The Asia-Pacific region with a focus on the ocean

From “fragmented regional research” to “integrated ocean zone research”

This research project (Maritime Asian and Pacific Studies: MAPS) began in April 2022 as one part of the National Institute for the Humanities’ large-scale research program “Global Area Studies.” The maritime Asia-Pacific includes areas like East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, but it does not have a clearly-defined border. This research aims to adopt a particularly anthropologically-centered perspective and examine the events that have spread globally from Japan’s Nansei Islands, Taiwan, China’s southern coastal region, Southeast Asia’s islands, and Oceania’s islands, the core areas of this research.

Research on East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania has developed under different regional research systems, as symbolized by the fact that different individual academic societies have been formed and operated for different regions. Except for a portion of pioneering research, the continuing trend has been for these regions to be insufficiently discussed among different regional research societies. However, from the perspective of ocean zones, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the world stretching beyond cannot be understood separately as individual units. Essentially, the framework of East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania is nothing more than a section made using a continental view by people who live on larger land masses. The MAPS project aims to eliminate the currently existing regions and regional research frameworks, and view it as a network of people, things, and information that stretches across those regions.

Towards establishment of a research organization or institute linking Asia and Oceania

Various types of individual and joint research are conducted through the MAPS project, but Tokyo Metropolitan University particularly focuses on the flow of people and materials in modern societies across the regions. For example, settlers of Oceanic islands include not only indigenous people from Austronesian language families (refer to the diagram below), but also people from the lands of present-day China, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Currently, food and tools from China and Southeast Asia have flowed into the islands of Oceania, becoming a natural part of natives’ lives. That trend is growing stronger in recent years, and the Oceanic islands have become imbued with the qualities befitting a part of the Asian economic network. The spread of East Asian and Southeast Asian society into Oceania in this way is one focus of our research. We also plan to include the immigration of Oceanic natives to East Asia and Southeast Asia, links between Southeast Asian mountainous people and the ocean zone, the global network of Okinawa, and more in our research moving forward. Finally, by integrating the results of these research topics, we will clarify the various features of the present-day maritime Asia-Pacific region.


Department of Behavioral Social Sciences

Associate Professor
KAWAI Hironao


Maritime Asian and Pacific Studies -Tokyo Metropolitan University-