SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Culture and Society of Japan

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2

This course is designed to cover a wide variety of topics relating to Japanese society, beginning from the formation of the modern nation state and its effect on the family, rural, urban and religious life, and concluding with a re-evaluation of the anthropology of Japan in the light of debates over orientalism, and problems of representation.

One of the main themes running through the course is that of identity – we consider how Japanese national identity may be constructed, or contested. What are the boundaries of Japanese identity? What is meant by “Japanese culture”? What of gendered identities? These issues are addressed in a range of contexts, including the arts, consumption, and popular culture; the body and controversies in medical anthropology in Japan; debates over education; and migration to and from Japan.


This course is available to students on degrees in MA Area Studies as a minor only.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

By the end of the course students:

  • will be able to critically evaluate a range of theories and ethnographic source material relating to Japanese society;
  • will be able to locate and use secondary sources relevant to selected topics;
  • will have a grasp of the key debates in the anthropology of Japan.

This will form a base which will enable MA Anthropology students to write their dissertations (10,000 words) on a topic relating to Japan should they so wish.

Method of assessment

The written exam will count for 60%. 2 pieces of coursework will count for 40% (20% each) towards the final mark.

Suggested reading

Recommended Reading:
  • Robertson, Jennifer (ed.) (2005) A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Sugimoto, Yoshio (2003) An Introduction to Japanese Society (2nd edition) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hendry, Joy (2003) Understanding Japanese Society (3rd edition) London: RoutledgeCurzon.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules