KYUSHU UNIVERSITY 先生の森KYUSHU UNIVERSITY 先生の森

My aim is to convey to the rest of the world how fascinating Japan’s ancient history can be!My aim is to convey to the rest of the world how fascinating Japan’s ancient history can be! Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities Ellen Van Goethem

Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities

Ellen Van Goethem

A multilingual professional whose field of expertise within the Japanese language is Sino-Japanese (kanbun). Together with Prof. Cynthea Bogel,she is responsible for the International Master’s Program (IMAP) and International Doctorate(IDOC) in Japanese Humanities at Kyushu University. A young scholar with a knowledge of Japanese history greater than many Japanese people, her aim is to unravel some of the intricate details of Japan’s ancient history, taking full advantage of her foreign background.

A multilingual professional whose field of expertise within the Japanese language is Sino-Japanese (kanbun). Together with Prof. Cynthea Bogel,she is responsible for the International Master’s Program (IMAP) and International Doctorate(IDOC) in Japanese Humanities at Kyushu University. A young scholar with a knowledge of Japanese history greater than many Japanese people, her aim is to unravel some of the intricate details of Japan’s ancient history, taking full advantage of her foreign background.

Profile Details

Born in Lokeren, Belgium. She spent her early years surrounded by books and artworks that her father had collected while working as a doctor for the International Red Cross in Cambodia in the early 1970s. Captivated by Asian culture, she later traveled to many parts of the world, eventually becoming interested in archaeology and volunteering on Roman excavation projects. She majored in Japanese Studies at Ghent University in Belgium, studying Japanese language, history, literature, and religion. After completing her master’s degree in 1998, she became a full-time pre-doctoral research assistant at the department from which she had just graduated. Prior to obtaining her PhD in 2005, she worked on her research while teaching a variety of courses in the Japanese Studies department. In 2006, she came to Japan for two years to do research as a post-doctoral fellow at Ritsumeikan University. In 2008, she became an Assistant Professor at Hosei University, and in 2011 she was appointed as an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy of the Faculty of Humanities at Kyushu University.

What is your research about?What is your research about?

I specialize in ancient history, a period of radical changes within the Japanese archipelago. Within this broad field, my primary interest concerns the Nagaoka capital, which was the topic of my doctoral dissertation. The Nagaoka capital was constructed in the late eighth century at the command of Kanmu Tennō, and existed for only a decade before being relocated to Heian (ancient Kyoto). Recent excavation projects have revealed much that was previously unknown about this ancient capital’s layout. Moreover, the inscribed wooden tablets (mokkan) unearthed from the city’s remains provide us with an even more detailed view into the past. In 2008, my doctoral dissertation was published as a book titled Nagaoka: Japan’s Forgotten Capital.

My current research project focuses on the concept of “correspondence to the four deities” (shijin sōō). The term shijin (“four gods”) refers to the guardian deities of the four directions; the Azure Dragon which protects the east or left of a site, the White Tiger which protects the west or right, the Vermillion Sparrow which protects the south or front, and the Black Turtle-Snake which protects the north or back. From ancient times, people built their residences, temples, shrines, and many other structures in areas where the topography and geographical features were deemed the most appropriate for the four gods. The concept of shijin sōō is part of fengshui culture, which originated in ancient China and spread via Korea to Japan. In each area, however, fengshui beliefs and practices are slightly different. My research focuses on site selection, and I try to answer the question, “Why was this city, house, or temple constructed here?” Moreover, as part of this research project, I examine site divination practices throughout pre-modern East Asia in addition to ancient and medieval Japan.

At the graduate level, I teach in the International Master's Program (IMAP) and International Doctorate(IDOC) in Japanese Humanities, graduate courses that focus on pre-modern Japan. They are targeted at Japanese and overseas students, and the classes are conducted in English. The programs covers a wide variety of humanities subjects related to Japan and its position in Asia, including history, visual culture, religious studies, history of ideas, and pre-modern languages. After graduation, many of our students move on to do research at highly regarded universities around the world. We also invite many scholars to give lectures and teach intensive courses, and consequently the programs have been attracting a great deal of attention.

The key to this research course is here!!The key to this research course is here!!

Asking “Why?” questions about Japan from a broad perspectiveAsking “Why?” questions about Japan from a broad perspective

Nowadays, we can still see the influence of fengshui and the concept of “correspondence to the four deities” in Japan. For example, when the chief priest of the Tenmangū shrine in Dazaifu recites the Shinto ritual prayer at the rice-planting festival, he invokes the four deities. But wait, if the idea of the four deities came from Chinese culture, why is it being worshipped at Japanese Shinto shrines? As a foreigner, when I see how entrenched these ideas are in contemporary Japanese culture, it fills me with great astonishment. Even if a Japanese person and a foreigner are working on the same research topic, they will proceed from different backgrounds and, in my case, having an external point of view can lead to different approaches and discoveries. For me, the most enjoyable aspect of research is the pursuit of answers to the question WHY? I try to approach this question from a broad perspective, making comparisons with European cultures while also taking into account Asian cultures.

DAILY SCHEDULEDAILY SCHEDULE


Time-out Session

When asked “What is the best thing about Japan?” Ellen promptly replies “Sushi!! Particularly monkfish liver and sea urchin.” She loves fresh fish from Kyushu’s Genkai Sea and eats natto (fermented soybeans) almost every day. The epitome of being a Japanese person!When asked “What is the best thing about Japan?” Ellen promptly replies “Sushi!! Particularly monkfish liver and sea urchin.” She loves fresh fish from Kyushu’s Genkai Sea and eats natto (fermented soybeans) almost every day. The epitome of being a Japanese person!

The Teacher's Must-have Items!The Teacher's Must-have Items!

Notebook PC

Ellen exchanges dozens and dozens of e-mails every day to communicate with other researchers and colleagues from around the world. On her notebook PC, she checks her emails, writes her papers, and prepares her classes. “In a sense, my notebook PC is not only an extension of my brain, it is also an extension of my hands and feet.

Digital Paper

Ellen does a lot of fieldwork and occasionally her notebooks have ended up getting wet in the rain or being blown away by the wind. She talks lovingly about her new digital paper, saying, “It is very light, I can connect it to a PC, and it is so handy because I can make notes in many different documents at the touch of a stylus!”

Picture Books and Toys

Ellen, whose home is located in Susenji, says longingly, “I hope our department will move to the new Ito Campus soon.” As it is a 90-minute return journey from home to work, it is essential for her to have picture books and toys at hand to keep her younger son Max entertained!

Message to the StudentsMessage to the Students

Pursue your dreams!!

If you try hard, you can do almost anything! This comes from a foreigner who researches and teaches ancient Japanese history in Japan, so you must believe me. Everything is up to you. The harder you work and the harder you study, the more you will receive in return!

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