AAS Member Spotlight: Keiko Tanaka

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Keiko Tanaka, Visiting Researcher at Hiroshima Jogakuin University

Ancient Literature related to the incense culture in Japan and East Asia.

How long have you been a member of AAS?

About 8 years.

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

My dream is to elucidate the origin and the source of the Japanese incense culture by a comparison with the local incense culture around the East Asia. When I had begun to work as a researcher, I found AAS homepage and soon understood AAS was the very society in which the experts of a wide field gather from all over the world.  In near future, I'm willing to find some overseas researchers working on the same or close academic fields to ask them to be Study partners of mine.  

How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?

When I was in college, I majored in English Language and just tried very hard to “speak like American or English people”.  Meanwhile, I watched a TV news show named “Chikushi Tetsuya’s News 23”, and saw an anchor spoke broken English with some foreigners.  They both talked about their experience and knowledge as experts on international politics very eagerly and friendly. That was the moment I found if I had nothing to speak, no matter how I could speak English well, it would be useless.  I regretted that I had not studied Japan, though I was born and lived in that country. Then I started learning Japanese Literature. 

What do you enjoy most or what have been your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

As for myself, It is not easy to find a teaching or researching position in Asian Studies, so I have faced difficulties several times to keep studying so far.  Sometimes I wonder if I could keep trying, but I can leave those darkness when I read some ancient tales or search for my own project.

Tell us about your current or past research.

Recently, I have worked on restoring newly kinds of Takimono or incense-perfumed  devised in the Middle Ages in Japan. The people of the Middle Ages seemed to start devising those prescriptions and the name of each fragrance, in order to let the world of the Japanese 31-syllable poems in Japanese ancient times reappear as a fragrance. In addition, those people gave a device on not only the sense of smell but also the sight of incense burning. 

I began an action to restore those Takimono and to display at Chuko-Bungaku-Kai or The Association for the Study of Japanese Heian Literature in Japan since last year. It has been thought that Takimono of Japan declined with origin of Kodo or Incense Smelling, but it is a wrong common view. I want to make clear that the culture of incense-perfumed greatly developed after the Middle Ages in Japan.

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

It is important to get good enough ability to read the original texts and handwriting of historical materials. An error often occurs in the reprinted text of the handwriting. The interpretation based on that reprinted text may be wrong, too.  In the near future, we should come to have to review every reprinted book and database of Japanese Literature from the original.

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.

When I have time, I enjoy watching overseas dramas based on detective stories like Agatha Christie's Poirot and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It’s interesting to compare the drama to the original, and to find out a characteristic, personality and some inventive ideas of every director, writer and actor.

"When I had begun to work as a researcher, I found the AAS homepage and soon understood AAS was the very society in which the experts of a wide field gather from all over the world."

— Keiko Tanaka