Back Story

First initiatives aiming at the establishment of an Austria-Japan Society (Österreichische Japan-Gesellschaft) with a focus on humanities, social sciences and arts have been launched quite early. A predecessor of the AAJ (the Japanologische Arbeitsgemeinschaft) was founded by Prof. Alexander Slawik in November 1959 at the former Japanese Studies division of the Department of Ethnography, which later would become the Department of Japanese Studies. This study group organized lectures by Western and Japanese scholars to provide a forum for the exchange of information on an academic level.

At the suggestion of the Japanese Embassy, an association of former Monbusho (Ministry of education) scholarship holders (the Vereinigung ehemaliger Japan-Stipendiaten) was established on 18 May 1983. Its primary aims were to evaluate the experiences of Austrian students in Japan and to pass on the insights and conclusions to future students as well as to intensify the scholarly exchange between the two countries. On 23 June 1983, at the second meeting, the association was named AAJ (Akademischer Arbeitskreis Japan). At the same time, a board was elected to represent the new association. Professor Sepp Linhart of the Department of Japanese Studies in Vienna became head of the board.


Official Establishment and Aims of the AAJ

The first steps to extend the AAJ’s aims and to prepare the official registration of the association have been taken in the fall of 1984. On 25 March 1985, the official founding meeting of the Akademischer Arbeitskreis Japan – Österreichische Japangesellschaft für Wissenschaft und Kunst (Austrian Japan-Society for Science and Art) took place. On 29 April 1985, at the first general meeting, the first board was elected. It consisted of Professor Sepp Linhart as president and Professor emeritus Alexander Slawik, the founder of the then Department for Japanese Studies, as honorary president. The declared aims of this new association were to promote Japanese Studies in Austria, to intensify the exchange of scholars as well as artists between Japan and Austria, to disseminate information about Japan in Austria, to establish a network of similarly interested organizations, and, last but not least, to serve as a contact point for Austrian students in Japan and Japanese students in Austria.

The AAJ organizes lectures and discussions, film presentations, visits to exhibitions related to Japan, artist talks, as well as Christmas parties and other informal meetings to encourage an exchange of ideas among all persons interested in Japan.

The first board meeting was held on 22 May 1985. Here, it was decided to subdivide the AAJ into three sections: Emmerich Simmonscisc would lead the science section, the painter Alfred Rossi became head of the art section, and Fleur Wöss would lead the section of humanities and social sciences. The tasks of each of these subdivisions consisted of membership promotion, contacting Japan-related organizations and the exchange of information. As the three subdivisions did not develop as planned, they were suspended.


MINIKOMI: Austrian Journal of Japanese Studies

The first editors of the journal MINIKOMI were Ingrid Kargl and Professor Sepp Linhart. The title Informationen des Akademischen Arbeitskreises Japan – MINIKOMI was chosen, linking the new publication to the Department’s former monthly periodical Minikomi. The first issue was published in April 1979; however, the project was suspended after about one year due to the high efforts that were necessary for the production. After this, it was decided that the journal would be published quarterly. The first issues contained mostly information about current research projects of the AAJ’s members, announcements of Japan-related events and conferences, and book reviews.

Additionally, in its first years the AAJ published a series of papers called AAJ-Schriften. The first volume was centered on the first AAJ lecture given by Professor Kajiyama Yūichi. Until the spring of 1991 three more volumes of the AAJ-Schriften were issued. After that, MINIKOMI became a medium for the publication of guest lectures. As of 2019, it was re-named MINIKOMI: Austrian Journal of Japanese Studies and will be published as an open-access journal.


The Early Years

In the beginning, the AAJ grew only slowly, with member numbers fluctuating between 28 and 63. In 1989, Fleur Wöss was elected as the new president, and also became editor of MINIKOMI. The newsletter subsequently changed its format, and started publishing original academic articles. With this extended scope, the average number of pages of each volume grew to about 20 pages from the original 4 to 6 by the end of 1994, and the publication built up its reputation. Several articles reached a readership beyond the small circle of AAJ members. In 1995, “Yellow Cab&Love Junkie? Anmerkungen zu Ieda Shōkos Büchern” by Roland Domenig (MINIKOMI 1994/2) was mentioned in the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shinbun, and Wolfgang Herbert’s report titled “Das große Hanshin-Erdbeben: eine Körperzeugenreportage“ (MINIKOMI 1995/1) had great influence on the Austrian writer Gerhard Roth’s novel Der Plan (1998).

