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Japan Lecture Series: Princess Akiko of Mikasa Explores Art and Art Education

What is it like to be a member of the Japanese imperial household and a scholar in art history at the same time? Her Imperial Highness Princess Akiko of Mikasa spoke about this question as well as her research focus on reproduction of mural wall paintings with Buddhist icons during the latest edition of the Japan Lecture Series, organized by the Europe Institute at the University of Zurich and the Swiss-Japanese Society.

Princess Akiko of Mikasa at UZH
Her Imperial Highness Princess Akiko of Mikasa engaging in a public Q&A in the historic Aula of UZH

In the service of art and art education

President Michael Schaepman welcomed Her Imperial Highness, who visited the University of Zurich as a lecturer already for the third time. The visit was initiated by Prof. Hans Thomsen, who is both a Professor in East Asian Art History at UZH as well as a board member of the Swiss-Japanese Society. He has been fostering a longstanding professional friendship with the princess.

Princess Akiko is the first member of the Japanese imperial family holding a PhD in Art History, even though her path was not initially set on pursuing such scholarly pursuit. It was only during her exchange year in England when she was frequently asked by other students about Japanese culture that she realized how little she knew about her own country’s tradition. In addition, she noticed that Japanese art was perceived very differently in the West in comparison to Japan. Such encounters sparked her interest in her own cultural heritage and motivated her to contribute to a better understanding of Japanese culture abroad.

Her lecture centered around the reconstruction of wall paintings in the Hōryūji Temple in Nara which are considered a national treasure and, unfortunately, were destroyed by a fire in 1949. The project was successful thanks to reproductions of the paintings, some of them initiated and treasured by English noblemen who visited Japan in the 19th century. This showcases the importance of international collaboration in order to preserve cultural heritages and foster the mutual understanding of it.

UZH President Michael Schaepman's welcome address to Princess Akiko of Mikasa
UZH President Michael Schaepman gives a welcome address to Her Imperial Highness Princess Akiko of Mikasa

UZH and Japan: A longstanding partnership

UZH upholds a strong relationship with several renowned universities throughout Japan. The recognition of the freedom of academia and the emphasis on research and education for societal development nurture a common ground for research collaborations and a lively student exchange. Shared areas of interest include life sciences, medicine, and technology. In addition, a frequent in-person knowledge exchange among UZH researchers and their Japanese counterparts intensifies the cooperation even further: Only one month from now, from 16 to 17 October, a trilateral symposium between the University of Tokyo, UZH and ETH will take place in Zurich.

Fabienne Rohner