In memoriam: Rikki Kersten

Rikki Kersten
Rikki Kersten

The Japan Institute and Australia Japan Research Centre are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Professor Rikki Kersten. The In Memoriam below was written by Dr Lauren Richardson, who is Lecturer in the Department of International Relations, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific. Professor Kersten supervised Dr Richardson’s PhD at the ANU, and they remained close friends since meeting in Tokyo in 2010.

In memoriam: Rikki Kersten

Rikki Kersten (BA Adelaide, PhD Oxford University), Honorary Fellow at the Australia-Japan Research Centre at the Australian National University, passed away December 21st, 2023, after a courageous battle with cancer.

A specialist of Japanese politics, Rikki Kersten grew up in Wollongong and Adelaide after her parents emigrated to Australia from the Netherlands. She received a year-long scholarship to attend a Japanese high school in Gifu prefecture. This experience sparked a life-long passion for Japan.

Upon returning to Australia, Rikki undertook a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) at the University of Adelaide, where she continued her study Japanese language and history, and completed an honours dissertation on Japanese intellectual thought.

She then entered the Australian Foreign Service. Prior to taking up a posting at the political section of the Australian Embassy in Tokyo, Rikki undertook a leave of absence to commence a doctoral degree at Oxford University under the supervision of Professor Arthur Stockwin. Her research focused on the development of democracy in Japan through a study of the writings of the political thinker Maruyama Masao. Her research entailed in-person interviews with Maruyama and archival research in Japan that she undertook as a visiting fellow at the University of Tokyo.

In her capacity as a diplomat in Japan, Rikki facilitated a new flight path between Australia and Fukuoka among various other contributions to the bilateral relationship, and reported on the death and state funeral of Emperor Hirohito. The latter role, combined with her parents’ experience of war and her study of post-war intellectual Maruyama Masao, fuelled an enduring research interest in Japan’s war responsibility.

Rikki ultimately left the Foreign Service to pursue her academic interests, which saw her take up a position in modern Japanese history at the University of Sydney and subsequently, Leiden University in the Netherlands. As a professor at Leiden, she served as editor of the Routledge/Leiden series on Modern East Asian Politics and History and undertook a research project with long-time friend and colleague Professor Axel Schneider on “Historical Consciousness and the Future in China and Japan.”

After leaving her post at Leiden, Rikki expanded upon her distinguished scholarly career by taking on a number of senior management positions in academia. She served as Dean of the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs and Dean of the Faculty of Asian Studies at the Australian National University and later, Dean of the School of Arts Director of the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University.

Over the course of her academic career Rikki mentored numerous aspiring Japan specialists through teaching and research supervision. Her students held her in the highest esteem and were deeply appreciative of her generous support and guidance. She continued to serve on supervisory panels for doctoral students at the ANU up until her passing.

Rikki was moreover a beloved member of the Japan Studies academic community in Canberra (and beyond), and her analysis of Japanese politics was often a feature of the ANU’s Japan Update Conference, news reports and think tank events.

On behalf of the Japan studies community at the ANU, the Japan Institute and Australia Japan Research Centre express our deepest condolences to Rikki’s brother, Tim Kersten, and her friends, students and colleagues.