Exchanges and encounters of ideas and beliefs
Across thousands of years, generations and dynasties
Along roads and routes of land, sea and air
From the past, through the present to the future
Across borders of culture, nation and discipline

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SILK - The Silk Road Initiative

As an organization, IAFOR’s mission is to promote international exchange, facilitate intercultural awareness, encourage interdisciplinary discussion, and generate and share new knowledge. In 2018, we are excited to launch a major new and ambitious international, intercultural and interdisciplinary research initiative which uses the silk road trade routes as a lens through which to study some of the world’s largest historical and contemporary geopolitical trends, shifts, and exchanges.

IAFOR is headquartered in Japan, and the 2018 inauguration of this project aligns with the 150th Anniversary of the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when Japan opened its doors to the trade and ideas that would precipitate its rapid modernization and its emergence as a global power. At a time when global trends can seem unpredictable, and futures fearful, this Silk Road Initiative gives the opportunity to revisit the question of the impact of international relations from a long-term perspective.

This ambitious initiative will encourage individuals and institutions working across the world to encourage research centering on the contact between countries and regions in Europe and Asia, from Gibraltar to Japan, and the maritime routes that went beyond into the South-East Continent and the Philippines, and later out into the Pacific Islands and the United States. The Silk Road Initiative will concern all aspects of this contact, and examine both material and intellectual traces, as well as consequences.

East West image

Rationale: East and West

The occidentalisation of history and the grand narrative of European and American progress has consigned The Silk Road instead to historical quaintness, exotic literary caricature in the adventures of Marco Polo, or the sort of esoteric academic investigations that receive little attention. This is to largely ignored its huge historical and present day importance and relevance to the routes and paths that continue to connect humans, through trade and exchange.

In a world of rankings, algorithms, unedited “news”, and self-referential “centere of excellence”, it is facile to conclude that the center and pinnacle of all knowledge is held by a few pockets of venture-capital backed open-plan offices in silicon valley, or schools and universities where the cloistered architecture doesn’t even offer the pretence of openness. Globalisation, and the technology that has enabled it, has allowed an immense flowering of possibilities in communication and access to knowledge, while at the same time increasing alienation from self and society, encouraging “virtual” worlds, creating and cementing fissures, and encouraging fear of the foreign.

It is only through encounters with difference that we are able to shape ourselves and our ideas, and physical human interaction is and remains at the source of all value. The international, intercultural, and interdisciplinary meetings that lie at the heart of IAFOR, and this research initiative have never been more important in our globalised world.

Call for proposals and interest

A series of round tables on the SILK initiative is being held in 2017, in Japan, the UK and Spain, and the initiative will become a central aspect of a series of conferences, meetings, seminars, and workshops from 2018 in Asia, Europe and North America.

To be informed of the latest developments and to express your interest in joining the IAFOR Silk Road Initiative’s mailing list, join by clicking HERE.

  • Kobe is the sixth-largest city in Japan and is the capital city of Hyōgo Prefecture. It is located on the north shore of Osaka Bay and about 30 km west of Osaka
  • Osaka University's Suita campus. One of Japan's National Seven Universities, OU has 11 faculties for undergraduates, 16 graduate schools, 21 research institutes, 4 libraries, and 2 university hospitals
  • Osaka Bay in western Japan. Major ports on Osaka Bay include Osaka, Kobe, Nishinomiya, Sakai, Amagasaki, and Hannan. A number of artificial islands have been created in Osaka Bay in past decades, including Kansai International Airport, Port Island, and Rokko Island.
  • Osaka city in the Kansai region of Japan. It is the capital city of Osaka Prefecture and the second largest metropolitan area in Japan and among the largest in the world with over 19 million inhabitants

Kobe 2018: East meets West

In the new century, there are many complex challenges facing all of humanity, from the tangible concerns such as health care, poverty, climate change, food and energy security to conflict prevention, as well as problems of how to address these issues at the global as well as local levels. In such a global endeavour, synergy of knowledge and wisdom between different traditions, communities and civilisations is as important as ever to come up with better solutions. And, Kobe could not be a more fitting place in Japan for a start of an important dialogue. Why?

Kobe, the host city of the conference, celebrates its 150th anniversary since it opened its doors to the world in 1867, one year before the Meiji Restoration. Kobe has since been one of the leading Asian ports for trade along side Shanghai, marking its name in the early last century as the international face of a modernizing Japan in a regional setting of Kansai that is both historical, innovative, and outward-looking. It has one of the oldest Chinese and Indian communities in Japan because of this history, and has been home to many European and Russian (Jews) emigres. It has overcome the crippling destruction of its city center and port facilities in the 1995 Kobe-Awaji earthquake.

But there is more. If there is one place in Japan that represents the theme of this conference, “East meets West”, then it is Kobe and the Kansai area, 500 km east of Tokyo and Kanto, that is home to Kyoto, Osaka and Sakai. Kansai represents the inherent strength (sokojikara) of Japan as the vortex of Japan’s cultural, political and commercial activities for nearly 13 centuries. In the old days Kyoto and the older capital Nara were the repository of religion, knowledge, technology and civilization that reached Japan by way of the Silk Road. In more recent times, Sakai, one of the oldest port city near Osaka and the birth place of Senno Rikyu, the grand tea master, traded with the Spanish and Portuguese. Sakai was the main manufacturer of guns in 16th century Japan. Osaka has been the biggest commerce center since the Edo period Japan, pioneering in futures trade and giving birth to many large trading houses that would provide the social capital for rapid industrialization in the Meiji era. Even though the capital has moved to Tokyo, Kansai continues to flourish in this rich cultural heritage and tradition of innovative thinking, as a place where East mingles with the West over time and space in ways that Tokyo cannot match.

The symbolism of Kobe and Kansai is important to Japanese identity, as it faces its own post-industrial challenges since the economic slump. The key to Japan’s renovation and continued relevance to the world is to rediscover and reappraise our own history of modernization with a view to opening up to and engaging with the world in a more dynamic way.

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