The University of Iowa

written by Mikaela Parrick

In the spring of 2014, Professors Kendall Heitzman and Morten Schlütter began working on a grant application that would consume hundreds of hours of their time.

The proposal was for a three-year Japan Foundation Institutional Project Support Grant that they titled “The Past in the Present, the Present in the Past: New Horizons for Japanese Literature and Culture in a Digital World.”

The application, consisting of ten carefully conceived projects, was submitted to the Japan Foundation later the same year, and in April 2015 Heitzman and Schlütter received the happy news that the grant, worth roughly $350,000, had been awarded to the UI. Including matching funds from various units around the university, the grant totals well over $700,000.

Dr. Heitzman is an assistant professor of Japanese literature and culture in the department of Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures. A Minnesota native, he earned his Ph.D. from Yale University and taught at a few small liberal-arts colleges before coming to the University of Iowa in 2012. In total, he has spent over seven years living and working in Japan.

Dr. Schlütter is an associate professor of Chinese Religion the Department of Religious Studies. Originally from Denmark, Schlütter attended Yale University to gain his Ph.D. in Chinese Buddhist Studies. He then went on to work at various universities before settling at the University of Iowa in 2003.

Schlütter is also the Director of the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, an area studies center under International Programs at the UI. Heitzman came to Schlütter with the idea of writing this massive grant proposal to the Japan Foundation after Heitzman and the International Writing Program had been successful with a small-scale grant in 2013.

“It really all started when Kendall approached me and said, ‘Hey, let’s apply for this grant.’ I thought it was a great idea, so we began to strategize,” says Schlütter.

“We got everyone together in Japanese studies and said, ‘We really want to push for this.’ We got a lot of good input from different people,” says Heitzman.

“We realized that to be competitive we had to have a really solid and thorough application. We had to have a broad buy-in and lots of support from around the university,” says Schlütter.

Each year, only two or three universities in the US receive this large project support grant from the Japan Foundation, a Japanese institution dedicated to fostering cultural exchange between Japan and the world.

“The Japan Foundation is funded by the Japanese government, and what they really want to do is to spread knowledge about Japan to the rest of the world,” says Schlütter.

“So, we came up with a variety of projects all having to do with promoting knowledge of Japanese history, culture, and society, not just within the university, but to the community and the region,” adds Heitzman.

The first and single largest project under the Japan Foundation grant was the hiring of a new tenure-track professor in Japanese Literary and Visual Culture, in the Department of Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures. After an extensive search, the process concluded with the successful hire of Dr. Kendra Strand (see the article about her elsewhere on this page).

“The tenure-track professor is perhaps the biggest thing. It was a big commitment for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) because even though the Japan Foundation pays 50% of the salary for three years, CLAS will have to fund the rest, but they did agree to it. Once we had that commitment in place, we felt like we could really move forward with the grant application,” says Schlütter.

The first of the activities funded by the grant was a three-day K-12 teaching training workshop in June 2016, in which 20 teachers, mostly from Iowa, learned about Japanese literature, film, festivals, anthropology, religious studies, and history.

“The goal was to give them a three-day boot camp on all things Japanese. We had 14 sessions taught by about 10 different scholars in various fields,” says Heitzman.

“And at end of each session we tried to give them ideas on how to bring this information to their own classrooms and integrate from things from Japan into the K-12 curriculum.”

“The participating teachers were very excited about the program, and we expect many of them will apply what they have learned in their classrooms and continue to expand their knowledge about Japan,” adds Heitzman.

As part of the grant, Heitzman and Schlütter also initiated plans to remodel a section of the Main Library to create a new East Asian Reading Room, scheduled to be completed by June 2017.

“We thought it would be great to have a dedicated reading room for students and faculty in East Asian Studies, where the Chinese and Japanese librarians could also have their offices and be more accessible to students and scholars,” Schlütter says.

“It’s going to be a really cool addition to the library, a completely new space.” The reading room is expected to be completed and ready for use by June 2017.

To Heitzman, one of the most exciting aspects of the grant is the opportunity to bring Japanese writers to Iowa through the International Writing Program (IWP) for three consecutive years.

“This may be my favorite part of the grant, because we have this huge support structure and incredible programming just waiting for them in the form of the IWP, and all we needed was a little money to get them here,” says Heitzman.

“A lot of the people who visit are very famous in their own countries, and we have the opportunity to meet with these people and talk with them. I think that is a really exciting part of the grant,” adds Schlütter.

Over the next three years the grant will also fund two international conferences, research trips to Japan for faculty and graduate students, more visiting artists and scholars from Japan, study tours of Japan for faculty outside of Japanese Studies, and a summer program for high-school students in partnership with the Belin-Blank Center.

“It was a big commitment on the part of the University of Iowa. We were very lucky to have so much support from various leaders and departments on campus, and we are thankful to them all, for without their participation we could not have been successful with the grant,” says Schlütter.

“And it would have been impossible without the help of many people, especially our colleagues in various fields of Japanese studies. We also owe a great debt to Anne Knudson, a grant specialist at IP who helped us write the grant and negotiate the many requirements,” adds Heitzman.

“It was a lot of work, and luckily, we got it. But that doesn’t mean our job is done.”

With the grant money came numerous reporting and administrative duties, as well as many big and small details to be dealt with as the various projects under the grant are rolled out.

“I just really want to thank Morten. He has put hundreds of hours of work into a project he is not directly benefitted by, and we could not have done it without him,” Heitzman says.

“I’m in Japanese studies so I have everything to gain from this, but Morten works on Chinese Buddhism, which is pretty far from the activities of this grant,” he adds.

“We all kind of feel like Morten is the bodhisattva of Japanese studies at Iowa.”

“Well, I see applying for grants to promote East Asian studies as part of my job as the director of the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies,” responds Schlütter. “And Kendall was really the main idea person behind the grant application, with a knowledge of the field of Japanese Studies that I don’t have.”

With another two and a half years to go on the Japan Foundation grant, Heitzman and Schlütter look forward to the many exciting projects and events that are still to take place.