In June 2018, Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS) M.A. graduate Thomas Ashforth was invited by his advisor Professor Kyoko Sato to attend and speak at the “Revisiting the Nuclear Order: Technopolitical Landscapes and Timescapes” conference held in Paris, France. The event, which was funded by a joint research project organized by Stanford University and Paris Descartes University, ran from June 11-12, with a special graduate student workshop on June 13. A total of six students participated in the workshop, with Ashforth being the sole Stanford student - and only M.A. student – to speak. He presented a condensed version of his M.A. thesis, which focused on nuclear issues in Japan; namely, the connectivity of the Japanese nuclear industry and media, and an analysis of trends and differences in regional advertising of nuclear energy from 1986 to 2010.
It was Ashforth’s experiences during the 2013 Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima, Japan that first drew his attention to nuclear power issues. Started in 1947, the ceremony is observed every year on August 6, and now welcomes around 50,000 people to remember those lost to the Hiroshima atomic bomb. While there, Ashforth had the opportunity to meet influential members of the Japan Confederation of the A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization (Nihon Hidankyo), which “ignited a deep curiosity in understanding the effects and dangers of nuclear energy or nuclear weapons at a local level,” he says.
Ashforth used that curiosity as a jumping off point for his East Asian Studies M.A. thesis research at Stanford University. “During my research into nuclear power at Stanford, I gradually became more and more interested in the collaborative workings of the nuclear industry and government, and how nuclear power is intrinsically linked to national development in some countries,” Ashforth says. “I believe that this topic is important to study, because nuclear power holds a significant presence in many countries and, when things go wrong, it has ramifications beyond borders,” such as the disasters at Chernobyl in Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan. Ashforth believes the key to understanding the future of nuclear technology lies in analyzing its history, and followed this approach in his own thesis research and presentation at the Paris conference.
The day before departing for the Paris conference, Ashforth submitted his M.A. thesis, his last step toward graduating. He considers the conference to have been the “perfect way” to round off his experiences at Stanford. “I was not only able to meet some truly influential academic figures in philosophy, social sciences and history, but also interact and participate directly in a dialogue about nuclear energy and their ongoing research,” he stated.
Ashforth feels strongly that his time in the CEAS M.A. program helped prepare him to participate in the conference. Funding from CEAS and Stanford allowed him to do intensive Japanese language study at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies (IUC) in Yokohama, Japan, which was necessary for his research. His courses at Stanford also provided exceptional opportunities to become more comfortable with public speaking and gain confidence. “The academic rigor and connections within the CEAS program itself allowed me to engage better with the participants and have the fundamental knowledge to discuss topics about nuclear issues,” says Ashforth.
When asked about the practical applications of an East Asian Studies degree, Ashforth is quick to point out how East Asia increasingly underpins much of the world’s workings now, from academia to business. “If a company or government agency is doing business or cooperating with East Asia, it needs those who have a clear insight into and knowledge of the different cultural workings or languages at play,” says Ashforth. “I believe that the study of this field provides the ideal foundation to go out into the world as an adaptable professional with a unique perspective, or indeed achieve success in academia.”
Having graduated from the East Asian Studies M.A. program, Ashforth worked at CEAS over the summer assisting in projects across departments. He is now starting full-time work locally as a Japanese Intelligence Analyst in the private sector, fully leveraging his degree from Stanford.
The “Revisiting the Nuclear Order: Technopolitical Landscapes and Timescapes” conference in Paris was the second of a three-conference series on nuclear issues. The first conference, “Making the World Nuclear After Hiroshima” was held in May 2017, at Stanford University. The third conference will be held in Japan in 2019