Rein Raud

My interest in Asia goes back to my high school years, when I realized that knowing only your own culture and the larger cultural tradition it is a part of is not enough in the quickly globalizing world. We had a large library at home, as my father's stepfather had also been fascinated by faraway cultures, so I got my hands on books by Alan Watts and D.T.Suzuki as well as Richard Wilhelm's translations of East Asian classics quite early on. I was equally interested in the cultures of the Islamic world, particularly after I realized it was them to whom the West is indebted for the preservation and development of the heritage of Ancient Greece, so I also read quite a lot about those fields. Finally, however, it was Japan that I started to study professionally.

Jizo lumega
At the university, my coursework was dedicated to classical Japanese culture as I then thought, visiting Japan would most likely remain impossible for me, because the services that the regime would have expected in return for such an opportunity were something that I could never imagine myself performing. But nobody, not even the Japanese themselves, could visit the Japan of the 10th-12th centuries. A large part of my academic work is still dedicated to that period, even though now, of course, I visit contemporary Japan quite regularly.

My first academic publications as well as my PhD dissertation were dedicated to Japanese literature, mainly to classical poetry, which I have translated into Estonian in large quantities. It seems that in the early 1990s, I was among the very first researchers in the world to apply the methods of contemporary literary theory influenced by Derrida, Foucault, Kristeva to Japanese classics, and this even caused quite a stir during my doctoral studies at the University of Helsinki, as my opponent was initially reluctant to accept that such a synthesis could be fruitful at all. My thesis "The Role of Poetry in Classical Japanese Literature" was defended successfully in 1994 and already the next year I assumed the duties of the Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Helsinki, with which I was affiliated with until 2016. Currently, my academic posting is the Professor of Asian and Cultural Studies at Tallinn University, in which I have been active over the years in various capacities as well.

Soon after my defense, my academic interests shifted to other topics, however, and also started to reach out to other Asian countries. I led a team on the role of Japan as the model for Asian modernization, which included comparative studies with China and South-East Asia (a book with the results of this work was published by Kegan Paul in 2007). Still, most of my Asia-related work during the last 20 years has been related to comparative philosophy, and primarily to the towering figure of Dōgen (1200-53), whose work I have been studying intensively and from a variety of angles.