Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe that I do not want it.
Now I understand 
why the old poets of China went so far
and high 
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.
"The Old Poets of China" by Mary Oliver

The Asian Center of the University of the Philippines Diliman is saddened by the passing of Professor Emeritus Josefa Saniel on 21 December 2023, and wishes to express its deep gratitude for her valuable service to the University and country.  Dr. Saniel, who was Asian Center Dean (1980-1983) and appointed as professor emeritus by UP in 1993, was a pioneer of and leading scholar in Japan Studies and area studies in the Philippines.

Contributions to area studies in the Philippines

Dr. Saniel belongs to the generation of Philippine scholars who was at the forefront in the establishment of area studies as a field of study in the Philippines. An eminent Japanologist, she developed Japanese Studies as a graduate degree program in the university.
In 1950s, Dr. Saniel began her career in the academe as a history instructor. When the University of the Philippines was mandated by the government to develop the Institute of Asian Studies (now Asian Center), she decided to pursue a Ph.D. degree in Far Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan in 1961. This is where she began to undertake research on area studies as a field of study.
In her article, “Area Studies: A Focus on a Multidisciplinary Approach in the Social Sciences,” Dr. Saniel argues that area studies is “instrumental to responding to the needs of society. It provides a holistic way of looking an object of study that coordinates different disciplines to, say, improve social policy or understand a country, region, or even a particular problem” (Nolasco and Pantano 2019).

Dr. Saniel as the “grand dame of Japanology in the Philippines” 

Dr. Saniel specialized in Japanese studies. She has published various works on Philippines-Japan relations, Japanese culture, society and literature, and Japan’s foreign policy in Southeast Asia (Nolasco and Pantano 2019). In recognition of her contributions to promoting Philippines-Japan relations, she was conferred the Order of the Precious Crown in 1986.
Her work in Japanese studies has garnered broad attention both locally and internationally, as she wrote most of her works “at a time when bitter memories of the Japanese occupation were still fresh” (Nolasco and Pantano 2019). Her pioneering work, Japan and the Philippines, 1868-1898, was based on her Ph.D. dissertation and was her most-cited work. In her book, she tackled “Japan’s expansionist tendencies then, and sheds light on Filipino-Japanese relations during the Philippine Revolution of 1896” (Nolasco and Pantano 2019).
Rightfully earning the title “grand dame of Japanology,” Dr. Saniel’s “impactful contributions to fostering cultural understanding between Japan and the Philippines has left an indelible mark on our shared academic landscape,” the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines posted on their Facebook page.

A “Great Filipino”

“I will always remember Dean Saniel as a uniquely warm, caring, and compassionate person,” said Professor Emeritus Eduardo Tadem, one of her former graduate students, in an email exchange.
Former AC Dean Eduardo T. Gonzalez also shared his sentiments about her passing: “When I joined the Asian Center, Dean Saniel was no longer around. But she was a frequent visitor, and it was she who introduced herself to me, a sign of humility as she stood among AC's greats. The few times that I had a chance to converse with her were pleasant and engaging. She had shown by example how to lead a life beyond retirement, and how to step into uncharted roads. I could not ask for more.”
In an interview published in Rappler, Takushi Ohno, one of her Japanese graduate students at the UP Asian Center and current head of the UP Alumni Association-Japan chapter, said: “[M]eeting her enriched my relationship with the Philippines…. When I think of ‘great Filipinos,’ Dr. Saniel always comes to mind.”
View her full profile and list of publications here.

For inquiries, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 891-8500 loc. 3586.
The Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman offers M.A. degrees in Asian Studies with four fields of specialization: Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and West Asia. The UP Asian Center also has an M.A. program in Philippine Studies that allows students to major in Philippine society and culture, Philippine foreign relations, or Philippine development studies. It also offers a Ph.D. program in Philippine Studies in conjunction with the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy. For an overview of these graduate programs, click here. As an area studies institution, the Asian Center also publishes Asian Studies: Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia, the latest issue of which can be downloaded at the journal's website.