The 60th ‘Sumer Kenkyu-kai’ in Japan

Japan 1
The study of the Ancient Near East in Japan has marked an anniversary very much in the spirit of cuneiform cultures: the 60th installment of its research workshop, Sumer Kenkyu-kai. The anniversary was celebrated with due distinctions, including a massive chocolate cake and a cuneiform watch presented to the co-founder of the workshop.

By Chikako E. Watanabe

The ‘Sumer Kenkyu-kai’ (the research workshop for Sumerology, other fields of cuneiform studies and Ancient Near Eastern archaeology) has marked its 60th assembly in Japan. The landmark meeting was held in Kyoto on 17–18 June 2017, and more than 25 members participated therein to present and discuss their latest studies, which range from Sumerology through Assyriology and Hittitology to Elamitology and Persian studies. The origin of the Workshop goes back to 1973, when the first gathering was organised by the late Professor Yomokuro Nakahara (1900–1988), the head of the group, with two deputy chairpersons: the late Professor Mamoru Yoshikawa (1931–2009) and Professor Kazuya Maekawa (now Professor Emeritus of the University of Kyoto and senior research fellow of Kokushikan University).

Professors Yomokuro Nakahara and Mamoru Yoshikawa at the meeting in 1982.
Professors Yomokuro Nakahara and Mamoru Yoshikawa at the meeting in 1982.

The concept behind the workshop was to respond to the needs of scholars to create an opportunity to share academic interests and exchange ideas. The demand was urgent because the population of scholars specialising in this field in Japan was much smaller than it is now, and the scholars were all scattered around in different institutions. The Workshop originally took place once or twice a year either in Kyoto or in Hiroshima, subsequently transferring to Kyoto or Tokyo/Tsukuba.

When the very first meeting was held in September 1973, there were six papers altogether, which were presented by the following scholars: Yomokuro Nakahara, Kazuya Maekawa, Mamoru Yoshikawa, Tohru Maeda, Shigeru Yamamoto and Setsu Onoyama. All these studies were to do with Sumerological themes, and it was not until the fourth meeting, which took place two years later, that Akkadian-based studies first appeared in the programme. This explains why the group is called ‘Sumer Kenkyu-kai’ (lit. Sumerian Research Workshop) rather than using any wider terminology, such as Mesopotamian or Ancient Near Eastern studies. Following these activities, a plan for launching the journal Acta Sumerologica was initiated in 1977, which led eventually to the publication of the first volume in 1979.

From the left: Professor Tohru Maeda, Professor Mamoru Yoshikawa and Professor Kazuya Maekawa, at a dinner party after the meeting in 1993.
From the left: Professor Tohru Maeda, Professor Mamoru Yoshikawa and Professor Kazuya Maekawa, at a dinner party after the meeting in 1993.

Forty-four years after the first meeting, we regard the 60th meeting as being special due to the significance of the round number ‘sixty’ in Mesopotamia (diš/gèš: ištēn/šuššu). We celebrated the occasion with Persian cuisine in Kyoto and, during the dinner, a letter of appreciation was presented to both Professor Maekawa and Professor Maeda (in absentia) to thank them for the guidance and support they have provided to many scholars and students in Japan, and to acknowledge their academic contribution to the field. The special gift of a cuneiform watch each was presented as a token of our gratitude. (Our thanks are due to Dr Jonathan Taylor and Ms Victoria Barton for their kind help in arranging this gift at the British Museum shop.)

Professor Maekawa holding a gift of cuneiform watch.
Professor Maekawa holding a gift of cuneiform watch.

A very large chocolate cake was presented with six candles (each candle representing ten meetings) which were blown out by Professor Maekawa. The cake was topped with a chocolate tablet that bore the inscription: è-dub-ba-a eme-gi-ra mu-GIŠ-kam (60th ‘year’ [actually ‘meeting’] of the Sumerian scribal school).

The next celebration will be in 2023 to commemorate the 50th anniversary, 50 being the number associated with the supreme deities Enlil and Marduk. Anyone who wishes to join the occasion will be warmly welcomed.

A large chocolate cake with an inscribed chocolate tablet (written by Ms. Miyaki Arai).
A large chocolate cake with an inscribed chocolate tablet (written by Ms. Miyaki Arai).

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