JAP4515 – Contemporary Japanese Culture and Society
Schedule, syllabus and examination date
The Heisei period has given way to the Reiwa period, and Japan is standing at a crossroads. The social structures that contributed to the post-war economic miracle (e.g. life-time employment and the competitive education system) have lost their self-evidence, and growth has long stagnated. Contemporary Japan has been characterized as a “post-growth society”. It faces challenges such as a rapidly ageing population, ongoing rural decline, far-reaching gender inequality and serious environmental problems. The authorities appear unable to solve these problems, and political participation is low. Popular myths about Japanese society as homogeneous and egalitarian are increasingly problematized, yet remain popular.
Despite these challenges, Japan continues to be an important player internationally, both politically and economically. Japanese popular culture has spread throughout the world, and the “Cool Japan” brand remains strong. Meanwhile, authorities and local actors alike actively seek to revitalize “traditional culture” and “national heritage” in a bid to promote tourism and prevent depopulation. The disasters of 2011 have caused serious crises, but they have also given way to new types of social activism, community outreach, and environmental advocacy.
This is a research-based course that requires active participation from all students. Each semester, we will focus on one core topic, which will be approached from various thematic and theoretical angles. This topic will serve as a prism for the study of contemporary Japanese culture and society. In previous years, these topics were “The production of heritage in contemporary Japan” (2017), “Multispecies Japan” (2018), and “Japan in the Anthropocene” (spring 2019).
In the autumn of 2019, our central topic will be “Coastal communities in contemporary Japan: coping with social and environmental change”. Although Japan is an island state, modern maritime culture has received remarkably little scholarly attention; in academic and popular discourse, coastal communities are typically portrayed as traditional and marginal, if at all. However, as the ocean is receiving more attention in the humanities worldwide (giving rise to a new subdiscipline called “Blue Humanities”), recent studies have challenged the “terra-centric” paradigm that underlies many studies of Japan. Drawing from these insights, in this course we will challenge the Tokyo- and Kansai-centrism that is so widespread in Japanese studies, and re-centre the periphery by focusing on coastal communities. By doing so, we will gain new insights into topics such as coastal depopulation, fishing industries, human-nature relations, nuclear power, toxic waste, maritime religion, heritage conservation, tourism development, nuclear power, and environmental activism. At the end of the semester, students will each give a presentation and write a paper about a case study of their own choice.
In principle, this course uses both Japanese- and English-language materials.
- You will practice reading and translating Japanese texts of a variety of genres, and improve your skills in using Japanese materials for your own writing.
- You will critically read English-language articles, both on broader, theoretical issues and on Japanese cases.
- You will be asked to reflect upon these readings and learn how to apply them, in written texts as well as oral presentations and discussions.
- You will improve your academic writing skills by means of an essay, in which you are expected to integrate different theoretical perspectives, relating your findings to relevant academic debates.
- You will also practice your presentation skills, and learn to present your research orally.
Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.
Students enrolled in other Master's Degree Programmes can, on application, be admitted to the course if this is cleared by their own study programme.
If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.
Formal prerequisite knowledge
Students enrolled in other MA programs (e.g., social anthropology, environmental studies, or Chinese studies) who do not master Japanese may request admission to this course if it is relevant for their studies. They will be given additional readings and assignments to make up for the fact that they cannot read the Japanese texts.
The course is taught through a combination of lectures and seminars organized as 10 classes of 3 hours over a period of five weeks from the middle of October (two classes a week). The course presupposes active participation in class.
- At least 80% attendance
Several oral presentations
One written assignment
Approved compulsory activities are only valid for one semester.
All compulsory activities must be approved in order to qualify for the exam. It is the student’s responsibility to check whether or not the compulsory activities are approved.
The examination consists of two parts:
1. An oral presentation (15-20 minutes)
2. An essay on a topic of your own choice, subject to prior approval by the teacher (8-10 pages)
You need to pass both parts to pass the course. The oral presentation counts for 40% of the grade. The final essay counts for 60%.
Submit assignments in Inspera
You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit assignments in Inspera.
Use of sources and citation
Language of examination
The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.
Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.
Explanations and appeals
Resit an examination
Withdrawal from an examination
It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.
Special examination arrangements
Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.
The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.