What do neuroscience, philosophy, economics, virology and modern art all have in common? They, among hundreds of others, are fields of research that have been or are currently supported by The Canon Foundation in Europe. An independent organisation, it was established in 1987 with the aim of fostering an international cultural and scientific relationship between Europe and Japan.
Founded to celebrate 30 years of Canon’s presence in Europe, it is the embodiment of the Canon philosophy of “Kyosei – living and working together for the common good’ and has championed and nurtured mutual understanding between Japan and Europe by annually awarding up to 15 Canon Foundation Research Fellowships. Each grant supports a piece of long-term academic research that sees European and Japanese postgraduate students and researchers head East and West to spend a period of time with a host academic institution in the pursuit of knowledge.
Subject-wise, it’s an extraordinarily broad church, with past Fellows conducting research in areas as diverse as ‘Traditional aesthetics in Japanese modern art’, ‘Galaxy anatomy and dissecting galaxies in the distant Universe’, ‘Cancer immunology’ and ‘the mating habits of the Shining bronze cuckoo in New Caledonia’. “There’s no emphasis on a certain type,” explains Suzy Cohen, the secretary of the Foundation. “It was set up to give researchers the total freedom to study.” Each year, a selection committee from the Foundation’s executive committee (comprising distinguished academics across different disciplines from Europe and Japan) come together to examine all applications and make the coveted awards. As well as a complete lack of restriction, no link to Canon products is necessary. Applications are selected on the basis of a high-quality research plan and arrangements in place to conduct it with a host in either Europe or Japan, in the spirit of mutual understanding upon which the Foundation is based.
From its inception to 2020, a total of 430 Canon Research Fellowships were granted – 162 Japanese Fellows and 268 European Fellows from some 33 countries. One of these was awarded to Dr Timo Essig from the Karlsruher Institut für Technologie in Germany. His Fellowship took him to Japan’s Hokkaido University to research ‘the topology of manifolds and singular spaces in Mathematics’ under the supervision of his host, Professor Toru Ohmoto. His experience has seen him speak at seminars and workshops at both Kyushu and Tokyo Universities, while undertaking his research and acclimatising to the Japanese way of living. He recalls his trip to Tokyo as a huge contrast to the more gentle and natural surroundings of Kyushu. “After being overwhelmed for the sheer endlessness of the city for some days, I got accustomed to the feeling of the city and started to enjoy it more and more,” he says. “When I left, I was sure that I would come back.”
Asami Oguro-Ando spent her year as a Canon Foundation Fellow at University Medical Centre Utrecht, researching brain development and Autism. During this time, she published a paper and a review on the subject, as well as learning a great deal about European culture and lifestyle and discovering some great female role models in her field of research. “It was a precious experience for me and will help me in my future career,” says Asami. “Everybody was very kind, extremely helpful and supportive.”
This year, Dr Daniel Sauter, a junior professor virologist from the Institute of Molecular Virology at Ulm University Medical Centre, Germany is carrying out research on Covid 19, working with his host Professor Kei Sato of University of Tokyo. “We are particularly interested to see whether mutations that emerge during the current outbreak may help the virus to spread even faster in the human population,” he explains “We hope that our findings will help to further uncover the evolutionary origins of coronaviruses and their risk for human health.”
The important work undertaken by Canon Foundation Fellows is underpinned by a collective warmth that stems from a desire to stay connected. Around 70% of Foundation Fellows report that they are still in contact with their host from their time as a research Fellow. Bulletins are regularly sent from The Foundation, updating Fellows on the latest news and awards, and a library of publications is kept. Additionally, alumni meet regularly, and many attend an annual dinner which often include lectures and networking. Last year over 150 enjoyed a very special event in Kyoto, organised in co-operation with the Centre for African Area Studies at Kyoto University. During these events, experiences and research are shared and the custom of welcoming new Fellows with a certificate and lapel badge takes place. “It’s a family atmosphere where we all stay in touch –even with the very first fellows from 1990,” says Suzy. “We like them to feel that they’re not only part of the Canon Foundation, but part of Canon as well.”
The Canon Foundation in Europe also operates a Co-Sponsored Research Fellowship Programme with the European University Institute, Italy and the Japan-Africa Exchange Programme with Kyoto University. You can find out more about their programmes, work and history on the Foundation website.