During Fleur Wöss’ tenure, the number of members reached a new high of 100. Due to the more work intensive new design of MINIKOMI, the membership fee rose slightly. In the spring of 1993, Fleur Wöss resigned her presidency of the AAJ, and former secretary Eva Bachmayer temporarily became head of the board. In October 1993, Sepp Linhart was once more elected president and Sabine Sommer, together with Wolfram Manzenreiter, became the editors of MINIKOMI. In this year, MINIKOMI was published as two combined issues.


Transition and New Beginning

The activities of AAJ were reduced after Fleur Wöss’ departure. The AAJ still sought to organize lectures and other events, but the number and frequency dropped noticeably, and in 1996 the association’s activities almost came to a stop entirely. When Sepp Linhart left for a sabbatical in Japan, Werner Frank took over as president.

Sabine Frühstück was elected as president of the AAJ in 1996, while Wolfram Manzenreiter became the sole editor of MINIKOMI, and the association became active once more. Most notably, the journal’s format was altered once again – it now had a thicker cover and was now published in the B5 format. The content was re-structured as well. Increasingly, original articles by scholars from all over the world appeared in the AAJ’s journal, internationally renowned scholars were invited to give lectures in Vienna (later published in MINIKOMI), and the number of MINIKOMI readers as well as AAJ members outside of Austria increased rapidly.

Still more internationally renowned scholars of Japanese studies would give guest lectures under Sabine Frühstück’s presidency: Takie Sugiyama-Lebra, Eyal Ben-Ari, Margaret Lock and Hamaguchi Eshun, to name but a few. Apart from the academic guest lectures the AAJ also started to offer organized visits to exhibitions related to Japan, especially to the Museum of Applied Arts (Museum für angewandte Kunst) where Johannes Wieninger, curator of East Asian art, was doing his best to make the museum’s considerable collections (long hidden in its vaults) accessible to the public.

After Sabine Frühstück relocated to the University of California in June 1999, Roland Domenig was elected president, with Sepp Linhart serving as honorary president.


The AAJ between 1999-2014

The presidency of Roland Domenig introduced the AAJ to many changes, such as regular screenings of Japanese films (often never previously shown outside Japan), which strengthened the focus on art. Several Japanese filmmakers were hosted by the AAJ, such as Aoyama Shinji, Nagasaki Shunichi, Wakamatsu Kōji and Yonesho Maya.

In September 2001, the first AAJ meeting abroad took place in Japan. When Wolfram Manzenreiter announced his resignation as the MINIKOMI’s editor in the summer of 2001, Roland Domenig took over the editing duties. To strengthen the MINIKOMI’s profile, he introduced special issues that would focus on specific topics, such as film, body, ghosts, work, youth, and ukiyo-e.

An e-mailing list for members was introduced in autumn 1999, and the first website of AAJ was launched in March 2002. Both technical innovations have proven to be useful tools for the distribution of information. In October 2002, a new series of artist talks began, which hosted guests from the fields of literature (Furui Yoshikichi), music (Nishigata Akiko, Morimoto Yuki) and film (Nagasaki Shunichi, Yonesho Maya, Brigitte Prinzgau-Podgorschek).

Also in March 2002, the AAJ organized its first symposium in cooperation with the Department of East Asian Studies of the University of Vienna and the Meiji University on the topic of “Everyday life and leisure in Tōkyō and Vienna around the turn of the century”. The lectures were published as the 37th issue of its series Beiträge zur Japanologie one year later.

