Kathryn Ibata-Arens recently received an award for $30,000 from The Japan Foundation of New York for a project entitled “Art, Politics and Economy of Okinawa, Japan: Ancient Meets Modern.”
As part of this project, 15 DePaul students will travel to Okinawa, Japan, to learn about the everyday lives of Okinawans as they relate to art, business, politics, culture, and history.  Using photography and journals, students will document their experiences as they explore and obtain hands-on experience with traditional Okinawan craft and contemporary art practices.  Students will also learn about community-based economic development and science and technology investment within the context of Okinawa's history as an independent kingdom, its relations with mainland Japan, as well as the geostrategic importance of Okinawa to Japan and its ally, the United States.


From an interview about her project, Kathryn Ibata-Arens, Associate Professor and Director, Global Asian Studies, shared the following:
What makes you especially pleased to receive this award?
The Japan Foundation and Center for Global Partnership have been supporting American students and faculty conducting academic and policy-relevant research and teaching on Japan for many decades.  The Japan-America Collegiate Exchange Travel program is a selective grant providing funds for faculty-led study in Japan that goes beyond ordinary trips, adding academic rigor and depth. It is an incredible honor to be selected for this prestigious and highly competitive award. My co-leader Laura Kina, Associate Professor of Art, Media and Design, and I are looking forward to providing DePaul students with this unique opportunity.
How does this project build on previous work done by you or others?
My research focuses on entrepreneurship, innovation and economic development in Asia. I am currently researching biomedical entrepreneurship in China, India, Japan, and Singapore. I often include DePaul undergraduate and graduate students in research activities, and have sponsored fifteen students over the past decade. On our trip, students will have opportunities to explore the Okinawan island from a variety of perspectives. For example, Okinawa’s tremendous biodiversity is a foundation for the island’s plans to build a world-class research and development cluster. Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), where the students will have a workshop, is the center of these efforts. In 2010, I served on an international steering committee that advised on OIST’s early-stage developments and can say that the students are in for a world-class experience. The group will also meet with faculty and students at University of the Ryukyus with key academic leaders of the Hawaii-Okinawa Partnership on Clean Energy partnership.
What are the potential benefits of the project to the participants, to the community, to your discipline, etc.?
As we expand DePaul’s unique curriculum in Global Asian Studies, which encompasses Asian Studies, the Asian Diaspora and Asian American Studies, this Okinawa trip is an important opportunity to introduce students to the diversity of culture, language and business in Asia. Further, students will gain knowledge about the cultural and historical aspects of Japan’s role in the rise of the “Pacific Century,” as Asia is quickly becoming the center of the global economy.
What challenges do you anticipate as you begin this project? 
Ideally, students would conduct their research in Japanese. Fortunately, about a third of our students on the trip have some level of Japanese language ability, Ibata-Arens is fluent in Japanese and Kina’s heritage is Okinawan. However, Okinawans speak an ancient dialect that some consider an independent language, which locals refer to as “Uchinaaguchi.” This presents challenges in communicating, especially with older residents.
In what way(s) is the project unique?
Most students learn about Okinawa in the context of the American military bases, which is central to the U.S.-Japan security partnership in Asia. While we will address the significant American military presence in Okinawa; our focus on economic development, arts and culture aims to broaden an understanding of the ancient sources - including the world’s second most bio-diverse coral reef and world renown music scene - of Okinawa’s future economic potential.
What makes the work to be done on this project significant?
DePaul students will collaborate with Professors Ibata-Arens and Kina to conduct field research on the main island of Okinawa that will culminate in a photojournalism and academic writing project. Students will learn and apply skills in critical thinking, research design and original fieldwork, while working with the DePaul Writing Center to produce a final research paper worthy of publication.


Kathryn Ibata-Arens is Director of Global Asian Studies and Associate Professor of Political Economy at DePaul University. She received a BA from Loyola University Chicago and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University.  Ibata-Arens specializes in high technology policy and Japanese political economy. Her current work is on biomedical entrepreneurship and “networked techno-nationalism” in Asia. Her book Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Japan: Politics, Organizations and High Technology Firms (Cambridge University Press, 2005) analyzed strategic networks of high technology firms and regional economies in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. Ibata-Arens has held fellowships from the Fulbright Commission, Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, Mansfield Foundation and the Social Science Research Council. She served on the METI-State Department Japan-US Innovation and Entrepreneurship Council (2012-2013) and currently on the Board for the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center, DePaul University. Ibata-Arens co-founded the TOMODACHI Tohoku Challenge, a new business competition sponsored by the U.S.-Japan Council and American Embassy, Tokyo.
Twitter: @Ibata-Arens