Ene Selart became Asia Centre’s coordinator of Japanese affairs

In October, Ene Selart joined the Asia Center of the University of Tartu, as the coordinator of Japanese affairs.

Ene Selart, who will be coordinating the cooperation with Japan at the Asia Center, works as a junior lecturer of the history of journalism at the Institute of Social Sciences. She has previously studied international relations and Japanese language in Japan (Tsukuba University, Tokyo Gakugei University, and Tsuda University). She also teaches the Japanese history course at the university. "I have researched the historical relations between Estonia and Japan, and I want to contribute to the promotion of these relations at the university. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of official relations between the two countries, and it has also been declared as the year of mutual friendship in Estonia and Japan."
Selart adds that she hopes for the good cooperation between the University of Tartu and Japanese universities and research institutions also in the future.

To get to know Ene Selart better, we asked some questions on her relations with Japan and Asia in general.

1. What is your relationship with Japan?

I have been interested in Japan since high school. I can't say exactly when it all started. I am connected to Japan by my research and previous studies-living in Japan, and certainly by friends and colleagues-Japanese scientists worldwide.

2. What have you been doing in your research?

I have always been fascinated by how the Estonians became aware of Japan, i.e. when why and which kind of  knowledge about Japan came to our written word. Significantly, the beginning point of the Estonian-Japanese relations was Admiral Adam Johann von Krusenstern (1770-1846), a Baltic German nobleman born in Hagudi manor in Harju County who was serving the Russian tsarist state. He arrived to Nagasaki during the first Russian global voyage in 1804. It is symbolic how the historical characteristics of  the Estonian society intersect at this first point of the contact. Japan itself reached to the minds of the Estonian people through the school textbooks and newspapers about half a century later. Later on Japan was mediated to the Estonians by the seamen in their travelogues and by the letters of the soldiers who took part in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). These Estonian ego-documents form a unique collection that enables us to understand the perception of Japan but also gives us an idea how Estonians saw themselves.

My second research topic is the diplomatic relations between Estonia and Japan between the two world wars, which have not always been smooth because they bear the timestamp. On the one hand, Estonia didn’t rush to make independent decisions about a distant Asian country  (as Estonia also lacked political interests and financial resources for these kind of decision making) and, on the other hand, Japan was cautious about what is happening in Europe and often took a wait-and-see attitude. It must be emphasized that all the interstate relations always rest on the shoulders of individuals. A good example is Alfred Ruthe (1889-?), who acted as an Estonia's honorary consul in Dairen and refused to close the consulate in 1940 after Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union.

3. What else do you do at the Asian Center, and why are these activities important?

I joined a very good and efficient team. I hope to contribute to the activities of the Asia Center to promote the relations with the university and various Asian countries. It sounds like a cliche, but the most important activity is always the cooperation for the common goals.

4. A cultural recommendation or fact that you should make, know, experience about Japan?

Getting to know Japan should probably start by learning Japanese. Unfortunately,  it is impossible now (autumn 2021) even to travel to Japan. Therefore, it is worth to get to know everything that has been mediated about the Japanese culture through Estonian and other languages. For example, to start reading the Japanese literature. Thanks to the hard work of our Estonian translators, there is a wide selection of Japanese literature available in Estonian. Also, Japanese movies are best for the dark and long autumn evenings. Fortunately, there are so many possibilities and it is hard to recommend something specific as it all depends on one’s own taste.