The first symposium hosted solely by AAJ took place in October 2003 and was titled “Against the grain. Changes in Japanese cinema of the 1960s and early 1970s”. The symposium managed to invite famous international speakers and guests, as the Viennale Film Festival and the Austrian Film Museum organized a retrospective on the Japanese Art Theatre Guild around the same time. Experts from Japan (Yomota Inuhiko, Hirasawa Gō), Italy (Roberta Novielli), France (Max Tessier), Austria (Roland Domenig) and the USA (Mark Nornes) were given an opportunity to network and to work on an aspect of Japanese film history that had previously received only little attention in the academia. The symposium was met with great international acclaim, especially in Japan, where the event was reported on in the newspapers Asahi Shinbun, Tōkyō Shinbun, Tosho Shinbun and the magazines Shinchō, Jōkyō, Teatoru and Eiga Geijutsu. The symposium later served as a model for a similar conference, organized by the Jeonju International Film Festival in Korea in April 2014.

The AAJ co-hosted a number of other symposia and academic events, such as the workshop “Okinawa – the ‘other Japan’?” which took place in November 10-12, 2011. The conference papers were published in a MINIKOMI special issue (“Okinawa”, issue 82). The AAJ also played a significant role in organizing the symposium “Marginal groups and resistance in Vienna and Tōkyō”, which was hosted in Vienna in cooperation with the Meiji University from October 31 to November 2, 2013.


The AAJ today

By 2014, Roland Domenig had left Austria to take over a post as professor for film studies at the Meiji Gakuin Daigaku in Tōkyō. Ina Hein, professor for cultural studies on contemporary Japan, was elected as new president of the AAJ, and Roland Domenig became the vice president, and now represents the AAJ in Japan.

Around this time, the original website became the target of hacking and had to be taken offline due to technical difficulties. Peter Mühleder kindly offered to create the new website, which is now maintained by the secretaries with support of Eva Bachmayer and Florian Purkarthofer. The secretary is also in charge of the AAJ’s e-mailing list.

The AAJ still co-hosts and organizes guest lectures and events with artists, musicians and literates. We had the pleasure of hosting the Japanese-Korean writer Yū Miri and the novelist and poet Tawada Yōko, to name but some of the guests in recent years. The AAJ frequently helps with organizing events, where masters of Japanese arts (e.g. Nō theater or tea ceremony) deliver talks and performances. Furthermore, several ‘lecture concerts’ took place, in which artists introduced Japanese musical instruments, such as the biwa or koto, through short lectures, followed by practical demonstrations. The AAJ has been organizing some of these events in cooperation with the Austria-Japan Society, thanks to the great commitment of Diethard Leopold and Noriko Brandl in the field of intercultural exchange between the two countries.

The AAJ continues its role as co-host of international symposia, such as “Representing ‘cultural otherness’ in Japanese media” on September 1, 2014, where the internationally renowned media studies scholar Iwabuchi Kōichi (Monash University, Australia) delivered the keynote speech. On September 27-28, 2016, the symposium “Dealing with disasters and trauma in literature and popular media” took place and featured lectures by scholars from Germany, Switzerland, and Japan. From October 30 to November 2, 2017, the Department of East Asian Studies hosted the annual Gender Workshop and international conference of the German Association for Social Science Research on Japan with the support of the AAJ, which was one of the biggest events hosted in recent years.

The editing and publishing of MINIKOMI remains one of the main activities of the AAJ. It has become a well-known journal in the German-speaking academic field, and the number and length of academic articles and other forms of contributions have increased as well. Due to the complex nature of the editing process, a decision to publish one issue yearly has been made. The editing is carried out by a group of young researchers, who take turns in overseeing each issue. Among the editors of the latest issues are Peter Mühleder, Florian Purkarthofer, Tamara Kamerer, Bernhard Leitner, Bernhard Seidl, and Christina Gmeinbauer. Ideally, special issues focused on a single topic and “open issues” with a diverse range of topics are published alternately.

On 14 April 2016, a major earthquake shook the Prefecture of Kumamoto, which also strongly affected faculty members and students of Japanese Studies in Vienna, as the Kumamoto University is one of our official partners and the current Aso research focusses on this region. The AAJ subsequently decided to open a donations account, and was able to raise over 4.000 Euro for repair and reconstruction work in Kumamoto. In addition to this sum, the AAJ had also received private donations; ultimately, the AAJ was able to donate over 250.000 Yen to the Kumamoto University and the City of Aso, respectively. We would like to extend warm thanks to the AAJ members for their generous donations.