginning to maturity, a road that leads to the horizon of knowledge about Japan. Today we can proudly congratulate ourselves on the distance we have covered. I take special pride in the fact that all former alumni and present students, who joined us on our arduous trip, are people of integrity.” Professor Tsigova thanked her colleagues from Japan and the younger generation of faculty who she had jointly worked with, acquired experience and taught each other. In her words, Japanese Studies is about to open up new venues and score ever more valuable professional achievements.

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Veliyana Moudeva congratulated all the participants in the event on behalf of the undergraduates reading Japanese Studies: “During that period of time, together with the difficulties we have managed to overcome, we have definitely become aware of the advantages and the directions we have to channel the subject in as a result of which every year faculty and student body set ever more new ambitious goals.”

Ever since the foundation of Japanese Studies the latter has always served as an example and she pointed out the possibilities the students have to participate in various educational programs in Japan. According to her, the experience gained during their stay in Japan would be of help in accumulating knowledge of the Japanese language, society and culture that they would professionally disseminate in Bulgarian society by means of various initiatives.

Veliyana Moudeva thanked the faculty and the visiting lectors from Japan for their dedicated work. She made special mention of the assistance of the Mitsubishi Foundation which contributed to the improvement of the teaching facilities of Japanese Studies.

At the end of her speech Veliyana Moudeva wished to all in the field of Japanese Studies to persevere in their efforts and broaden their horizons so that the subject would become the focal point of the Japanese speaking community in this country.

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Docent Dr. Gergana Petkova, who presided over Japanese Studies in the period 2000-2014, presented the historical background and the specifics of the latter. She mentioned the beginning of the subject at the end of the 60ies when the first Japanese evening classes were organized at the Department of Eastern Languages of Sofia University. They were taught by the pioneers of Japanese Studies in this country: Todor Dichev, Silvia Popova, Dora Barova, Boyka Tsigova, Tsvetana Krusteva, and Lyudmila Holodovich. In 1990 the first full-time five-year MA program of Japanese Philology was set up. Today it is called Japanese Studies and is the only subject of this kind in this country, accredited to teach and confer BA, MA and PhD degrees.

“For 25 years the subject has gone a long way towards maturity and assertion, towards national and international recognition,” Docent Petkova said. She pointed to the achievements and also stressed that most of the graduates complete their studies with the highest level of language competence in terms of the Japanese standards. In 2014 the excellent language performance of the Bulgarians in Japanese made the Japanese Ministry of Education single out Japanese Studies at Sofia University as number four in the world in terms of the high achievements in the teaching and acquisition of the Japanese language.

Docent Petkova also stressed both on the role of faculty and the research activities. In her speech she remarked that Japanese Studies does its utmost to establish links with various institutions in view of the improvement of its facilities and the possibilities for scientific exchange. As a result, a Japanese foundation funds an annual international summer camp in the Japanese language which is a unique initiative in the Balkan region. With the financial support of the Mitsubishi Corp. seven of the premises of the Center for Eastern Languages and Studies have been renovated and supplied with modern equipment. Japanese Studies also cooperates successfully with a number of Bulgarian institutions.

Docent Petkova made mention of the fact that, as of this year, a new initiative, based on a Japanese model, was launched: these are the so-called clubs of interest. They include a calligraphy club, a club of visual culture, and a Japanese dancing club.

In her speech Docent Petkova noted that Japanese Studies is one of the top favorite subjects amongst applicants for Sofia University and the admission to it expects, as a rule, higher academic grades, and the students graduating in Japanese Studies do have prospects of highly promising and innovative careers.